The World Needs More Purpose-Driven Young People – Mark Zuckerberg

Updated on 1 June 2017

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Today's Top Entrepreneurship and Business Stories (2 June)All month long SME South Africa will highlight young entrepreneurs, innovators and influencers who are shaping the future, as part of our Youth Month 2017 coverage. Follow #YouthAmplified on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.

Entrepreneurship should be more than just about money, it should be about creating a sense of purpose.

This was the message Mark Zuckerberg had for Harvard’s graduating class of 2017.

Twelve years after dropping out of the university, Zuckerberg returned to give the commencement speech for the graduating class on Thursday, 25 May.

His big message – create a renewed sense of purpose for the world.

He told the Harvard grads that this can be achieved by ensuring that everyone has the freedom to pursue their purpose and by nurturing a sense of community across the world.

“I’m here to tell you finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose,” says Zuckerberg.

The 33-year-old entrepreneur, who co-founded Facebook from his dorm room at the university, left after his sophomore year to concentrate on the social media platform, and is now one of the world’s youngest billionaires and amongst the most successful entrepreneurs in the world.

Here are the 5 ways Zuckerberg says entrepreneurs can create businesses as impactful as his own.

1. Look For Something Bigger Than Yourself
“One of my favorite stories is when John F Kennedy visited the NASA space center, he saw a janitor carrying a broom and he walked over and asked what he was doing. The janitor responded: “Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon”.

Purpose, Zuckerberg says, is not only knowing that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, but also that we have something better ahead to work for. This is what creates true happiness, he says.

2. Purpose Is What Will Keep You On The Right Path
This was a lesson Zuckerberg says he learnt the hard way. He explains that a couple of years into building Facebook, there were some big companies that wanted to buy the business. Nearly everyone else wanted to sell but he just wanted to see if he could connect more people.

“You see, my hope was never to build a company, but to make an impact. And as all these people started joining us, I just assumed that’s what they cared about too, so I never explained what I hoped we’d build. Nearly everyone else wanted to sell. Without a sense of higher purpose, this was the startup dream come true. It tore our company apart. After one tense argument, an advisor told me if I didn’t agree to sell, I would regret the decision for the rest of my life. Relationships were so frayed that within a year or so every single person on the management team was gone.”

Zuckerberg says that this was his hardest time leading Facebook and he felt alone in what he was hoping to achieve.

“And worse, it was my fault. I wondered if I was just wrong, an imposter, a 22-year-old kid who had no idea how the world worked. Now, years later, I understand that is how things work with no sense of higher purpose. It’s up to us to create it so we can all keep moving forward together,” he says.

3. Even If You Don’t Know What You Are Doing, Just Get Started
Zuckerberg says many entrepreneurs will feel that they are not equipped to realise those big ideals of purpose and doing something meaningful in the beginning.

“But let me tell you a secret: no one does when they begin. Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started. If I had to understand everything about connecting people before I began, I never would have started Facebook.”

“Movies and pop culture get this all wrong. The idea of a single eureka moment is a dangerous lie. It makes us feel inadequate since we haven’t had ours. It prevents people with seeds of good ideas from getting started. Oh, you know what else movies get wrong about innovation? No one writes math formulas on glass. That’s not a thing,” he jokes.

4. You May Even Have To Be A Maverick
While being idealistic is a good thing, entrepreneurs pursuing big ideas should be prepared to be misunderstood, Zuckerberg says.

“Anyone working on a big vision will get called crazy, even if you end up right. Anyone working on a complex problem will get blamed for not fully understanding the challenge, even though it’s impossible to know everything upfront. Anyone taking initiative will get criticized for moving too fast, because there’s always someone who wants to slow you down,” he says.

“In our society, we often don’t do big things because we’re so afraid of making mistakes that we ignore all the things wrong today if we do nothing. The reality is, anything we do will have issues in the future. But that can’t keep us from starting.”

5. Fail, It’s How You Will Become Successful
An entrepreneurial culture thrives when it’s easy to try lots of new ideas, Zuckerberg says adding that he tried many different projects such as games, chat systems, study tools and music players before building Facebook.

“I’m not alone. JK Rowling got rejected 12 times before publishing Harry Potter. Even Beyonce had to make hundreds of songs to get Halo. The greatest successes come from having the freedom to fail.”

“But today,” he continues, “we have a level of wealth inequality that hurts everyone. When you don’t have the freedom to take your idea and turn it into a historic enterprise, we all lose. Right now our society is way over-indexed on rewarding success and we don’t do nearly enough to make it easy for everyone to take lots of shots.​”


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