Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Biz Stone's New Rules - Modelling the #SeaTurtlePirates @BeMorePirate Manifesto Jam

In February I wrote the script for a #SeaTurtlePirates adventure and what I hope we might achieve with a @LiveQuiet Revolution to help a little turtle named Mack.

One of the things that's needed before setting sail is Manifesto Jamming our @BeMorePirate 2.0 Code. We'll be discussing Sam Conniff Allende's suggested Pirate Code and have already written that post:

We Don’t Always Know What’s Going to Happen
If we think we know what will come next, we’ll fail. Instead, we need to leave the door open for unknown developments and surprises. Some of Twitter’s most popular features – hashtags, @ replies, retweets – were by and large created by users. We didn’t know they were going to emerge. By being open to the unknown, by not forcing our will or vision just because it was ours, by watching what people were doing and looking for patterns, we were able to build a service whose function matched the way people wanted to use it.

The core element of this assumption is humility. Just because you work for a successful business doesn’t mean you know everything. As individuals and as companies, we see our fortunes rise and fall. Neither success nor wealth makes you omniscient. The ability to listen, watch, and draw lessons from obvious and unlikely places breeds originality and growth.

There are More Smart People Out There Than in Here
This assumption also speaks to a core humility – don’t think you’re a genius (even if your business card claims you are). But it also considers the sheer fact that, at the time we came up with these assumptions, there were forty-five people in the offices of Twitter and six billion people outside its walls. It was an absolute truth that there were more smart people outside than inside.

What this implied was that we shouldn’t look only internally for answers to challenges. I instructed our employees to look elsewhere. Ask people. Look around. Research. Keep a level head. Don’t think you’re so great. Don’t assume that we’re the only people who can solve our problems. Should we build a data centre, or has someone already built a better one?

There are corollaries to this belief. Your first idea isn’t always the best. Your idea isn’t always the best. Our group’s ideas aren’t always the best. It’s easy to agree with this notion in concept, but it’s much harder to swallow your pride when you have to let go of an idea you’ve championed. I wanted our company to acknowledge and appreciate those sacrifices as much as we applauded the great ideas. 

We Will Win if we do the Right Thing for Our Users
I don’t love the word users, because it sounds so software-y, but the Twitter staff was pretty software-y, so I was speaking their language. I wanted them always to keep in mind what would make the service better for the folks who used it. It was the positive spin on Don’t Be Evil. Every time we made a decision about what to add, change, or take away from the product, the big, simple question was: Does it make the experience better for people?

After I left, Twitter acquired Vine, a mobile video sharing service. I thought it was a great acquisition. If the question is: Will this make the service better for people? The answer is obviously Yes – sharing videos through Twitter makes it more fun, more engaging, and easier for people to express themselves.

Often, when product managers are hashing out whether a product should do a certain thing, if they can’t come to a decision, they make that thing a setting that users can turn on or off. But this is wishy-washy. We know – all developers know – that more than 99% o people just leave the settings on default. How often do you go to your TV settings and increase the contrast? Making a feature optional is like throwing it into the junk drawer. You’re keeping it, but it’s essentially useless and lost. Instead, it’s our responsibility to decide what makes the most sense. If we’re going to build it, let’s use it.

The place where companies most frequently lose sight of what’s best for their customers is when it comes to monetization. Should we make ads 50% bigger so we can make more money? It makes the page ugly and hard to read. Is that good for users? No. Should we split our company into two separate buildings because we can’t afford one building? It leads to confusion and poor decisions on the product end. Is that good for our users? No. Should we deceive the users into clicking on an ad? Obviously not. Should we trick our users into clicking on anything? Hell no! These can be tough choices, especially if you really need the money. But there’s got to be another way. Creativity is a renewable resource. Don’t sell out your product. Keep thinking. Consider whether the average person is going to benefit. Measure every decision against that requirement.

Our failure surrounding the release of our platform for developers in 2007 is a perfect example of this. If we’d kept the user experience foremost from the start, we would have saved ourselves, users and 
developers a lot of trouble.

However, when we launched sponsored Tweets, we did it right. Our ads were monitored by an algorithm that used starring, retweets, and clickthroughs to measure how interested people were in a given ad. If an ad wasn’t getting a positive response, it could be pulled. This meant we could give our users ads they liked. Ads were good for our users, because if Twitter made money, then Twitter would continue to exist.

