Facebook 'Home' as metaphor for an innovative economy

The new Facebook 'Home' is designed for a pure social experience, or encouraging more collaboration – the very quality needed to drive innovation in the workplace and spur economic growth.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's co-founder and chief executive, introduces 'Home' – a social-media application that integrates with Android smart phones – at an April 4 press event in Menlo Park, Calif.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and President Obama have two things in common:

1. They each hope to revive growth in their respective enterprises – a giant tech firm of 680 million users, and a national economy of 310 million people.

2. They each look to do so by stimulating innovation – for Facebook, among its 4,000 workers; for the American economy, by spawning new types of job-creating industries.

Facebook’s introduction of its “Home” application for Android smart phones on Thursday represents that kind of bold creativity needed in today’s economy. But the software itself also shows the very process that breeds innovation, helping to reinforce Mr. Obama’s efforts on technological innovation.

Facebook has been losing its core users, teenagers, many of whom find the site “boring” compared with newer ways to connect on the Internet. “Home” attempts to break boundaries by not quite being an app, an operating system, or a phone itself. Even the name Facebook is put in the background. Rather, “Home” was designed to sit on a phone’s home screen and provide a direct social-networking connection to friends, family, and associates.

“Today our phones are designed around apps and not people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “We want to flip that around.”

While it may not succeed, “Home” shows how much collaboration in general has become a necessity – in technology and in the economy. Many of today’s innovations come not from brilliant inventors or through charismatic leadership like that of the late Steve Jobs, but through a collaborative workplace culture.

Facebook made famous the practice of software engineers working together late into the night in what is known as “hackathons.” Instead of competition with others, this type of collaboration relies on sharing a common purpose, which in turn drives trust, generosity, and a cross-pollination of ideas.

This runs counter to the traditional notion of people as inherently selfish – as takers rather than givers – or workers who must be guided by strict rules, raises, promotions, and performance reviews.

Like the offices at many high-tech companies, Facebook’s buildings are designed to encourage spontaneous exchanges and informal encounters that break down barriers and nurture empathy. Both the architecture and the activities help workers get out of a “silo” mentality, or focusing on their own work, and engage with workers of other departments in fun ways.

Finding new ways to drive constant innovation has become a common quest among advanced economies in Europe, Japan, and the United States as a way to return to strong economic growth. Rather than simply look for new technologies, however, these economies should first look at the quality of relationships in the workplace.

Old ways of viewing employees have changed. Like social media, the new ways rely more on cooperation than competition. Facebook isn’t only a site. It’s becoming a metaphor for the new economy, one sought by Obama and Zuckerberg alike.

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