Of Mintzberg and Zuckerberg: Communities and commodities | Sunday Observer

Of Mintzberg and Zuckerberg: Communities and commodities

4 October, 2020

Henry Mintzberg, the veteran management thinker promotes the concept of “community” stating that leadership should pave the way for “communityship”. Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, created the largest social media platform, Facebook with an active monthly user base becoming the largest population on earth. With the rapid growth of technology and increasing expansion of social media use, what are the prospects of using Facebook for community building? Is it merely being used as a commodity for sharing? What is the connection between Mintzberg’s concepts and Zuckerberg’s creations? Today’s column is an elaboration of it in relation to the Sri Lankan context.


Living in communities is nothing new for east and west alike. We have Sangha societies in Buddhist context. We also have Monasteries in the Christian context. The commonality in both is the way a group of members of a community live. It involves sharing a common set of values, respecting one another and a high degree of collaboration. Also, it invites the members to display synergy in their actions and reactions.

“It seems that we are over-led and under-managed,” said Mintzberg. Many may disagree. Yet, you cannot undermine this candid Canadian veteran. Having contributed to management in proposing ten key managerial roles way back in 1971, he is sharp and sensible in his criticism. I had this confusion early in my management teaching stages about the real difference between a manager and a leader, and in a broad sense management and leadership. Thanks to global thought leaders, now I have a clear way out.

For me, management is a process and leadership is a phenomenon. Every manager has a “leading” function to perform. When it gets expanded, he or she thinks and acts more as a leader. What Mintzberg Invites us is even to go beyond. In his website blog (mintzberg.org), Mintzberg elaborates why he says so.

“How can you recognise communityship? That’s easy. You have found it when you walk into an organisation and are struck by the energy in the place, the personal commitment of the people and their collective engagement in what they are doing. These people don’t have to be formally empowered because they are naturally engaged. The organisation respects them so they respect it. They don’t live in mortal fear of being fired en mass because some ‘leader’ hasn’t made his or her numbers. Imagine an economy made up of such organisations.” (mintzberg.org)

There is a clear invitation to shift from “one man show” to a “one team show”. In other words, we need no one super star but a galaxy of superstars. I have been subconsciously promoting this at the Postgraduate Institute of Management, and now I am more convinced when I hear the inspirational ideas from Mintzberg in a similar fashion.

Synergy and communityship

One key feature in communityship is synergy. Synergy is all about working together. It is synchronised energy in action. Stephen Covey, in his bestseller “seven habits of highly effective people”, describes synergy as: “Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It shows that the relationship, which the parts have to each other, is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but also the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part.”

“Synergy is everywhere in nature.If two plants are placed close together for growth, the roots improve the quality of the soil so that both plants will grow better than if they were separated. In short, one plus one equals three or more. The challenge is to apply the principles of creative cooperation, which we learn from nature, in our social interactions. The essence of synergy is to value differences – to respect them, to build on strengths, to compensate for weaknesses”. There is much food for thought indeed.

“Probably we never fully credit the interdependence of wild creatures, and their cognizance of the affairs of their own kind,” said Mary Austin, a renowned American author. The way geese fly in v-shape and the way wolves run as a flock are just two prominent examples.

Synergy we see in nature is associated with the complex term symbiosis. It is a close and often long-term interaction between two or more different biological species. In other words, a close prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may benefit each member. Way back in 1877, Albert Bernhard Frank used the word symbiosis to describe the mutualistic relationship in lichens. It is also described as the living together of two dissimilar organisms, as in mutualism, commensalism, or parasitism.

The term, “symbiotic relationship” is often used in the area of sociology. The word symbiosis has first been used to describe people living together in a community. It is, in fact, a true adaptation from the biological meaning of “living together of unlike organisms”.

Communityship and social media

With the rapid technology advancements over the years, social media have come to the forefront offering solutions to people issues. Social media refers to the means of interactions among people, in which they create, share, and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. Social media is commonly known as social network web sites (SNWs) such as Facebook, MySpace, and the more professionally-oriented LinkedIn. SNWs, as well as related applications (e.g. micro-blogging web sites such as Twitter) also allow recruiters to conduct extensive background checks.

SNWs can also be regarded as well-established as a consumer and brand oriented set of tools. Increasingly, they are being offered as an innovative solution for internal effectiveness. SNWs have made a significant impact in the US social life. According to a study by KPMG, the following numbers show how SNWs are shining.

Around 76 percent of US companies used LinkedIn’s 100 million registered users for recruiting.

Around 84 percent of job seekers have a Facebook profile, and 48 percent of them have done at least one job-hunting activity on Facebook in the past year.

Sixty one percent of millennials (those born after 1980) don’t go to the traditional company support groups first; they prefer to turn to the Web and other external resources.

Corporate e-mail is growing 20-25 percent per year, with data storage costs soaring.

China is the most socially engaged market in the world, with 84 percent of Internet users contributing at least once a month to social networking, blogging, video uploading, photo sharing, micro-blogging, or forums – they are followed by Russia, Brazil, and India.

Thirty six percent of social media users post brand-related content.

Sixty percent of employees would like help from employers to share relevant content.

Facebook in focus

“Facebook was not originally created to be a company; It was built to accomplish a social mission - to make the world more open and connected,” said Mark Zuckerberg, the founder. He partnered with his Harvard friends to create a social networking site that allowed Harvard students to connect with each other. The site officially went live in June 2004 under the name “The Facebook,” and Zuckerberg ran it out of his dorm room. In 2017, Zuckerberg said that he thinks of himself more as a community builder than an engineer.

Right from the beginning, there were controversies surrounding him, in a wide array of aspects including copyright and privacy. For an instance, In April 2018, Zuckerberg testified before the US Congress after it was revealed that the company had shared users’ data with the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

As reported by statista.com, with over 2.7 billion monthly active users as of the second quarter of 2020, Facebook is the biggest social network worldwide. In the third quarter of 2012, the number of active Facebook users surpassed one billion, making it the first social network ever to do so. Active users are those which have logged in to Facebook during the last 30 days. During the last reported quarter, the company stated that 3.14 billion people were using at least one of the company’s core products (Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, or Messenger) each month.

There are over 290 million Facebook users in India alone, making it the leading country in terms of Facebook audience size. To put this into context, if India’s Facebook audience were a country then it would be ranked fourth in terms of largest population worldwide. Apart from India, there are several other markets with more than 100 million Facebook users each: The United States, Indonesia, and Brazil with 190 million, 140 million, and 130 million Facebook users (statista.com).

Way forward Based on the global and local issues surrounding Facebook, one may ponder whether it is more of a commodity than a community. It has proved its potential as a meeting and sharing point with the rapid growth of membership. Yet, the ethical concerns such as privacy have overshadowed the economic gains as the largest social media platform. In Sri Lankan context, we saw the banning of it in the recent past citing the reasons of spreading hatred through fake news. Getting to know partners through Facebook and discovering later of their fraudulent nature has also led to many social calamities. Arranging controversial parties through Facebook to promote the use of narcotics has also been reported in the media.

On a positive note, can we use Facebook as a community building tool in Sri Lanka? Can we spread the messages of ethnic harmony and religious co-existence through Facebook? Are we merely using it to share individual or institutional events and accomplishments? What Mintzberg said as communityship can truly be fostered through what Zuckerberg made as a commodity? A lot of food for thought.