What if Zuckerberg isn’t always right?

15th November 2011

Sheryl Sandberg leaned forward, the eagerness-to-please emblazoned on her face at odds with her age, wisdom and – one imagines – her ego.

It was not Charlie Rose, the interviewer opposite her, who inspired such transcendent attention. Rather, it was her co-interviewee, and twenty-seven year old employer.

‘Exactly’, she intoned, as Mark spoke of his vision in his punctuated and somewhat haughty manner, blithely contradicting Sandberg’s own articulated position.

He discussed Facebook’s mission to connect the world, and his belief in friends as the true, emergent community. His comments were delivered with a fencer’s gait, bolt upright, enunciated with the precision of a master watchmaker.

‘Mmm’, Sanderg nodded, smiling at her boss with exaggerated bonhomie. ‘Exactly’.

I began to worry, on the basis of this trivial YouTube evidence, that Facebook may be a place where deference trumps ideas. Perhaps, even in this bastion of the future, hierarchy inspires diplomacy, to the detriment of frankness?

It put me to thinking about the politics in any human organisation, and how businesses can tend towards serving the thinking of the most senior rather than the most insightful.

I recall a story from my old days in corporate life where a major new food innovation (a new kind of pasta sauce, no less) was scuppered because the CEO’s wife found it disappointing. Deference-by-proxy had taken hold, and the business’ credible, representative consumer research was ignored.

The result in that organisation was a natural, if invisible, one: the new product development team began creating products that the CEO’s spouse would most likely enjoy. That poor, unsuspecting, well-heeled lady became the lead consumer of a multi-billion dollar corporation.

I spoke yesterday with a good friend who is a marketing director in Dublin. I was asking him about the value of a brand consultant. It was my way of honing my pitch – explaining the benefit from my clients’ viewpoint.

‘A good consultant arrives to the table with the brand’s best interests at heart. You give your opinion based on the evidence you gather, not your guess of what the client wishes to hear.’ In listening to him say this, I immediately heard its truth. The pressure to accept a certain view can be immense in some organisations, in my experience. Indeed, it can be so emotionally difficult that some clients simply will not entertain a contrary point of view. In these situations, one’s job is to strike the balance between being heard and being lynched. Either way, staying true is the point – even when this makes you unpopular.

An old, wizen marketing mantra states that a consultant is someone you pay to take the watch off your wrist and tell you the time. Although surely a little cynical, there is a kernel of truth at its heart.

Sometimes, no matter how visionary the master watchmaker, he may just lose track of the hour of day.

Brian McIntyre – Orchard Brand Consulting

Subscribe to Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Leave a Reply