Facebook Leading Silicon Valley Brain Drain

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Make no mistake ... Mark Zuckerberg is clearly out of his league as Facebook ( FB) CEO and head visionary. I was wrong about the guy (and maybe the stock, though I still think it goes irrationally higher, sort of like Netflix ( NFLX)).

Can Zuck come back? Anything's possible, but, he needs Sheryl Sandberg (or somebody) to Lean In on more Facebook brainstorming sessions and fewer activist appointments. Sandberg, as COO, appeared to be the rock that kept Zuckerberg focused. She has either gone AWOL -- thanks to her celebrity (?) -- or there's just no helping a young CEO in over his head.

With the exception of folks deep inside, nobody knows what's really going on at Facebook, however, it's clear Zuckerberg conceived and built something great before hitting a creative wall. If he's the best Silicon Valley has to offer, innovation did die with Steve Jobs and only has a fighting chance thanks to Elon Musk.

What has really changed since a March 2012 Time article asked Is Innovation Dead? Or since PayPal co-founders Max Levchin and Peter Thiel proclaimed innovation in Silicon Valley dead in 2011 (via Forbes):
Levchin was quick to call out the number of "me too" start-ups in the Valley today. "Innovation ultimately ends up being about solving very hard problems. If you're trying to build one more wrinkle on the Angry Birds idea," Levchin said. "You're not solving a very hard problem."

SXSW was chock full of "me-too" startups this year. A nauseating experience. Fancy business cards and uninspiring elevator talks, but barely any exciting thought outside of an increasingly rare handful of unique entrepreneurs.

In the last couple years, we have seen more refreshments from Apple ( AAPL) than at the end of an Ironman Triathlon. Mark Zuckerberg has brought the world 12,000 different advertising products, a failed smartphone app for his original app and, reportedly -- TBA this Thursday -- a knock-off on Twitter's wildly popular Vine application. And, according to Business Insider, he's in South Korea pitching Samsung a smartphone idea and failing miserably.

What's the problem?

First off, it's easier to talk about being innovative (like I do) than to actually be innovative. I'm don't try to be Jobs, Musk or Zuckerberg because I know my limitations as a human being. That's not where my talent lies. There are other things I'm good at. I pursue those avenues and make the best contribution I can.

So it's not like I slight Zuckerberg and Silicon Valley with the attitude that I can do better. Maybe I could. But, at this stage of my life, I don't think I could. These guys -- even when they go through relative rough patches -- are, succeed or fail, a special breed of badass entrepreneurial cat.

With that said, being a risk taker doesn't mean you deserve a free pass from the peanut gallery.

A lack of focus. A lack of focusing on why you did something in the first place. A lack of focusing internally. On your business. On your people. On your goals. On your product. That's, in part, what is killing progress and innovation.

Few companies march to their own drummer anymore. Like Apple did. Like Pandora ( P). Like Twitter does.

Facebook is merely practicing various forms of "build one more wrinkle on the Angry Birds idea."

Why does Instragram need video? Because Twitter has it via Vine and it's working really well? That's not a good enough answer. Why does the world require an app (the failed Facebook Home) to access another app (Facebook)? It doesn't.

Why does Facebook even bother competing with Twitter?

If Zuckerberg had any confidence in the viability of Facebook as a platform he would not have done Facebook Home or branded an HTC smartphone. He would have poured all resources into making his existing product better so more people use it more often. It's already one of a few select default choices on millions of mobile devices anyhow.

If Zuckerberg had any clue how Facebook can function, over the near- and long-term, for brands as an advertising platform, he would have rolled out a small handful of well-thought, sustainably crafted advertising options, not a million and one shots in the dark.

If Zuckerberg had a real roadmap for Facebook's future, he would seek partnerships with Twitter -- sales and marketing type stuff -- not stoke silly competition that resonates with tech geeks rather than consumers. You have two distinct platforms -- one hyper-focused (Twitter), the other not quite sure of itself despite, or in spite of, its massive and scale -- that could and should complement one another.

If Facebook attempts to compete with Twitter, particularly by copying some of the ingredients that make it tick, it will lose that battle. Dick Costolo probably fails to recollect more of the elements of wisdom and composure you need to run a focused and perpetual startup than Zuckerberg has learned over the years.

Twitter dictates the pace (like Apple used), Facebook follows. That's not a good situation if we count Facebook as an innovator in Silicon Valley.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.
Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.

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