Will Facebook innovate or get left behind?

According to recent statistics, the average American spends about 35 minutes each day on Facebook. Considering that statistics also show that 66% of Americans are Facebook users, it is not surprising that it has exceeded $500 billion in market value. When over half the American public is engaged on a single social media platform, the question becomes: do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Facebook has offered its users numerous benefits like connecting, sharing, communicating, and exchanging information with others. Users can like, comment, and share content that relates to their interests and/or experiences, and they can also share content that they believe will benefit some or all of their friends. Currently, we can browse the web, read articles, watch videos, search for events, and even shop without ever having to leave the Facebook app. While these benefits can enhance our lives, we must remember that when any platform offers multiple benefits and services to its users, there are always certain risks involved. 

Facebook has been criticized for many quantifiable issues such as privacy, data mining, censorship, security, and the circulation of false information. But the social media giant has also been criticized for more qualitative risks such as the tendency of some users to develop compulsive use habits. 

Although there is controversy surrounding claims that Facebook was designed to tap into our addictive nature, one premise is clear: Facebook is on a mission to get users to spend more and more time on the platform. This puts Facebook in a unique position where it must consider multiple ways to keep its users engaged, but it must also consider the repercussions of building a structure that has the potential to influence so many aspects of its users’ lives. 

Not surprisingly, people are beginning to take notice of the increase in time spent on Facebook and some are even designing solutions to the problem of spending too much time on the platform. For example, multiple apps have been created to limit and monitor time spent on social media, some people are deleting their Facebook feeds entirely, and others are setting their screens to black and white to make using apps like Facebook less enjoyable. 

As more and more people begin to see negative impacts associated with time spent on Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerburg faces his own Innovator’s Dilemma. Coined by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, The Innovators Dilemma describes situations where companies get overturned by market transformations because accepting them would mean going against their business’s mission.

So if Facebook’s mission is to earn more of people’s time, but more people are starting to view time spent on Facebook as problematic, what is Mark Zuckerburg to do? Should he stay true to the company’s past and current vision or should he change course to innovate in light of the potential shift in the market? We’ll just have to wait and see…

What does it take to innovate?

Recently, Bloomberg released their 2017 rankings of the world’s most innovative economies. Bloomberg ranks regional economies based on their scores in seven different areas, including research and development, and the number of high-tech public companies based in the region.

According to their findings, the United States has dropped out of the top ten for the first time in six years, landing in 11th place. Falling from 9th place in 2016, the US lost ground mainly in its score in the education-efficiency category, which has to do with how many science and engineering graduates are available in the job market. Although the US had made improvements in productivity, it was not enough to compensate for losses in other scoring areas. 

The demand for STEM graduates in the job market leads many to conclude that the logical solution is to push students toward degree programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But the answer is more complicated than emphasizing these subjects in K12 schools or counseling more college students into STEM degree programs and careers. One must look no further than the American tech giant, Google, for proof that the solutions to our innovation problems are complex. 

As part of their own internal research into the skills that lead to employee success, Google discovered that the traditional tech skills they predicted to find were not the skills that were most valuable to their employee’s success at work. Instead, they found that the top seven characteristics of their highest performoring employees are the following:

  1. Being a good coach
  2. Communicating and listening well
  3. Possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view)
  4. Having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues
  5. Being a good critical thinker and problem solver
  6. Ability to make connections across complex ideas

These aren’t the hard skills that are top of mind when many people think about STEM skills, but they are the “soft skills” that can be developed across a variety of academic and fine arts domains. Findings like these further bolster the argument for the Arts in STEAM education programs since the arts promote ways of thinking that include making connections, empathy, critical thinking, problem solving, communicating, and listening. (For more information read the National Art Education Association’s position statement HERE). 

Therefore, an engineering degree can be valuable in the job marketplace, but so can that art degree–it’s all about how you think.