Facebook: Will Its Culture Survive?

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Like you, I am fascinated by Facebook. Not by the foresight of their young founders to tap into the power of “connecting” — or the billion people who utilize the platform. I am fascinated by how they have structured their work. Their rebellious approach to product development (discussed here in Venture Beat’s post “The Hacker Way and here at Wired) has catapulted Facebook into its more recent evolution as a publicly traded business.

History tells us that things will likely change for Facebook going forward. Ten years out — I cannot help but wonder if their unique culture will continue to survive fully intact. With mounting doubts concerning the future, things can begin to shift.

It seems that the essence of Facebook lies in how they approach the development their products. For those unfamiliar with the process, they subscribe to the “Hacker Way” — a disruptively innovative development philosophy. The process flies in the face of the conventional wisdom concerning product development. At the core, the method emphasizes quick turnaround, where “multiple iterations and improvements” are completed on an “as you go” basis.

There is no long suffering, or protracted process before testing a new idea. They implement first — and perfect later.

More of how Zuckerberg described the method:

“Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.”

The process in itself, is aspirational. However, publicly traded organizations exist within a larger system of checks and balances. With Facebook’s evolution into a publicly traded organization, it’s external system has become decidedly wider. Along with this, comes the possibility of pressure to change their ways and conform. There has already been speculation that they may acquiesce to more traditional development timetables, which could signal trouble that their unique culture is in danger.

Some other cultural concerns:

  • Intended mission. As stated in his letter to investors, the initial impetus for Facebook was to connect people socially. He admits openly, the idea was not originally intended to be a business. As such, their founding orientation and purpose, differed from other businesses, who begin with the notion that there is a defined product to sell. This fact can exert pressure on the organization.
  • Retaining passion. Cultivating code is one thing — but maintaining a passionate workforce is another. How will Facebook keep their employees “hungry” to create products, a year from now, or five years from now? Will the mindset of the employee group evolve in response to the changing status of the organization? Will the level of challenge present in the content of the work remain motivating? As organizations grow, this often becomes a looming challenge.
  • Tolerance for failure. Most highly innovative cultures such as Facebook, have a higher tolerance for failure as compared to more traditional organizations. They also have a collected mindset to support that tolerance. Will investors continue to embrace the philosophy, as well?

I am anxious to see how this culture evolves going forward. Any predictions?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and coach. Connect with her and continue the conversation on Twitter and Linkedin.

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