What Mark Zuckerberg says he fears more than failure

Move fast and break things, people.
Move fast and break things, people.
Image: Reuters/Brian Snyder
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When two billionaires get together to discuss entrepreneurship, you wouldn’t expect them to talk about why being embarrassed is a good thing. But during a recent episode of the Masters of Scale podcast, LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman and Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg discussed why you should be comfortable with embarrassment, how perfectionism is dangerous, and when business cultures should encourage failure.

Both Hoffman and Zuckerberg share the belief that releasing bold and half-baked versions of their products has two advantages: speed and the ability to learn from experimentation. This enables you to get user feedback and improve quickly to release subsequent versions.

“I have more fear in my life that we aren’t going to maximize the opportunity that we have than that we mess something up and the business goes badly,” Zuckerberg says during the podcast. He similarly warned against our impulse to “not do big things because we’re so afraid of making mistakes” during his recent Harvard commencement address. Facebook’s motto used to be “Move fast and break things.” (It’s been changed to the less catchy “”Move fast with stable infrastructure.”)

Hoffman acknowledges that embracing the possibility of embarrassment and failure may not sit well with high-achieving individuals and their perfectionist tendencies. He singles out MBA students, saying, “the same instincts that make us good students, can make us lousy entrepreneurs.” Susan Danziger, the CEO of Zideo, adds during the podcast, “We need to deprogram ourselves to release things that we are slightly embarrassed about.”

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, also appearing in the podcast, cites the example of a summer intern named Ben who wanted to figure out how to test the site’s resiliency to bugs. He created a faux bug, which took down the entire site down for 30 minutes. Despite this snafu, Ben got hired because the poor execution notwithstanding, it was the type of experiment that Facebook encouraged.

Research supports this approach. In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck examines two mindsets that shape the way we think about ourselves and ultimately impact our success. Individuals with a fixed mindset “believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.” Conversely, those with a growth mindset believe that talent and brains are just a starting point and that through hard work we can stretch our individual growth.

Individuals with a fixed mindset avoid failure at all costs, performing tasks that they know they can complete while surrounding themselves with people who agree with them. But for those with a growth mindset, failure and embarrassment are teachable moments and launching points for growth.

Whether you’re the intern with a big idea, the new MBA, or the CEO of one of the world’s largest tech companies—not only is failure an option, it may be the best option. In any case, if you’re of a growth mindset like Zuckerberg is, it ought not be your greatest fear.