Larry J. Bloom – How Zuckerberg’s change of focus offers a lesson in leadership

Facebook’s recent recovery from its ill-fated IPO began with a blunder.

“It was probably one of the biggest mistakes we’ve ever made,” expounded Mark Zuckerberg, famed billionaire co-founder and CEO of Facebook. His personal belief that standalone mobile device apps would go away and we would access mobile apps through websites like we do on PCs turned out to be dead wrong.

While consumers were abandoning laptops for mobile devices and spending huge amounts of time downloading apps designed for small touchscreens, Facebook had only one engineer dedicated to the iPhone. The rest of its software developers were at work designing a version of Facebook that was doomed to flop.

One thing, however, separated Zuckerberg from the thousands of Silicon Valley success stories that fail because they don’t adjust to a changing environment. He overcame his instincts and owned up to his mistake before it was too late. Zuckerberg’s realization provides two important lessons that can benefit all decision-makers.

Overcoming instincts

We need to avoid getting so attached to our decisions that we fail to look for problems in our own thinking.

Whenever we reason, we do that within a point of view. Any flaw in that point of view is a possible source of faulty thinking. Personal beliefs may cause us to unknowingly draw conclusions and make decisions based on limited, unfair and misleading personal interpretations of information.

To address his mobile problem, the software wizard who had savored such enormous success so early in his career had to come to terms with failure. And he had to make sweeping structural and cultural changes that often went against many of his prior decisions and instincts.

Instead of going faster (a Zuckerberg religion at Facebook), mobile developers had to suspend new releases. Instead of a dogged focus on the mobile web, they had to change gears and embrace apps.

Instead of trying to reach the broadest possible audience, Facebook ultimately had to pick one operating system to show off what it could really do in mobile.

“I can’t overstate how much we had to retool the whole company’s development processes,” Zuckerberg confessed.

Take points of view into account

View contrary opinions as gifts and resist shooting the critics.

Leaders know that any decision they make is subject to their judgment being questioned. And whether they’re fully aware of it or not, they’re really not in the market to have their decisions, beliefs and choices questioned.

Whether we are team leaders or CEOs, we subconsciously develop the tendency to marginalize people who disagree with us.

In October 2011, a Facebook engineer named Cory Ondrejka stood in front of Zuckerberg imploring that Facebook was broken in a big way. Facebook’s problem, according to Ondrejka, was its mobile app. It was so slow and awful, that it opened the possibility that users would defect Facebook for faster, better mobile social media apps.

Zuckerberg was clearly uncomfortable but he did not “shoot his critic.” In the end, he made the courageous decision to change courses and the results paid off. Facebook’s stock passed its $38 IPO price for the first time since its rocky public debut last May, crossing a symbolic hurdle that has eluded it for more than a year. Reflecting back later Zuckerberg said, “I signed off on the change but it wasn’t my instinct.”

It takes courage to challenge our own thoughts. It is a struggle among different parts of the brain.

The real issue is that most of us do not notice our thoughts. We are out of touch with ourselves and it can be debilitating.

Fortunately for Facebook and its investors, Zuckerberg had the intellectual courage to defy his own thinking.

Larry J. Bloom spent 30-plus years helping grow a small family business to more than $700 million in revenue. He is the author of “The Cure for Corporate Stupidity: Avoid the Mind-Bugs that Cause Smart People to Make Bad Decisions,” consultant, board member, and owner of a start-up media and software company that promotes better thinking. He was born and resides in Atlanta, Ga. For more information, visit or email [email protected].