this push towards things becoming more open is probably the most powerful and transformative social change… We may be the company that really leads this movement….It’s not clear that anyone else is going to manage it correctly.

Mark Zuckerberg, outlining the steady erosion of the concept of privacy in our time: WSJ

Jessica Vascellaro’s cover-story in the WSJ seats Facebook in a tension between going public and Zuckerberg’s remarkable ability to “delay gratification” and take a seat in “a long queue of tech barons with grand ambitions.” The real story, however, may be in her subtle jibes at one who might become “world’s richest twenty-something.” More than a thinly veiled personal attack, Vascellaro may be hinting at something more substantial: that the question of privacy in the 21st century will be meaningfully shaped by an ambiguous and controlling figure.

Vascellaro heaps praise on her subject, but it’s careful praise. Through at least the first six paragraphs, Zuckerberg looks like any other titan of technology and the piece like any other paean to their heroism. It’s just long enough to disarm any defensive instinct.  With paragraph seven, however, she seems to shift course. She starts to probe into what “Working with Zuck” is like. The examples that follow don’t overtly criticize Zuckerberg, but they are ambiguous.

  • The CEO, but…“A micromanager, Mr. Zuckerberg has cut down on his meeting obligations and now delegates to senior-level staffers so that he can spend more time mulling Facebook’s broader, strategic game plan.”
  • Strategic thinker, so…“he’s ruminated what the company would do if it had a trillion dollars at its disposal.”
  • Long-term thinker, but…“he readily abandons concepts a year or more in the making”
  • A motivational speaker who…would lead employees in pumping their fists in the air and chanting “domination” before being warned against it by “executives” who suggested, “it made him seem silly and that competitors might cite it as evidence of monopolistic goals.”
  • A movie buff who can bring it to the people…“quoted from the movie ‘Troy’ before hundreds of employees crammed ino the steamy basement of a sheraton hotel in Palo Alto….’that’s why no one will remember your name!’ Zuckerberg shoted.”
  • In a company that…“is in the phase where some founders get themselves into trouble by being too sure of themselves”, suggests Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Yale School of Management
  • Who can tap into a rich trove of experience, such as…“a special capacity for delayed gratification…[and]…hammered home this idea to his management team at an off-site meeting, recounting a story about how he was good at waiting for things as a teenager.”
  • A serious man, who understanding the importance of seriousness and how to frame it…“traded his daily uniform of a T-shirt and jeans for a button-down shirt and tie. ‘This is a serious year,’ [Zuckerberg] told employees, explaining how similar attire somehow gave prep-school students more gravitas.”
  • And, by the way, “his mother called him ‘Princely.’”

The only decisive praise of Zuckerberg comes from a “former employee and venture capitalist Matt Cohler.” Vascellaro reported him saying, Zuckerberg has “clarity of purpose that is remarkable.” Even then, she only suggests Cohler calls him “a natural leader.” She cannot find or does not furnish the words from an actual quote.

It’s Zuckerberg’s quote in paragraph nine that haunts Vascellaro’s careful and ambiguous storytelling. Zuckerberg says, “this push towards things becoming more open is probably the most powerful and transformative social change… We may be the company that really leads this movement….It’s not clear that anyone else is going to manage it correctly.” Given the facts and observations that Vascellaro organized for her story, it’s clear that Facebook will play an important part in this movement, but it’s not clear that they will manage it correctly. But this is no direct criticism of Zuckerberg or Facebook. It’s not clear any individual or corporation could hope to manage it correctly.