The Power Grid

The power and influence of books through history is a phenomenon that continues to intersect our contemporary affairs if we pay attention. What follows is the application of a book written almost 480 years ago intended to champion regal power and control, and how apropos it remains in assessing its unintentional influence on one of today’s most powerful corporate moguls. While it may be somewhat frivolous to stitch together different entities from such historical distance, the connections are so obvious and relevant that it is definitely a Whittle Nod moment.

Niccolo Machiavelli was born in 1469, in Florence, Italy, and, though poor, had his father’s respected name and access to his father’s library. There books by Roman and Greek thinkers generated enough interest to allow Niccolo to become a Florentine intellectual. But his luck was bad. The Medici family had just returned to power and had little use for Florentine thinkers. For all his efforts to build his position, 44 year-old-bureaucrat Niccolo was charged with conspiracy and prosecuted in 16th century style with jail time, torture and exile. Machiavelli would spend the rest of his life trying to get back into the good graces of the power elite and the path he took to get there was to become a serious writer. Of all the work he produced, it was his writing of The Prince — a kind of “How To” book for power brokers that proved to be one that stuck. Though he did worm himself back into a bureaucratic position with the Medicis, his work proved to be a little too startling for the church who eventually banned everything he wrote. Like many writers before him and after him, history would have its say, and today The Price remains one of the most unique works to come out of European history.

Whether Mark Zuckerberg ever read The Prince is unknown, but his background in classical studies and interest in literary antiquities suggest that if he didn’t read it, he must have went out of his way to avoid it. Though always a prize-winner in math and the sciences, he was, like Machiavelli, a classics enthusiast. It is widely speculated that he writes, speaks and reads Latin, Hebrew, and some ancient Greek dialects as well as French. It’s reported that he was fascinated by ancient Greece and Rome. As a boy, a favorite video game was Civilization, the object of which is to “build an empire to stand the test of time.” Not much is known about his reading habits. It is rumored that the only book he has ever mentioned publically was Ender’s Game — a young adult science-fiction novel, involving a computer boy wonder But whether or not Zucherberg ever thumbed a copy of The Prince or didn’t, it seems somewhat fated that the news that the Facebook founder generates seems to provide living examples from Machiavelli’s power book project.

Here then are little gems from Machiavelli’s Il Principe (The Prince), and a smattering of others from his writings, paralleled with some of the journalistic headlines of Zukerberg’s Facebook empire and his ascension to global power. While history may offer us little insight into our social purpose, it does remind us that the examples recorded there are never too far from our present realities, because we are who we are, we can learn from them.


“One must have support of the people, while constantly keeping them in check with the rules and regulations…And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” — Niccolò Machiavelli, 1532

“The web is at a really important turning point right now. Up until recently, the default on the web has been that most things aren’t social and most things don’t use your real identity. We’re building toward a web where the default is social”. — Mark Zukerberg, 2010


“Never was anything great achieved without danger.” — Niccolò Machiavelli

July 24, 2007 According to credit information provider Equifax, fraudsters could make off with Facebook users' personal information in order to commit ID theft--and the company is urging Web users to limit the amount of info they post online. He cited details such as date of birth, e-mail, job and marital status as the kind of data frequently posted online by unwary users. Fraudsters can use this information to steal an individual's identity and open accounts in their name. — ZDNET


“One change always leaves the way open for the establishment of others.” — Machiavelli

September 21, 2009. Facebook has settled a year-old class action lawsuit that targeted the social network's alleged failure to provide adequate information and privacy controls to users with regard to Beacon, which shared information about users' information on third-party partner sites in Facebook news feeds. —CNET

May 12, 2012. Beacon, an advertising program that automatically publicized consumers’ purchases on sites like Amazon to Facebook, turned out to be a flop. Mr. Zuckerberg abandoned it and later settled a related class action by paying $9.5 million to set up a privacy foundation. The New York Times


“I'm not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it.” — Machiavelli

January 8, 2010. “...doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do. But we viewed that as a really important thing. People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time. We decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.” — Mark Zuckerberg.

