Friday, September 28, 2018

Visionary Leadership at Zynga

Faced with a stock price down 75 percent since its IPO and conflict with subordinates throughout 2012, Zynga’s chief executive Mark Pincus had plenty on his plate as he met with Bill Campbell of Apple in September of that year. Zynga investor and venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers had brought Campbell in to advise the CEO. While it is tempting to play around the edges and work on “communication processes” and hand out more employee stock-options, the bottom-line in such cases is typically the need to improve the products either simply to be better products or better tailored to changing consumer tastes and habits. Product development that can transform companies may result from the vision of a leader for whom strategy is simply a matter of reaching a destination already known.
 Mark Pincus, CEO of Znyga. From this picture, it is hard not to like the guy.       Reuters
According to the Wall Street Journal, Pincus “revamped Zynga’s structure and reshuffled his executive team.” Additionally, he tried “to remake himself as its leader by ceding more control to deputies.” Prime facie, jargon like “revamped,” “reshuffled” and “remake” can have the smell of superficial jazz rather than having an intention to get at the core of the problem facing the company. Beyond the revamping and reshuffling, and even remaking, Pincus could have focused on changing his attitude or mentality, especially in terms of working with other people in the company.
Even closer to the core problem was Pincus’s decision to spend more of his time in product development meetings and putting mobile product application in every product-division. Optimally, these changes would go along with market research on what was behind the rapid change in video-game player habits and research into how to counter Facebook’s changes that made it more difficult for consumers to find Zynga’s games on the social network. According to the Journal, the change in player habits (and tastes) as well as the changes in social media technology, “dictated fundamental changes at Zynga.” As the key source of innovation, knowledge is where the real game is to be played at Zynga. The stock market may simply have been reflecting the lack of sufficient knowledge while being unimpressed by the “revamping” and “reshuffling,” and, moreover, “remaking.” Leaders are not remade and they do not spend away their time revamping and reshuffling. Rather, leaders lead on substance that is vital to their organization.
Steve Jobs led at Apple not by having a “touchy-feely” personality or granting lots of employee perks, but, rather, by having visionary ideas on products that would change our daily life in the modern world. In the midst of a lack of such ideas being fused with leadership at Zynga, Jonathan Liu, the product director, described a mere manifestation or symptom in telling Pincus, “People couldn’t articulate what the main strategy was, or why they were coming into Zynga on a day-to-day basis.” Firing the chief operating officer might have been easy, but the true source behind the muddled strategy was a wan of ideas concerning products and knowledge concerning the end-users, coupled with a lack of real-time awareness of what middlemen such as Facebook were doing.
Put another way, strategy itself is but a means by which visions of future products can be implemented; strategy itself is not the decisive point. As for “the vision thing,” either someone has it or not; one cannot simply “remake” oneself as a “new” leader and trust that the ideas will come. Ultimately, vision is more than even ideas; it is an ideal, and thus something capable of being believed in. The morale problems and related conflict, as well as all the talent being snagged up by Twitter and Facebook, the lack of strategy and even the sort of leadership in Zynga can all be interpreted as symptoms of a void in terms of vision that is oriented to products.
It might even be asked whether any passion for playing the computer games was left at the company. In terms of vision, not even such passion may be enough. Steve Jobs was surely passionate about computer technology, but this alone does not account for his vision that effectively transformed even staple products like the telephone and even the laptop. One cannot be trained to come up with a vision, much less be passionate about something; these must already be inside. The quest at Zynga could have been in trying to locate it in others and bring them in, even if it means, as Pincus said, “it’s inevitable that some people will choose to leave.” That could include the leader-founder himself.

Evelyn Rusli, “The Education of Zynga’s Founder,” The Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2012.