At the beginning of every year since 2009, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has set an ambitious challenge for himself. They’ve ranged from starting to learn Mandarin to eating only animals he’s killed himself.
While some of those goals—notably last year’s 50-state listening tour—may have had some ancillary benefit to Facebook, they could all be filed under “self improvement,” and there was something laudable about a Silicon Valley founder who saw goals outside of his company as worth achieving.
Zuckerberg’s 2018 goal is to fix Facebook. In a post on the site today (Jan. 4), he noted the serious challenges facing the company—notably abusive postings and the interference of foreign nations, i.e. Russia—and resolved to spend the year attending to them. “My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues,” he posted.
For critics of Facebook, and anyone who worries about Russia’s exploitation of the site in the 2016 US elections, this is surely good news. And while Facebook investors don’t have much to complain about, they’re probably happy that the CEO is in the office, and not wandering the backroads of Wisconsin, discovering America.
But there’s something less then inspiring about a New Year’s resolution that is, in essence, a pledge to do your job. After all, isn’t fixing Facebook what Mark Zuckerberg is paid to do? And wouldn’t he spend 2018 devoted to these issues, even if he decided this was also the year he’d finally learn to play the sitar, as well?
In his post, Zuckerberg acknowledges this year’s goal isn’t like those of past years:
This may not seem like a personal challenge on its face, but I think I’ll learn more by focusing intensely on these issues than I would by doing something completely separate. These issues touch on questions of history, civics, political philosophy, media, government, and of course technology. I’m looking forward to bringing groups of experts together to discuss and help work through these topics.
While convening symposia to discuss the burning issues facing the company is admirable, maybe even enviable, it’s not clear Zuckerberg will find his new approach to personal challenge very satisfying.
Stepping away is good for our health—both mental and physical—and side projects can be creatively nourishing, and he will loose those benefits if his side project is his main project. Meanwhile, if the science about goal setting and achievement is any indication, he’s likely to fail. The idea of setting a broad, nebulous goal, without a clearly defined endpoint, is counter to what we know about setting New Year’s resolutions. If you want to achieve them, resolutions should be specific, measurable, and achievable.
Ultimately, Zuckerberg’s declaration sounds more like an attempt to convince the public that he’s serious about curing what ails Facebook. Hopefully he’ll still find time to disconnect from work while he does it.