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The Lesson Behind The Facebook Sign

Mark Zuckerberg explains that he wanted the old sign to remind Facebook employees of what can happen if you take your eye of the ball. He wanted them to remember never to take their success – or even their existence – for granted. Interesting thought, isn’t it?

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Did you know that Facebook’s headquarters in Palo Alto earlier belonged to Sun Microsystems? Sun was one of  the early giants of  Silicon Valley – but died a silent death in 2009. When Facebook moved in to the premises, they refurbished the entire place. But they didn’t get rid of the Sun Microsystems signboard outside the office. They just flipped it, and put Facebook’s sign in the front. Why did they do that?

Mark Zuckerberg explains that he wanted the old sign to remind Facebook employees of  what can happen if  you take your eye of  the ball. He wanted them to remember never to take their success – or even their existence – for granted. Interesting thought, isn’t it?

Most leaders tend to look at past successes to inspire and motivate their teams. We showcase trophies won, and re-tell tales of  triumph to remind ourselves of  what we need to do to win. We don’t usually look at mistakes made - or failures - to remind ourselves of  what we should not do. Maybe every organisation should ask  itself  the question: What’s our equivalent of  the Facebook/Sun signboard? At the start of  my career, I remember walking into the cabin of a shampoo brand manager. On the shelf  in his room were samples of  blockbuster products, great packaging,  ad club awards and innovative point-of-sale material. No surprises there.

But what caught my eye was a leaky  pack of anti-dandruff  shampoo in a tall refill pouch. The blue shampoo had clearly leaked a long  time ago, and smudged the outer pack. It wasn’t one of  those tiny sachets (that came much later) – but a large pouch – almost like a bottle. What was this  messy pack of  half-leaked shampoo doing on the shelf, I remember thinking? And the Brand Manager went on to tell me the story. He explained how the refill pack  was one of  the biggest launches he was associated with. The innovative pouch was expected to dramatically lower packaging costs – which in turn would allow the company to sell shampoo at significantly lower prices. The project was fast-tracked to get the product in the market soonest possible.

It was a mega-launch. Sales teams and retailers were all impressed by the innovative packaging and sales in the first three months were well above target. And then, disaster struck. The pouch began to leak. Complaints began to flow in. Turned out that over time, the shampoo was corroding the lining of  the pouch, resulting in the leak. Shops across the store were turning blue as the shampoo leaked and messed up the entire shelf. Shopkeepers were furious, as other expensive cosmetics were getting damaged too. The product had to be recalled, trade had to be compensated – and the marketing team had egg (and shampoo) on their faces.

That pack there, said the brand manager, is to remind me and my team that while we need to constantly innovate, we also need to be careful to test every element and not look for short-cuts in the quest for speed. Needless to say, he went on to have a hugely successful career in the years ahead.

So what’s your leaking-shampoo story? What’s behind your company’s signboard? Maybe you should let your team know. Lest they forget. Remember the words of George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Magazine 3 March 2018 facebook mark zuckerberg

Prakash Iyer

Iyer is an author, speaker and leadership coach , and former MD of Kimberly Clark Lever

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