Who says Silicon Valley’s culture of disruption hasn’t rubbed off on Washington? The early days of Donald Trump’s presidency have come right out of Facebook’s (NASDAQ:FB) “Move Fast and Break Things” playbook – it’s been anything but the perpetual gridlock the beltway is known for.
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While technology executives scramble to wrap their heads around Friday’s executive order suspending entry into the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim nations, they’d better hold onto their hoodies; the other shoe may be about to drop.
President Trump is reportedly working on a new order designed to overhaul the nation’s H1-B work visa program that many tech companies use to import tens of thousands of hard-to-find engineers and scientists, according to Bloomberg.
The temporary immigration ban was broadly denounced by a laundry list of top execs from Alphabet’s Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) and Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX). If that has them outraged, the H1-B visa reform will likely whip them into frenzy.
Just six weeks ago, the soon-to-be President met with a bevy of tech titans at Trump Tower, exchanged niceties and did all but lock arms and sing Kumbaya. Could the honeymoon already be over? And if so, what will the fallout look like?
There are two schools of thought on that.
The optimistic view is that Trump was right all along and Washington is so broken that the process of “Making America Great Again” is going to be painful. That means a lot of apple carts are going to get upset in the interest of the greater good. Everyone will have to make sacrifices, including the vaunted Valley elite.
This could also be a version of Trump’s “carrot and stick” negotiating style. First, he puts CEOs, companies, industries, even nations on notice that he doesn’t like what they’re doing and plans to come after them. Then he follows up with something that makes the sacrifices he wants them to make palatable. At least that’s the idea.
Consider the many controversial product and policy changes Facebook has made over the years. After users throw a fit, Mark Zuckerberg and company oftentimes see the error of their ways and walk some of it back. That’s the beauty of Zuck’s “Move Fast and Break Things” mantra, but it only works if they go back and fix what they broke.
In the case of the immigration ban, Sec. 3 (g) includes a typical “case-by-case” exception clause that allows Homeland Security or the State Department to “issue visas or other immigration benefits” to those who would otherwise be blocked. That would come in handy in the event of unintended consequences or upsetting the wrong apple cart.
Then there’s the pessimistic view. What Trump’s detractors fear most is that he meant every inflammatory word he said and tweeted during the campaign: That he’s an egomaniacal bully who talks loudly and wields a wild stick. That he doesn’t have a clue about choosing his battles wisely or know what a win-win actually looks like.
In the words of an old friend, mentor and retired tech CEO I had lunch with in the shadow of Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) space ship headquarters yesterday, “You can’t go around poking people in the eye that you want to negotiate deals with,” he said, pausing over a dim sum dumpling to menacingly point his chopsticks at my face. “That’s not how it works.”
It’s a fair point. And who hasn’t Trump poked with his Twitter stick? He’s gone after China, Mexico, big auto, big pharma and now, big tech. And he’s putting his executive orders where his mouth is at a torrid pace. The question is, what’s the big rush?
If these executive orders are in the best interest of the American people, and I believe they are, then taking a little time to vet and communicate them properly instead of launching them on a Friday night like a black ops commando raid might be a good idea.
Facebook’s strategy may work with the digital hordes, but when you’re messing with business leaders and their employees in the real world, maybe not so much.