Diane Hessan Seeks Common Ground in Era of Fake News and Facebook

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said, “Look, we are really surprised about this. We’ve got to own up to this. We’ve got a 25-part plan. Now, in the meantime and forever, here’s what all of you need to do that we cannot control. Every American citizen who is on Facebook needs to do the following things: one, two, three. Here’s how you need to change the way you’re consuming news. We’re going to work on getting our house in order. But you guys have to step up to the plate.” … Ask not what Facebook can do for you, ask what you can do for Facebook. We can all help.

It’s the de-compartmentalization of our issues. In business, one of the most important things I had to do as a CEO—I learned this from Gail Goodman, who’s a good friend of mine who started Constant Contact. Gail used to say to me, “The key thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to hold people accountable. You have to have one throat to choke.”

In business, we have a very high need to identify one person, make them accountable, and that’s where we go if we’re not making the [target] number.

I think in terms of these more complex issues, you can’t go, “You know what, at the end of the day, my one person who I’m holding accountable is Mark Zuckerberg. He is at the core of this. If this fake news thing keeps going on, and we’re still reading stuff produced by Russian bots, I’m looking to him.” I don’t think that’s the way we make this kind of institutional change happen across our country. I think he’s got to be accountable for some stuff, but I think we all have our own accountability.

Since I have learned about Russia’s impact on the election, I read things differently. I’m incredibly skeptical of any Facebook group that is political, for instance. I have my guidelines; they’re not super sophisticated. But we all need to jump in, as opposed to going, “You know what, I’m doing nothing because Mark Zuckerberg is my one throat to choke.”

X: Will you ever run a company again?

DH: I don’t know. I still get a bunch of phone calls, which makes me feel good, I must admit. You do worry that when you change careers and you shift, everybody’s going to say, “OK, Diane’s retired.”

I will tell you right now I’m having a great time. I’m on seven boards, and I spend a lot of time working with startups. I have two goals: I talk to five startups a week … and I also try to speak with five women founders every week just because I kind of know what it’s like in their shoes.

And then I have all this political stuff, which is very, very inspirational to me to play in a different kind of arena. My life is great now because every day is a new adventure.

I would run another company if I fell madly in love with what it was doing. I’m not going to start something, even though I have a million ideas.

X: What’s one you’d be willing to share?

DH: [Laughs.] If you said to me today you have to start a business right now, I would basically do Geek Squad 2.0. When I say to people, “How much time do you spend talking to your parents on the phone helping them with their technology?”, people start laughing or groaning. People really understand this is an enormous problem. And you would never say to your parents, “Why don’t you call Best Buy and have a Geek Squad guy come out?” Because sometimes they’re just trying to make an attachment work. I think that there is a great business for helping people on a weekly basis with their technology.

I have the whole thing laid out in my mind. I have the pricing. I have the name. I have the entire thing all ready to go. I just need somebody to do it—take it forward and run it.

X: How long do you want to do this work with the voters?

DH: I’m going to do it until it’s not interesting anymore. My mission is to find common ground. And my mission is to do in our political arena what C Space did in the business arena. What we were about in our first five years was helping companies understand that if they’d just shut up and listen to their customers, that they could generate innovation and growth beyond anything that they had ever imagined. And this was in an age when all marketing departments were doing was just blah blah blah blah blah, “I’m going to talk to you on TV, I’m going to talk to you on the radio, I’m going to talk to you online, I’m going to interrupt, I’m going to bombard you with messages all day long.” Taking a chunk of that budget and turning it around to try to walk in the shoes of your customers was breakthrough for so many brands.

That’s what I’m really trying to do here, which is just to say, what if the people who are responsible for running our country just stopped making speeches and really tried to understand what’s going on? What could that be?

We have so much more common ground than people think. We are so much less divided than people think we are. I’m passionate about that right now.

X: What’s it going to take to boost diversity in the tech industry?

DH: I think it’s kind of like that Facebook thing we were talking about before. I don’t think that fixing the diversity problem is about going, “You know what the problem is? The problem is that the VCs only fund people who look like them.” Or, “The problem is in eighth grade, little girls get told that they should major in art, music, and English.” That’s what we do. We go, “Where’s that throat to choke that’s going to fix my diversity problem?”

I think that every sector of our economy needs to work on this. One of the things that’s going on now is we are starting to … Next Page »

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Jeff Engel is Deputy Editor, Tech at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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