It’s not about the money…it’s about the ‘cool’.
‘Cool’ measured by ‘friends’ is the currency of this story. And the ups and downs are the classic tussle of leadership and management.
Sean Parker’s line will go as one of the iconic movie lines of all time… “A million dollars isn’t cool. You know what is cool. A billion dollars.”
And the film and trailer itself opens with this imperative of ‘cool’…“I need to do something substantial in order to get the attention of the clubs…because they are exclusive, and fun, and they lead to a better life.”
Of course, being ‘cool’ is about ‘Friends’ and the subject of the ‘The Social Network’ has redefined the word ‘Friend’ forever.
So what does all this have to do with Leadership and Management. No, it’s not about the strategic decisions that built the Facebook empire, but about the theme of upside and downside. The film is a gritty and raw portrayal of the conundrum that faces every executive…how to balance upside and downside.
On one hand is Parker playing the ‘Leader’ whispering in Zuckerberg’s ear about the tantalising upsides of fortune and fame (both of which lead to being ‘cool’). A superficial interpretation of the film would see it as a soaring confirmation of dreaming big and changing the world. Parker’s prophetic exhortations proved correct. He urged Zuckerberg to focus on game changing growth and in the end that is what happened to make Facebook not just one of the commercial success stories of the century, but a culture changing icon.
But the conclusion is not that simplistic. Zuckerberg’s goal was to be ‘cool’ and have ‘friends’ and yet in the final scene, he seems as alone and abandoned as he was in the opening scene. Moreover, instead of losing his girlfriend, he has now lost his best friend too.
Counterbalancing, and battling Parker throughout like the stereotypical angel and devil sitting on someone’s shoulder, is the ‘Manager’ Eduardo Saverin. Zuckerberg’s closest friend, financial catalyst and voice of reason and caution. On the face of it, Saverin represents sensible guarding against downside risks. The risks of ‘Facemash’ (which did almost get Zuckerberg thrown out of the university as Saverin warned). The risks of not having a sound financial model (which seem moot here, but were words more Dot Coms have needed to hear in history).
In the end, the film does not really come down on the side of one or the other – leadership or management. It just takes the viewer into the trials and tribulations of an executive grappling with both and trying to forge a way through. It is a piece full of irony and contradiction. A modern Citizen Kane about business success and triumph which nonetheless does not seem to lead to the happy ending for its protagonist that one would expect. More deeply than his managerial prudence, Saverin represents the perhaps inestimable downside costs to personal relationships of the historic successes that Parker has prodded Zuckerberg on to. Downside costs not to ‘Friends’, but to friendships. In pursuing one’s dreams. The ultimate irony is that Zuckerberg’s dream, as portrayed in the movie, was ‘friends’ and that is what he appears to have ended up with the least of.