Not long ago I had breakfast with Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter, Jelly and Genius Labs). Biz spent a lot of time talking about the Twitter platform and explaining exactly how and why they built it. One of the things he said which struck me the most was,
“Twitter is a triumph of humanity NOT technology. It’s about people not the platform”.
Biz spoke a lot about his brilliant new book, “Things a Little Bird Told Me“, the acquisition of his fictitious company “Genius Labs” (name taken from his favourite cartoon with Wile E. Coyote), and the commercial success of Twitter ~ but the thing that he was most proud of was the culture he helped to build. Not the technology. Not the product. Not the huge valuation (it once had) since their IPO. But the attitude of the people who work there.
In the early days of twitter, Biz appointed himself the EHO (Employee Happiness Officer). Being an onboarding plan for new employees and the beginnings of what woud become twitters enablement plan for new starters, Biz wrote ‘6 Assumptions’ that he taught every new Twitter employee. I like to call them Rules for building a happy company:
Every company needs rules like these. (The last one in particular). Not because it well help people become more successful and sell more stuff, but because more often than not, (to paraphrase Simon Sinek):
“The goal in business is not to sell to people who need what you have, it is to work with people who believe what you believe”.
We like to think we know what’s going to happen next. Sometime’s we’re right. But often we hope for what we believe to be true so much that we try to shoe-horn any new developments into our existing thinking. One of the reason’s that (good) strategists do good work, is that they remain impartial with their strategies, trying not to get emotionally attached to them, showing no bias or agenda. It’s tough to do, but it allows them to pivot in case a better path reveals itself. Leaving the door open for unknown developments and surprises is the key to success for any company.
No matter how much of a genius you may be, there is always someone smarter than you. Hopefully they are in the same room as you, but that’s not usually the case. Whether you have a few employees or a few thousand, there are over 6 billion people in the world capable of coming up with a better idea than yours. It’s an absolute truth that there are more smart people outside the walls of your company than inside.
People over pixels. Product features and developments need to add value to the people who use them, and improve their overall experience. Most software companies don’t understand this. It’s good to have a “move fast and break things” mentality, but make sure you move at the speed of your customers, and only break things that they want to see fixed.
There’s no such thing as a deal in which one person gets the short end of the stick. Deals are like relationships. We want deals that are going to last. That doesn’t matter whether you are acquiring another company or partnering with them, but relationships need to be mutually beneficial. Think about investment traders or the toll that derivatives took on the world in the economic crisis of 2008*. Derivatives are a zero-sum game. When one party wins, the other party loses.There’s no net benefit. It’s win-lose. That’s over simplifying of course, but generally markets rely on gains and losses. In business deals, if the terms aren’t mutually beneficial, a short term win can quickly turn into a long term loss. Everybody loses faith in each other. You lose your colleagues’ willingness to stay late and help you out on a deadline. To some extent, in every deal, your reputation and your business are at stake.
* (Watch Big Short. Amazing movie about the economic crisis with Brad Pitt and written by Michael Lewis, writer of Flash Boys and Moneyball).
Imagine there’s a guy named Sam in marketing who lays out a plan for a product you’re developing. He says it will take three months to execute. Three months later, the product is ready to launch and Sam comes forward with a different, scaled-back plan. It’s not as good as the one he presented to you. But instead of assuming that Sam is lazy or a stupid jackass, why not go up to him and introduce yourself? Hi, I’m Jeremy. How can I help?
You don’t know how it all unfolded. There were probably certain twists and turns that you never saw, and company politics coming into play. Budgets probably got shifted. The same may have happened with the product. It was supposed to have features w, x and y, but now it has x and z. You had to pare it down, but you’re still proud of it. You don’t want Sam to think that you’re an idiot, either. In big, unwieldy companies, everyone starts looking like an idiot at some point. As twitter grew, Biz explained that they had to go on faith, assuming that their coworkers, who had all gone through a careful hiring process, were competent and driven. Maybe Sam is a jackass ~ hey, it happens ~ but that shouldn’t be the assumption. Imagine if everyone operated with a shared level of confidence. Maybe we would live in an environment of overinflated optimism, but people shine when you give them the benefit of the doubt.
Biz’s final assumption is the one that doesn’t need much explaining. We all need a purpose. We all want a good reason to bounce out of bed every morning. We all want to enjoy our jobs and have fun, while hopefully doing a little good along the way. In my experience, the best companies all want to make a lot of money, but in many cases they want to make more money so that they can either build better products (Facebook) or give more money away (Salesforce). In either case, companies who build something bigger than themselves inspire others, and they encourage other companies to do the same.
Like these 6 rules? Read the whole story in Biz Stone’s brilliant book “Things a little bird told me” or Google anything including Yvon Chouinard or Ricardo Semler.
Twitter is obviously a troubled company at the moment as they struggle with their share price $TWTR and re-engaging their monthly active user base, but when you remember that twitter was originally supposed to be a news and information network, and not a social network, it gives everything an entirely different content. Where Facebook asked you “what are you doing? as it prompts you to update your status, twitter used to ask “what’s happening around you”. Facebook was all about you. Twitter was about everyone else. Wall St never really understand that nuance, and as long as investors demand Facebook-style growth, twitter will always struggle, but that’s another story for another time…