For years, Mark Zuckerberg has given himself an annual challenge to focus on outside of running Facebook. One year it was to learn Mandarin. Another it was to wear a tie to work every day. Zuckerberg wears ties a lot more often now that he spends more time answering questions before Congress and regulators, but that's not the point.
This year, however, Zuckerberg is ditching the annual challenge, focusing instead on "what I hope the world and my life will look in 2030 so I can make sure I'm focusing on those things."
Look, Zuckerberg has been extraordinarily successful at building a company and a platform that has changed the way people interact. More than two billion people use Facebook to connect in ways that weren't possible at such scale, and there are certainly benefits that come with those connections. He deserves credit for that, but he also deserves plenty of criticism for the effect Facebook has had on privacy, political discourse, election interference, and even users' mental health.
In his New Year post, Zuckerberg mentions focusing on things like "generational change, a new private social platform, and new forms of governance." Those sound lofty, but honestly, if Zuckerberg wants to make the world a better place in 2030, there are ways I think he could better spend his time.
I've written before that most of the biggest problems that Facebook is up against are nothing compared with the problem of its true believer founder. Zuckerberg sees Facebook as he imagines it in his own mind, as a noble cause to bring the world together. To that end, the cost of Facebook to the world in terms of the monetization of our privacy is a small and acceptable price to pay for the value it adds.
In fact, it isn't just Zuckerberg that believes this. This week at CES, the company's VP of public policy, Erin Egan, said that everything Facebook does "adds value to users in a privacy-protective way." The audience laughed, because no one outside of Facebook believes that. That's largely because an organization takes on the demeanor of its leader, and Facebook's leader is a true believer in the absolute goodness of Facebook.
Time to Let Go
Zuckerberg should follow the realization that Bill Gates came to later in his career, and step back from Facebook and focus the next phase of his life by contributing in a different way. Facebook would be different with a new leader, just like Apple is different with Tim Cook. But in Facebook's case, that would absolutely be a good thing.
In that vein, Zuckerberg should spend the next half of a decade creating a way to work himself out of a job, so that in 2030 Facebook is a different company. The world needs Facebook to change, but until Zuckerberg passes the torch, it can't.
Champion a Cause
He should choose a cause and devote the next decade, along with his resources, to it. Mark Zuckerberg doesn't need Facebook in order to have influence. He doesn't need Facebook to get people to get on board with big ideas. And, once he's left Facebook in the steady hands of Sheryl Sandberg or whomever he picks, he'll have much more time to get involved in things that matter deeply to the world outside of Palo Alto, California.
Gates chose--among other things--to eradicate polio from its few remaining pockets of existence. He educated himself, got behind the cause, and provided resources. As a result, Nigeria, a country that used to see 700 cases a year, hasn't had a single case in the past three years.
Sure, Zuckerberg has taken an interest in a few areas--immigration and education come to mind. But imagine what the world might look like 10 years from now if someone with Zuckerberg's resources, both financial and intellectual, devoted him- or herself to solving real problems in the world outside of Facebook. That's something Zuckerberg would be very good at, and something that would make the world better for all of us.