Facebook, Ideas, and Growth

Did you hear that a college dropout gave Harvard’s commencement speech this year?

Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to run his then “startup”, Facebook, became the youngest person to ever deliver Harvard’s commencement speech at the age of 33.

Pretty impressive.

His speech covered many topics — finding a higher purpose, job automation, global connectivity, health, education — all of which were delivered with both humanity and vision. In my mind, his speech captured the thought processes of the coming generation.

The Speech

Any practiced speaker, especially the 5th wealthiest person in the world, is bound to deliver some extremely meaningful passages that touch each of us differently. For me, his remarks on the concept of ideas was particularly impactful:

“Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started. If I had to understand everything about connecting people before I began, I never would have started Facebook.

“Movies and pop culture get this all wrong. The idea of a single eureka moment is a dangerous lie. It makes us feel inadequate since we haven’t had ours. It prevents people with seeds of good ideas from getting started…

“It’s good to be idealistic. But be prepared to be misunderstood. Anyone working on a big vision will get called crazy, even if you end up being right. Anyone working on a complex problem will get blamed for not fully understanding the challenge, even though it’s impossible to know everything upfront. Anyone taking initiative will get criticized for moving too fast, because there’s always someone who wants to slow you down.”

Never Started Facebook?!?

Did you read this part — “If I had to understand everything about connecting people before I began, I never would have started Facebook.” 

So often, we fail to start because the outcome is unclear. Since we can’t clearly see the end, we never begin. I wonder how many great ideas were never acted upon simply because the end wasn’t clear?

Other times, we end our efforts too quickly because others can’t see the value in our ideas. Being constantly criticized, doubted, or ridiculed eventually destroys our will to persevere. We allow others to define us.

Both, in their own way, are tragedies.

Don’t Discount Ideas … Nurture Them

Am I suggesting that, as agents, we need to drop everything we are doing and launch a tech startup? No. But am I suggesting that the little incomplete idea in the back of your head about how to improve a process, build a new type of housing development, or create an alternative brokerage concept might have more value than you think.

Remember — just because you can’t visualize the finished product doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

And if you find yourself surrounded by those whose first inclination is to doubt, you need to find a new environment. Surround yourself with those who are intellectually curious and foster innovative thought, not those that suppress new ideas through their own unwillingness to embrace change. Life is too short and ideas are too precious to allow the narrow-minded to limit your potential.

So the next time an idea pops in your mind, no matter how incomplete, amorphous, or otherwise half-baked it may be, feed it and let it grow. Ideas are living and breathing organisms — never complete and constantly in flux — developing, morphing, maturing, merging, and then developing some more.

Don’t let your — or others’ — need for clarity overpower the will to give it a try.