Monday, October 11, 2010

The Social Network – what’s it really about?

If you can’t Tweet and Fbook the hell out of this, what can you do? I’m sort of tired of people who don’t use Facebook, dishing it out as if they are the masters of authenticity. “But they’re not really friends are they?” and that sort of rubbish. 500 million and growing – enough said.

This is a story worth telling, not because it’s about Facebook or social networking or the web – it’s about the doggedness, determination and drive of entrepreneurs. I used the plural because there’s more than just Mark Zuckerberg. Timberlake’s Sean Parker is the second but the movie doesn’t tell the real story here. The film could have explained a little more about the Naspter thing, as it was Shawn Fanning, not Parker, who was the real coder and genius behind Napster’s file sharing. Parker played a bit role. In the end Parker is just one of the money men, who really wants to play the playboy. He’s not the genius – that’s Zuckenberg.

As a psychological study of the internet entrepreneur, it’s masterful. First there’s the obvious implication that many of these guys have a degree of autism which allows them to a) focus on the difficult talk of analysis and code writing (both are hard), b) focus obsessively on the development of the idea, c) ignore obstacles and deflect people along the way. Let’s be up front here. These guys are super smart. Too smart for Universities, so they drop out, code and make their millions or billions. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Shawn Fanning, Sean Parker, Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg knows there’s oil down there and drills away through layer after layer of bedrock to get to the motherload – a million users. For him it’s all about creating something that gets the numbers. He knows he’s smarter than the lawyers, Harvard gents, financiers and university bods. This is not about the money, hence the movie’s already most famous line, “You know what’s cooler than a million dollars…. a billion dollars!” These guys do it because they want to, they have to, not because of the cash. The VCs, money men and suits are just bank tellers. This is true, believe me. Whenever guys with a fondness for suits arrive, the business crashes or is just a business. The ideas people or people with intellectual passion for what they do are the real deal.

I liked the way they digitally duplicated the one acrtor for both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss

PS I didn’t really buy the hokey, romantic sub-plot around the Albright girl. It was too easy, too Hollywood, a script editor’s way of getting girls along to a movie about geeks and business. Nor did I buy the jealousy about getting into some frat type club at Harvard. They seem wide of the Mark.


Stephen Downes said...

No, they're not super-smart. They're driven. Obsessed by an idea. That's what makes them drop out of university and pursue something to its dogged end.

What you don't see are the hundreds, thousand, of people who do the same thing and fail. Zuckerberg lucks out because the idea he tries - which has been tried by dozens of others - he tried out *in* *Harvard*, where elitism and exclusivity give it the legs it needs to succeed. Pure luck.

Yes, these people are not stupid. But don't put them on a pedestal.

Donald Clark said...

On measured intelligence, perhaps, but it isn’t pure luck. There’s a degree of sustained curiosity and risk taking that takes confidence to execute, even to the extent that they dump their Universities. It’s a mixture of factors, and I agree that this dogged determination is a key factor but there are others.
For example, Professors Jeff Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of Insead have identified constant ‘associating’ and ‘questioning’ as key qualities in their empirical studied of entrepreneurs. It didn’t surprise me that the founders of Google (both of them), Amazon and Wikipedia all had early Montessori schooling, a system that encourages sustained curiosity.

Sergei Brin and Larry Page both attended Montessori schools. Indeed, they both credit their Montessori education for much of their success. It was the Montessori experience, they claim, that made them self-directed, allowing them to think for themselves and pursue their real interests.

Jeff Bezos's mother tells of his single-mindedness at his Montessori school, being so absorbed in the tasks he chose that they had to drag him off to give him a change. This same self-directed, single-mindedness was a feature of his Amazon adventure.

Jimmy Wales was educated in a one-room schoolhouse. Although not home-schooling, it was close as he was taught in a class of four by his mother and grandmother, who ran the school. The school was significantly influenced by Montessori methods and he had the freedom to study what he liked on his own terms.
It’s complicated, but luck, I feel, it is not.

Charles Jennings said...

I recall a conversation I had with Robert Cailliau (a reasonably creative man himself) a few years ago about 'talent'. He described talent as something that 'you can't stop doing'. He said he had a talent for writing code. He didn't think he was very good at it (maybe not, but he and Berners-Lee released the beast on us all) but he couldn't NOT do it. He was driven to write code.

Maybe these folks are simply talented.

Donald Clark said...

Interestingly, I met Robert in Berlin and had a long chat with him; all he talked about were the weaknesses of HTML! Code obsessed indeed - but very nice and interesting guy.