This is part 4 in my series on lessons for young professionals from recent movies.
4. True professionals respect people.
I need to begin this post as I did the last one, with a disclaimer: I realize that the legal documents that inspired The Social Network were subjected to some Aaron Sorkin alchemy, and therefore that the film is not to be taken as a nonfictional account. Thus, this post is not about Mark Zuckerberg the person but about Mark Zuckerberg the persona, the character played by Jesse Eisenberg in the movie.
It’s disturbing to me that people are starting to use Mark Zuckerberg along with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as an example of that “you can accomplish anything you put your mind to” brand of philosophy. It’s disturbing, firstly, because I think that philosophy has some serious intrinsic problems; secondly, because it’s way too soon to tell whether Mark Zuckerberg will have the same kind of lasting impact that the other famous entrepreneurs have had. Thirdly, it’s disturbing because until he publishes his memoirs, the narrative version of Mark Zuckerberg most accessible to role model-seekers is the one in The Social Network, even if that isn’t the “real” Mark Zuckerberg. And the guy in that movie is incredibly unprofessional. This has nothing to do with the fact that he wears sneakers, jeans, and hoodies to important meetings. In many industries, particularly ones like Internet startups, dress code is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and I believe the impression caused by bad clothing choices can be overcome by a good work ethic. (I’ve experienced that myself.)
No, the reason Mark Zuckerberg (the character) is unprofessional is that he treats people like crap. He doesn’t deliver promised services; he ignores email correspondence unless it’s convenient for him; he’s insolent toward those in authority, and he drives away his best friend. This last is not only a bad interpersonal move but also a potentially stupid business decision, since the friend has business and math savvy that even Mark lacks. Also he’s Andrew Garfield–how can you look into his gorgeous face and break his heart? But I digress. My point is that a large part of professionalism is summed up in the Golden Rule: Treat people well, and they probably won’t care what you’re wearing.
In the final post of the series, Penelope Clearwater talks about some young professionals she knows personally.