Mark Zuckerburg’s process for overcoming inexperience through continuous lifelong learning

Photo by Jason McELweenie

The real story of Facebook is just that we’ve worked so hard for all this time. I mean, the real story is actually probably pretty boring, right? I mean, we just sat at our computers for six years and coded.

-Mark Zuckerberg

We all know the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the “overnight” success of Facebook. His story has become a trope of the entire startup world. We all collectively picture a “startup founder” as a hoodie wearing, young, driven-to-the-point-of-insanity, college-aged computer hacker…basically Mark himself.

But just like anything that seems like an “overnight success”, it is actually a the sum of thousands of tiny wins plus a work ethic that doesn’t waver over the years (not hours, or days) that it takes to build something finally reaching a “tipping point”. Malcolm Gladwell, along with countless other writers, have explored this notion of “reaching the tipping point” where private work suddenly becomes public success.

The odds were truly stacked against Zuckerberg, and in many ways still are, even though the challenges have evolved. He is currently 31, and started what ultimately became Facebook as a 20 year old at Harvard. By all traditional measures of what would make someone qualified to run what has become a billion-dollar company, Zuckerberg is “unqualified”. He was young. He has never run a company before. His site was being positioned to compete with MySpace, a massively powerful player at the time. As with so many great stories of innovation, it seemed impossible…right up until the point where it became nearly impossible to imagine a world without it.

Zuckerberg had not only never run a company- he’d never been in a company

– Mark Andreesen

Lack of experience is not a negative attribute. It is just a fact. A state of being. Lack of experience only becomes a problem if we wrongly believe that we have nothing else to learn and we don’t work to continuously improve ourselves. If we stop moving forward, we don’t stay in the same place…we fall behind, because the world keeps on moving forward, infinitely, relentlessly.

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.

-Malcolm Gladwell

Zuckerberg has made a conscious commitment to learning something new every year. He recognized his own lack of experience. He saw the incredible responsibility that he has in running a company that is now used by over 1 Billion people. And he decided to take action.

FastCompany recently published an article that tracked a timeline of Zuckerberg’s learning challenges over the years. In the article, they quoted Andy Sparks, COO of Mattermark as saying:

He’s learned everything he knows about business in the last 10 years. And now he’s one of the best CEO’s in the world.

-Andy Sparks, COO Mattermark

Below are a few of the personal challenges he’s given himself. Some are serious, some seem small, but all of them add up to the growth that has allowed him to grow alongside the company he built.

2009- Wear a tie everyday

2010- Learn Mandarin

2011- Only eat animals he kills himself

2012- Code every day

2013- Meet a new person everyday who doesn’t work at Facebook

2014- Write at least one thank you note every day

2015- Read a new book every 2 weeks

Big goals are achieved by thousands of moments of small progress. Small moments that absolutely no one is watching. But the most important part of building anything big…is just continuing to build.

Whether it’s changing the education system, raising the basic living standards of our world’s poor, creating an affordable and transparent healthcare system, or maximizing our resources to support a growing population…it will not be the “perfect”, grand plans that solve these problems. It will be thousands of tiny wins that eventually tip the scale, led by people who are relentless in their pursuit of forward progress, no matter how small.

I think a simple rule of business is, if you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress.

-Mark Zuckerberg

Chasing perfection is like chasing a mirage. By the time we could reach it, the world has changed so much that perfection is now far off in the horizon once more.

The way out of the desert is simple: keep walking.


Check out the awesome FastCompany article; pick up the 20th Anniversary Special Edition.