Facebook has gone from social network newbie to household name with a billion users in less than a decade. It is barely out of the media spotlight and some neuro experts say it could soon be changing our brains. With that much influence in such a short time, it must be doing something pretty creative to keep ahead of the game. What, exactly?
Director of Design Kate Aronowitz underlines the company’s key ingredients for innovation as follows:
– Encourage everyone to learn by making
– A winning mobile strategy: ask what’s essential and contextual
– Physically mix up your work environment on a regular basis.
Shared responsibility for ideas sounds like a major plus. Senior executives are expected to take part in the conception and design of all products, so CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Vice President of Product Christopher Cox are not just the green light or the rubber stamp on projects, they are expected to feed in to them, too.
Executive involvement in idea generation shows everyone is in on a project from the very beginning and not just when it starts to build momentum or needs budget approval. Bringing contributions from every corner of the company has to be facilitated carefully: the possibilities of CEO control and employee self-censorship in the presence of the boss can be counter-productive.
No doubt it helps if an executive likes a colleague’s idea early on. The team then knows where to plough resources and prototyping efforts. And there is a ‘build and prototype culture’ at Facebook reflected in a sign once displayed in its headquarters: “Done is better than perfect.” Another reads: “Move fast and break things.” This must encourage risk taking and boldness.
The build and prototype method means getting on and doing rather than having long conversations about doing. It means learning from results. This seems similar to Google’s agile creativity: time spent making a swift prototype or early version of a product will tell you much more than discussions about what it might be like.
With mobiles becoming the primary device for viewing Facebook, the company is focusing on becoming best at apps and letting these learnings influence website design. The potential for immediate feedback is immense. Facebook innovates and a billion users tell them what they think. Speed and the underlying ethos of opinion sharing is a silver lining: the avalanche that follows every newsfeed restyle is potential fodder for the next iteration.
A recent article by leading neuroscientist Susan Greenfield says Facebook’s new phone and app Facebook Home (pictured above) encourage us to live in the moment – a development that could change our brains. Facebook Home puts streamed posts on the home screen of a phone – a new take on how phones and social lives can blend.
Greenfield’s article is written with a degree of concern over what Facebook is doing to human interaction. In other ways, Facebook is considered to be playing it safe: the comments on this article question whether Facebook’s innovation culture is more of a talking shop. The notion that “all their ideas came from other products” isn’t necessarily a sign of a bad idea. As Picasso said: “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.”
Facebook may not be reinventing itself (does it need to?) but its new paid services, such as messaging people outside your friends network, delivering targeted adverts, and the development of Facebook Home show it is moving forward. But does this make it a creative company, ahead of the pack, inside and out?
Certainly, compared to Google, we don’t know as much about how Facebook promotes creativity in its staff. Google’s office – the Googleplex – generates a lot of excited chatter from the public while Facebook is said to be ‘choosing substance over flash with the new office’, albeit one designed by Guggenheim architect Frank Gehry. Facebook apparently asked Gehry to tone down early designs.
The revamp of their existing Menlo Park building is a mix of private and group thinking space. Global architecture and design company Gensler had to balance private office space – which there is plenty of – with collaborative settings. They can move desks around if they need to work with other people or want more space or light.
Employees have been asked to make their own art for the walls and can write messages to each other on whiteboard space, as well as having the option of spending time on the treadmills dotted throughout the office.
In Mark Zuckerberg’s letter to investors in early 2012 he said Facebook believed in ‘the Hacker way’:
“Hackers try to build the best services over the long term by quickly releasing and learning from smaller iterations rather than trying to get everything right all at once. To support this, we have built a testing framework that at any given time can try out thousands of versions of Facebook. We have the words “Done is better than perfect” painted on our walls to remind ourselves to always keep shipping.”
Facebook Home is the latest example of this methodology in practice. Over to Facebook’s billion users to buy in and give feedback to prove if this really is Facebook’s way of staying ahead of the game, producing an anticipated want and need, and not merely innovating for innovation’s sake.