When Apple was floundering around in the early nineties and in danger of going under, they reached out in desperation to their exiled founder. Steve Jobs came to the rescue with enthusiasm, a wickedly honed design mandate and a succession of kick-ass products. We loved the story arc, from success to disgrace and back to success.
But was Steve getting too successful? Is an underdog still an underdog when he’s managed to out develop, out design and outsmart Microsoft? When he’s created entire new markets as well as new products? Despite ourselves, and our desire to take him down a notch or two, the answer is yes. Which is odd. The Apple-haters got their licks in with the iPhone 4 reception issue, but Steve came out okay. Maybe he wasn’t as contrite as we might have wished, but that might be the key.
The reception issue gave us all a chance to see Steve in crisis mode. His initial response was to blame his loyal followers. The gall! Even his apology was a kind of non-apology. He didn’t back down as much as turn slightly sideways. But he did admit that his company wasn’t perfect, and that they’d work their butts off to find a solution. He was able to make an audience that was out for blood actually laugh a few times. So, as much as we hate to admit it, we respect the guy. Sure, part of it’s grudging admiration, but it goes deeper than that. Steve learned humility when he was booted out of his own company. He showed balls by later saving it. And, from time to time, he shows that he is in possession of a fully-functioning sense of humor. We like all that. It makes him human.
So what about Mark Zuckerberg? Here’s a young guy who’s also given us something to improve the quality of life – an amazing platform to stay connected, a truly global phenomenon embraced by everybody regardless of age, sex, social strata or religion (except Pakistan, who want to arrest the whole Facebook boy-band). It’s a great story, the multibillion-dollar empire coded-up in a dorm room at Harvard. Half a billion people use Facebook and almost a million developers around the world work on the applications that make it such a compelling site.
Wouldn’t the person who started with virtually nothing – just an idea, a PC and a cramped dorm room – and then created a positive-vibe juggernaut like Facebook be a shoe-in for Underdog of The Century? Maybe. Maybe if that person wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg.
Mark just doesn’t get much slack. The reason for this could be the nagging suspicion that, however unlikely, he might have co-opted someone else’s idea (http://www.mahalo.com/connectu). It could be the defensive and obstructive way he responds to criticism of Facebook. Perhaps it’s a fear that Facebook has all our secrets and that Zuckerberg is too young to control the monster he created. Or too young to be so successful.
It is probably a combination of all these factors, but the biggest reason we love to hate Mark Zuckerberg – and don’t laugh – could be that he never makes us laugh.
The guy has the personality of a soap dish. He seems to take no joy in what he has accomplished, and way too much pride. Mark Zuckerberg might need a dose of failure. Maybe he’ll need to experience what it’s like to be pushed out of your own company, to have to rebuild yourself and your self-esteem.
When it gets right down to it, we’re willing to overlook a whole host of shortcomings – as long as they’re offset by some humor and some humility. Maybe then we’ll hit the like button for Mark Zuckerberg.