Every year, the Facebook CEO sets some sort of challenge for himself. In 2010, he tried to learn Mandarin. In 2009, he vowed to wear a tie to work every day to show he was serious about Facebook’s growth (and possibly get a break from the signature T-shirt and hoodie he wears to every public event).
The annual challenges sometimes make headlines, most famously in 2011 when Zuck vowed to eat animals only if he had killed them himself. That pronouncement led to a mixture of backlash and praise from animal-rights activists.
This year, the famously introverted Zuckerberg is seeking out more conversations with actual humans.
“This year, my challenge is to meet a new person outside of Facebook every day,” he said Wednesday at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. According to Zuckerberg’s own rules, he needs to have a face-to-face conversation with the person, not just shake hands or chat online.
Oh, this could be awkward.
“Hi! I’m Mark. I’m a Taurus. What do you love most about Facebook?”
But Zuckerberg said the challenges are a way to open himself up to new perspectives.
“Doing something for a year, I think you have all these interesting unintended consequences,” said Zuckeberg.
The year of killing animals led Zuckerberg to become more vegetarian.
While learning Mandarin, he had Mandarin-speaking Facebook employees come to his office for conversation practice. He ended up learning about parts of the company he normally wouldn’t have had interactions with and even had some realizations about himself.
“I was complaining to my wife one day that I was never that good at listening in Mandarin and she goes, ‘Mark, you’re not good at listening in English, either.’ “
This year’s challenge has already led to one very noticeable outcome: the founding of Fwd.us, a lobbying group started by Zuckerberg to advocate for immigration reform in the United States.
When planning his year of face-to-face chats, Zuckerberg said he joined community organizations and started teaching a class at a local middle school to have more opportunities to meet non-Facebookers. While teaching the class, he asked about his students’ college plans and was shocked when one boy said he didn’t know if he could go to college because he was undocumented.
Zuckerberg believes immigration reform could also have a positive impact on tech companies hungry for talented programmers from other countries.
The tech wunderkind said the annual challenges are also meant to test his willpower.
“I think a lot of building something is just about kind of seeing things through. And so I try to pick things that are going to be hard for me to do,” he said.
His goal for 2013 has been less challenging than he expected. As it turns out, the globetrotting head of a huge technology company meets a number of new people almost every day in the course of his job.
“It’s actually turned out to be really easy,” Zuckerberg said. “I sandbagged this one.”