Photo: Facebook Newsroom

What Facebook Can Teach Us About Knowing What To Work On For The Next Decade

In the Keynote of Facebook’s recent annual developer conference, F8, CEO Mark Zuckerberg showcased their 10-year roadmap, focused around their mission of building the technologies to give everyone in the world the power to share anything they want with anyone. He also shared their playbook for achieving this ambitious mission:

First, we build a new technology that can help people share and connect in some new ways. Then we take that technology and we build it into a product that we think a billion or more people could use and benefit from. And then finally, once the product is at scale, we build a full ecosystem around that product — of developers and businesses and partners.

Personally I found this very fascinating. Not so much on the tech in this case, which even though was exciting in their own right, was nothing they haven’t already publicly spoken of before. What’s more interesting was to see how it’s all mapped out and presented as a portfolio. It reveals some insights about strategy, innovation, and growth.

Organize innovation with a portfolio

Their roadmap is classic Three Horizons. I’ve written about it before here — essentially it’s a framework which strategically maps out a company’s plans for growth in a portfolio over multiple timeframes, i.e. horizons. Here we see Facebook categorizing ecosystems, products, and technologies for their short-term, medium-term, and long-term horizons respectively, and their innovation investments in each category are well-diversified.

Always link it back to the mission

At first glance, some may have thought: “What do drones, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality have anything to do with Facebook or social media?”. However, if you consider how their playbook was described, it gives some clues that it’s all related to their core mission.

In his keynote, Zuckerberg further explained this by showing the link between the technologies in their roadmap and the words “everyone”, “anything”, and “with anyone” from their mission statement (see photo above).

Infrastructure and connectivity brings more people online and ultimately onto Facebook, which helps close the gap between their current users and literally “everyone”. Funnily enough Facebook is probably one of the few companies in existence that can actually pull off having such a broad mission to target everyone in the world — 1 in 5 people on earth are already active users of Facebook.

Media on the internet has progressed from text, to images, to video, and now to new immersive evolutions of it such as VR — this all makes up their “anything”.

Finally “with anyone” refers to the type of relationships or interactions that people have, whether it’s a single friend, a group of co-workers, a business, or the whole internet. For Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc, they each help with this personal segmentation.

And something to note regarding missions is that they don’t have to be set in stone. Missions can evolve over the years — even Facebook’s — though they generally stay along the same lines.

Try working backwards

I believe it’s no coincidence that Zuckerberg described their playbook by working backwards from H3, to H2, and finally H1. It’s a very effective and creative approach to strategic thinking. It reminds me of this concept called ‘future back’ which I read of a couple of years ago in the book Creative Genius by Peter Fisk. He described it as “thinking about what is possible, or apparently impossible, and then thinking how to do it.”

Future back thinking lets us ‘leap-frog’ the limitations of today — technology challenges, practices and behaviors you don’t have, market regulations, conflicts with short-term priorities, all the thousands of reasons why we should not do something — and instead focus on understanding the potential impact of what’s possible, and therefore their value to us. Then we are more likely to find the motivation to find ways to overcome the reasons why we should not.

Fisk states that “the reality is that your customers need help in adopting new technologies, and technologies need more work in order to enable relevant applications.”

Leverage your strengths

Facebook took five years to finally see profit, but it got there by developing their social media product into a strong platform built around apps and ads — a business model which has turned out very well for them and their partners. This rich ecosystem, and their ability to get, keep, and grow users on it, is Facebook’s strength, and the thing that allows them to give everyone the power to share anything with anyone. All roads on their roadmap in one way or another point back to this ecosystem (or whatever evolved form it takes in the future).

For companies to maintain sustainable growth — like Facebook — we need to strategically continue looking beyond the horizon. We should spend time creatively imagining future possibilities, technological advancements, devising how our users (current and future) are likely to interact in this future, and working out how we can provide value to those interactions by leveraging our strengths to do what we do best and fulfill our mission in the world.

Then, as George Bernard Shaw puts it, “you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”

Originally published on LinkedIn.