January 9, 2010. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told a live audience yesterday that if he were to create Facebook again today, user information would by default be public, not private as it was for years. — RWW


“The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.” — Machiavelli

May 23, 2010 The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook and other social networking sites such as MySpace had passed along to advertisers the user IDs of subscribers who had clicked on advertisements.
Facebook said that it does not share user information without user consent. But it said it did share some data that may include the user ID of the page but not the person who clicked on the ad.
“We don’t consider this personally identifiable information,” the company (Facebook’s Chairman Donald E. Graham) said in a statement. — The Washington Post


“A wise ruler ought never to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interests.” — Machiavelli

Nov 9, 2011. The Federal Trade Commission announced today Facebook agreed to settle to the eight-count complaint made by the FTC in regards to its user’s privacy. According to reports filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and a combination of consumer groups, Facebook violated federal law with unfair and deceptive privacy promises. Kohana Media


“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. The initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.” — Machiavelli

January 17, 2011Goldman Sachs has been left red-faced after the investment bank had to scrap plans for its super-rich American clients to become special friends with Facebook. While founder Mark Zuckerberg has said a selloff is not a high priority, the appetite for shares may have forced his hand. As part of the private placement, the firm said it would begin reporting its financial results by April 2012.


“The one who adapts his policy to the times prospers, and likewise that the one whose policy clashes with the demands of the times does not.” — Machiavelli

May 28, 2012. Facebook has already hired more than half a dozen former Apple software and hardware engineers who worked on the iPhone, and one who worked on the iPad, the employees and those briefed on the plans said The New York Times.


“The wise man does at once what the fool does finally. — Machiavelli

May 12, 2012. Beacon, an advertising program that automatically publicized consumers’ purchases on sites like Amazon to Facebook, turned out to be a flop. Mr. Zuckerberg abandoned it and later settled a related class action by paying $9.5 million to set up a privacy foundation.


“Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.” — Machiavelli

January 24, 2011. Facebook, facing potential fines for violating strict privacy laws in Germany, agreed on Monday to let users in the country better shield their e-mail contacts from unwanted advertisements and solicitations it sends. — New York Times


“There are three classes of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others; the first is the most excellent, the second is good, and the third is useless.” — Machiavelli

February 11, 2011. Facebook is soon launching a third-party commenting system that will power the comments on large online publications. The company is actively seeking major media companies and blogs to partner with it for its launch. According to sources, Facebook wants to power the commenting systems of digital publishers and blogs around the Web. This would be a further step beyond other third-party tools the company has already offered, such as those allowing the association of comments with Facebook profiles and the use of  “Like” and  “Share” on Facebook buttons. — Indian


“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”— Machiavelli

In building Facebook Zuckerberg went after those who would serve his vision best. The key team members include Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer and former vice president of Global online sales and operations at Google. Dustin Moskovitz  a Harvard co-founder of Facebook and a leader in the technical development staff. Owen Van Natta  is Chief Revenue Officer and former executive of Corporate Development at Matt Cohler is Vice President of Product Management and was Vice President and General Manager at LinkedIn. Chamath Palihapitiya is the Vice President of Product Marketing who spent five years as Vice President and General Manager with AOL. Gideon Yu is the Chief Financial Officer and previous CFO of YouTube, and Senior Vice President of Finance for Yahoo. And Jonathan Heiliger is Vice President of Technical Operations Previously, he led Web engineering for He still continues to pursue those who have been leaders in their respective fields.


“Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” — Machiavelli

“On May 17, 2012 as investors scrambled to buy shares, Facebook raised $16 billion in its initial public offering, at $38 a share, that valued the company at $104 billion. It was the third-largest public offering in the history of the United States, behind General Motors and Visa.” — May 28, 2012, The New York Times

“If you want to figure up Mark Zuckerberg's wealth at the end of the trading day (on May 17, 2012), here's the math: He still holds 503,601,850 shares of Facebook after the initial public offering. If the stock closes at $38 — and it is hovering just pennies above that level with about 15 minutes of trading left — that would make Zuckerberg's stake worth about $19.1 billion.” — Barbara Ortutay, AP Technology Writer

“Facebook’s decline could suggest that investors have growing doubts about the prospects for the social networking company. Despite the hoopla of the company’s trading debut, the stock closed with barely any first-day gains at $38.23.” — Christine Hauser The New York Times

“Facebook, the No. 1 Internet social network and the first U.S. company to debut with a market capitalization of more than $100 billion, slid 3.1 percent to $27.32 at midday after dipping to a low of $26.83.” — May 31, 2012, Edwin Chan,  Rueters

“To most people, the loss of $5 billion in less than two weeks might matter a lot. Understandably.
But if you were 28 years old, and in those two weeks you had launched one of the most closely watched initial public offerings in years, gotten married, sold off $1.1 billion in stock mostly just to pay taxes, and seen your life's work stumble embarrassingly on Wall Street, it's probably fair to say you'd have more important things on your mind.” — Laurent Belsie, The Christian Science Monitor


In the end it is likely true that both Machiavelli and Zukerberg understood the key premise of leadership and success which is simply that great leaders have the willingness to confront the obstacles in front of them with the single purpose to advance their vision at all cost.