How Mark Zuckerberg picks his yearly side project

Tight-lipped—until now.
Tight-lipped—until now.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
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Mark Zuckerberg is not content disrupting how the world’s 7.5 billion people communicate with each other. The Facebook CEO has created an annual ritual out of his own self-disruption, from eating meat only from “animals [he’s] killed himself” to building an AI for his home to wearing a tie to work every day for a year. One can wonder if there’s a method behind this madness—and what one of the world’s wealthiest people is trying to accomplish with each challenge.

If you were expecting Zuckerberg to keep detailed spreadsheets ranking the pros and cons for each option, you’ll be disappointed. In a newly released, uncut recording of an interview conducted for a May episode of Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale podcast, Zuckerberg lays out his thinking:

“How do I think of this? It’s not a super rigorous process, I think is the first thing. I think it’s whatever area I feel would make me a more rounded person—something that I feel like I’m missing, as perspective in my life.”

(You can listen to the full interview here.)

Tobias van Schneider, former design lead at Spotify, uses a similarly simple litmus test to pick his side projects, which mainly involves asking: Is it stupid? In a post on First Round Review, he advises: “The only way a side project will work is if people give themselves permission to think simple, to change their minds, to fail—basically, to not take them too seriously.” And van Schneider practices what he preaches. Now departed from Spotify, his portfolio of side projects includes a book for creatives moving to New York, a sweatshirt collaboration, and a beard oil for the “urban beardsman.”

Back to Zuckerberg: If you look at his list of yearly personal missions, one common thread stands out. Whether it’s reading books, running, wearing ties, or visiting all 50 US states, each activity requires consistency.

Novelist Ray Bradbury also embraced consistency in his creative process, and advised the same to other writers, suggesting they would find success if they wrote a short story every week since it wasn’t “possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” Bradbury himself developed a habit of writing everyday, years before he published his first novel, Fahrenheit 451, which came out when he was 33—the same age Zuckerberg is now.