“The Social Network,” Zuckerberg, Brooks and Pfeffer

Everybody and his brother have written a review of The Social Network, Scott Rudin and Aaron Sorkin’s blockbuster movie.  I don’t intend to do that, except to say that you should see it.  Instead, after skimming through a dozen or more reviews, two are of exceptional value and should be thoroughly digested.  David Brooks takes a macro-cultural-psychological perspective on the film, while Jeff Pfeffer takes a very practical and highly useful approach through the lens of successful leadership.

First,  David Brooks, in The Facebook Searchers, provides a useful bit of history and debunks the old Harvard WASP notion, while suggesting that the movie is very good psychology.  He calls the reader’s attention to our delight in “mental superheroism,” and points out quite accurately that success is a lot more than just smarts.  But success is also a relentless desire to be the best, and as Brooks says, “the Zuckerberg character is as elitist as the old Harvardians, just on different grounds.”  Like Pfeffer, Brooks emphasizes that the Zuckerberg character needs more than a little adult supervision.  What I deeply appreciate is the attention to the fact that humans all have character gaps.  Cable and the pop magazines too often present a simplistic good/bad attitude to humans, that simply won’t jive with reality.  Nuance is the nature of the human condition and once we get over the movies it’s time we get on to that recognition.  Of course, the past White House denizen stated rather clearly that he didn’t “do nuance,” endearing himself to the hoi polloi.  And we all have suffered as a result.

Jeff Pfeffers blog, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Villain or Hero?, addresses a related, very important question: who succeeds in business?  He puts it all on the table with the question of whether it’s possible to succeed without being a bit of an asshole.  Based on my experience, Pfeffer is right on: “despite what you have probably read in the leadership literature, the answer to the question is almost certainly ‘no.'”  The people who get things done are not always nice. Period.  End of statement.

With my own background in theology, psych and communication, I have long been troubled and frustrated by the widespread notion that people should always be nice.  I decided long ago in raising our children, teaching and consulting, that I’d like to be good (most of the time), but that I can’t afford to be a saint.  I’d not get anything done, and we’d have been in the poorhouse.  Eyes have rolled on more than one occasion when I revealed that I didn’t really raise our daughters to be nice, but to make a contribution to a needy world.  These “nice,” “good” notions have a long history in pop psychology and religion in general.  You’ll find that they’ve infiltrated our highly churched, perfectionistic American religious world, so it’s no surprise that it takes two smart Jews to write a good review.  (You should know that I was an ordained christian minister.)

Pfeffer is especially useful, because he challenges the human leaning to oversimplified judgments.  Oversimplified judgments have three failings:

–they retard learning

–they deceive us

–they resist useful revision

Well, I’ve already stolen too much of Brooks and Pfeffer’s insights, but there’s a lot more to be digested in their responses to the film.

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