Question for Facebook: Better to Ask First, or Apologize Later?

An old management adage says ‘tis better to apologize later, than ask for permission first.’

This is typically intended to encourage entrepreneurial risk-taking, or ambitious career moves, (e.g ‘Do I ask to call on that customer? Or just do it and apologize later if necessary to my higher ups/board?’) In other words, this ‘rule’ is one we tap when we’re concerned about heading-off institutional inertia, and road blocks to our own — or our company’s — progress.

Now, it’s easy to see how adding a creative app or feature to your site might be something you want to try first, and only apologize for later, if it doesn’t work.

But consider Facebook’s latest mea culpa. Plenty of users grew upset over the information sharing features of Facebook’s Beacon ad program. Today founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally responded:

“We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release and I apologize for it.”

Continuing, Zuckerberg admits he and his staff flatly missed the mark with Beacon.

“Facebook has succeeded so far in part because it gives people control over what and how they share information. This is what makes Facebook a good utility … People need to be able to explicitly choose what they share, and they need to be able to turn Beacon off completely if they don’t want to use it.”

So weeks on, Beacon is now “opt-in” and has a privacy control to omit Beacon completely. Om thinks this is too little, too late and writing: “This is the second time they have tried to test the limits of their community and gotten some flack for it. It would be better if they asked — they are a social community — and being social means listening and talking with each other first, not [apologized] after the fact.”

So this forms our….

Question of the Day:

Does the “better-to-act-than-ask-for-permission” adage hold upwhen it comes to a founder’s responsibility for meeting the needs of his/her customers — especially when those responsibilities include customer service and concerns about privacy?