The Only Deal Worth Doing is a Win-Win Deal
There’s no such thing as a good deal in which one party gets the short end of the stick. Deals are like relationships. We want deals that are going to last. I’m not just talking about acquiring another company. I’m talking about partnering with another company, or divvying up tasks within your group, or getting married. Think of the toll that derivatives took on this country in the mortgage crisis. Derivatives are a zero-sum game -  when one party wins, the other loses. There’s no net benefit. It’s win-lose. This is of course oversimplifying, but generally markets rely on gains and losses. However, in a business deal, if the terms aren’t mutually beneficial, a short-term win will turn into a long term loss. You lose that company’s faith in you and its willingness to do another deal. 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. Think of it like scuba diving. There has to be equal pressure inside and outside your body, or your lungs and eardrums will start exploding.

Kevin Thau, a colleague at my current company, Jelly used to run all things mobile for Twitter. While there, he did all the deals with the carriers. He recently got a message from someone who runs a major mobile carrier in the UK. It said, “I don’t know what Jelly is, but if you want us to pre-install it on our new phones, call me,” Nobody gets that kind of thing unless they have a history of doing fantastic deals together.

Another example of this would come later, when I left Twitter and started Jelly. Two of the people who helped me develop the idea left their company to join me. One of them happened to be on his company’s list of engineers they couldn’t lose at any cost. When the engineer told them he was leaving, they offered him the moon regarding stock and salary. They told him he could work on any project and have any team. Then one of the most important executives from Twitter joined me. I didn’t set out to poach anyone – it happened by acciedent – but when this happened, Dick Costolo, Twitter’s CEO (And my friend) had a professional obligation to meet me for a drink and chew me out.

When he was done busting my chops, I said, “Can I offer you a little advice?”

He said, “Oh, geez. What?”

I said, “If you have a list of people that you don’t want to lose at any cost, don’t wait until they quit to offer themmore money and more stock options” He agreed. Then we ordered another round and made up.

Our Coworkers are Smart and They Have Good Intentions
This is the fifth assumption I presented to our employees at orientation. I made up an example: Imagine there’s a guy named Scott 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 Scott comes forward with a different, scaled back plan. It’s not as good as the one he presented to you. Instead of assuming that Scott is lazy or a stupid jackass, why not go up to him and introduce yourself? Hi, I’m Biz. How can I help?

You don’t know how it all unfolded. There were certain turns in the road, decisions that had to be made. You went through the same process with the product you developed. 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 Scott to think you’re an idiot, either. In big, unwieldy companies, everyone starts looking like an idiot at some point.

The unknown is scary. That’s why a caveman would rather not walk into a pitch balck cave. Who knows what might lie ahead? He opts to throw his spear in first, or to bolt. In a business scenario, this fear manifests itself in the assumption that your colleague is doing it wrong. Communication is equivalent to flicking on the anachronistic lights in that pitch black cave. This is especially true when you’re the CEO. If investors and board members don’t hear from you, they get worried that you’re doing a bad job. And they’re not going to come down to the offices to design a new product. The only power they have at their disposal is to fire the person in charge.

As Twitter grew, we had to go on faith, assuming that our coworkers, who had all gone through a careful hiring process, were competent and driven. Maybe Scott is a jackass – hey, it happens – but that shouldn’t be the assumption. Maybe we would live in an environment of overinflated optimism, but people shine when you give them the benefit of the doubt.

We can Build a Business, Change the World, And Have Fun
It may sound like a lofty goal, but I want to redefine capitalism. What better place to start thatn in my own company? Traditionally, companies are driven by financial success. But I want the new world definition to include making a positive impact on the world – and loving your work. I want to set a higher bar for success. If any one of these three tenets is missing, then you shouldn’t be considered successful by your own terms or those of society. I told every incoming employee, “Here’s a new bar. Let’s reach for it.”

Evan and I were now running an incredibly successful company. We could have sent the new employees who joined Twitter to HR and called it a day. Or we could have said “Welcome to the amazing world of Twitter. We’re awesome. Good Luck” We had a different approach. The company culture was introduced to our newest employees as one in which we listened to one another and the people using our system. New employees saw that we cared about the approach they took not just to their work, but to one another. They realised that we weren’t all about the bottom line. Not only did our new employees have an introduction to what the company was about, but they also learned something about their leaders. We were level headed. We had theories about not being arrogant and selfish. We weren’t jerks. These things matter. The whole of this orientation was greater than the sum of its parts.

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