Facebook as a Country

Why a CEO president is not the solution

I was reading with interest Liliane’s blog post where she imagines a utopia in which Lebanon was being run by a CEO. Liliane, who works in a multinational corporation, wrote: “If such a multi-national company serving more than 1 billion monthly active users can operate successfully [..] then there is hope for a country with 4 million to do the same”

She elaborates:

If I want to see my Lebanon function properly, we need a good CEO whose sole purpose is to see this country grow, its people work together for a better Lebanon [..] We need a good CEO who hires ministers that are competent and qualified, who in turn hire competent and qualified people for their ministries

The CEO president is a common dream for many. On the surface it sounds like a an enlightened aspiration, but on closer inspection, the CEO president is not very different from the “benevolent dictator” or “ruthless military ruler” fantasies. These are all utopias where a leader not only knows what the best interest of a country is, but is absolutely empowered and uninterrupted in his execution of his vision (for some reason, he’s always a “he”).

The dream of heroic figureheads, whether visionary (Dubai-style benevolent dictator), powerful (General Sisi of Egypt) or data-driven (Zukerberg), promises to bring lebanon things it sorely needs: Discipline, common purpose and efficiency. These heroes look down on politics as “messy” and “chaotic” nuisances. They also have no patience for the toll politics extract on efficiency and achieving goals. This appeals to many people who just want to get on with life, but it is misguided.

Countries are not one-man-shows

The problem with a CEO president is the same as with other benevolent dictators: Countries are messy things with messy forces at play. They have no clear objectives like companies (grow and make profits) and they are not rigid hierarchal structures like armies. They are living, growing things with contradictory forces that simply cannot be whipped into shape without huge losses to personal liberties and diversity. Politics are messy because people’s relationships with each other are messy.

The best thing political leadership can achieve is to nudge and coax people into working together for a prosperous future that can be accepted by a majority of the population. Sometimes the process is ugly and involves compromises that many will find tasteless. But this is the price we pay for dynamic societies and liberty. A benevolent dictator can quickly lose patience with human rights activists or other “irritations” that distract from achieving whatever goal the dear leader deems crucial.

If Facebook was a country

Mark Zukerberg woke up with a headache this morning. The Data Liberty Resistance (DLR) faction in Facebook, which represents about 35% of the employees and is seen as sympathetic to Google, is threatening to shut down Facebook’s servers if its demands of replacing PHP with Python as the main programming language in Facebook are not met. The DLR had found a strategic ally in the General movement for Facebook Change (GMFC), representing almost 15% of Facebook’s employees and led by a megalomaniac who wants to replace Zukerberg as CEO. Employees whisper that Yahoo! is secretly funding the GMFC insurgency.

Zukerberg would have done something about it, but his allies at the Future of Facebook Fraternity (FFF), representing almost 35% of the employees, are encouraged by their sponsors at Microsoft to compromise with the DLR. They are proposing the .Net framework as a “no victor, no vanquished” solution that would make everyone better off. The GMFC meanwhile is smelling a rat and are threatenning to turn off the electricity on the Facebook servers if the DLR and the FFF worked out a deal behind its back.

Zukerberg will have to find a compromise and convince all the factions that if the servers are shut the future of Facebook will be in danger. If only, he thought wistfully, there was such a thing as a CEO President.

Update: Thank you to Beirut Spring readers Karim and Oussama for sharing these relevant articles with us:


Personal Note: In case you’re wondering where I have been, I am busy welcoming a new member of my family: A healthy baby girl that is one lovely bundle of joy…

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  • http://blog.funkyozzi.com Liliane

    I do admit my solution leans more towards Utopia. But I have to clarify one thing and disagree with you about saying that a CEO running Lebanon as a company is all in the hands of one man, even though Steve Jobs is inspiring but he would seem more of a dictator. I did suggest we need a CEO who hire good talent who will run ministries properly. Utopia? Maybe. Because our core problem is not the country, it’s the corruption, and who runs the corruption? It’s the people. So if one day we were lucky enough to reboot, we would get a good CEO who hires competent people who would help make this country profitable (e.g. Dubai – which is an emirate though)

    Thanks for building up on my post ! Opinions are a good thing.

  • http://twitter.com/markdaher Mark Daher (@markdaher)

    I assure you any successful company in the world is in no way a one-man-show. It is also quite unfair to put a CEO side by side with a benevolent dictator. A CEO has a board of directors to answer to, and the board of directors answers to shareholders. Think of the Lebanese people as the shareholders, and the parliament as the board of directors. With a proper accountability system, all you need in Lebanon is, in fact, a good CEO.

    Most first world countries DO have a goal, and that is the economic growth, prosperity, and the overall well-being of their people. They may differ in their opinions as to how to reach that goal, but their goal is the same. The problem with Lebanon is that the “leaders” do not even have a common goal (do we want a resistance state, an entrepreneurial state, an independent state even, etc.) and none of the leaders seem to be worried about economic growth and prosperity, so much so that our economy is now truly on the edge. What we lack is a common vision of what we want Lebanon to be, and a good Chief Executive will give us that vision, regardless of politics.

    • http://blog.funkyozzi.com Liliane

      Exactly what I meant in my post :) It’s not a one man show, AT ALL. It’s just his/her leadership.

      And btw Moustapha, I did not say “HE” anywhere in my post. You must have implanted that from your own thoughts :P CEO can definitely be a woman, look at Sheryl Sandberg, a true inspiration.

  • romeo

    First off: the masses demand a post with a few pictures of the “bundle of joy” :-)

    As to “where you have been”, I sympathize with you. You’re probably having sleepless nights. So congrats on the new arrival, and for being able to still think straight!

    I agree with you regarding running a country like a CEO.

    A CEO would “fire” a few hotheads, and let them find another country…err company.

    You see, one example, and the picture is starting to get ugly (ethnic cleansing anyone?).

    So Mustapha you’re right. We need to be more creative here.

    No matter how ugly the situation is in the Middle East at this point, I feel we’re eventually going to be OK. Meanwhile, we’re paying for the lack of experience in building a proper social structure. But pain makes people learn fast.

    We don’t have enough people (yet) who know how to run civil organizations, with proper structure, governance, etc.

    We are paying for generations of neglect.

    We have plenty of people who know how to run little clans and tiny fiefdoms.

    But I suggest for young Lebanese to join nonprofit organizations and learn altruism, service, proper governance, and reporting to multiple stakeholders with competing agendas.

    You will be surprised at how enriched your lives will be. You will also form the nucleus of the future Lebanon and Middle East.

  • Lior

    Mabrouk!

  • Anonymous

    Interesting take, but lets not forget a basic fact: CEOs are not (usually) in power without any checks and balances. They after all report to the Board, who are elected by the shareholders. We sometimes have powerful or founder-CEOs who control the board (e.g Mark Zuckerberg) and can therefore run the show unchallenged, but what Lebanon needs is a “CEO” installed by a professional elected “Board” who don’t believe in the affirmative action of favoring people based on race or religion, but rather solely on technical brilliance.

    Imagine an actual internal security expert as the Minister of Internal Security, or someone with 20 years experience working in the telecoms sector as Minister of Telecoms.

    One can dream…