One has to be prepared for failure to succeed spectacularly, says Biz Stone.
Biz Stone is all about character. After all, as co-founder and Creative Director of Twitter Inc, he taught the world to talk in 140 characters or less. Yet Stone’s talk titled ‘Redefining Success’, presented as part of ‘The Student Endowed Centennial Lectureship and the Distinguished Speakers Committee’ lectureship series at The University of Texas at Austin, wasn’t about social networking, but rather about how our social ‘net worth’ helps us succeed. A strong believer of the maxim that we help ourselves when we help others, ‘the Stone method of doing business’ uses altruism as a scale to measure success. Years ago, when asked where he saw Twitter going in the future, Stone ‘hoped that people thought Twitter was not a triumph of technology, but a triumph of humanity’. His definition of opportunity and success emphasises serving humanity, doing good as entrepreneurs and making business a valuable medium of social betterment.
Stone has been named one of the ‘Most Influential People in The World’ by TIME magazine, (the same year that had Osama bin Laden on the list as well, he mentions) and was honoured with the International Center for Journalists' first Innovation Award. Stone touched on ideas of failure, opportunity, creativity, technology, empathy and a new way to define success through stories which as he mentioned would sound similar but had unique perspectives.
Experts from the speech
“To succeed spectacularly, be ready to fail spectacularly.”
Referring to the old black and white classic ‘Wings of desire’, Stone used the story of the two angels to illustrate this point. One angel falls in love, gives up his immortality to become human, and get the woman of his dreams. He fails as an angel to succeed spectacularly in what he really wants to do. Entrepreneurship is a lot like this. Stone remembers advising two young people, who came to him for business advice, to quit their jobs, raise funds and start their enterprise. He warned them that if they failed they would have no jobs, no one would give them money again and they would lose their savings in the bargain.
But they went ahead anyway and were recently acquired by Twitter. Nothing would have happened if they weren’t prepared to fail.
Opportunity can be manufactured
As a child, Stone tried for the basketball and football teams, but since he had never played them he wasn’t any good. So, to level the playing field (‘be bad at something together’) he says, he asked to create a lacrosse team; lacrosse being a game no one had played before. He ended up being team captain and went on to win games. “You can actually manufacture the circumstances that make the opportunity, effectively eliminating competition,” he said. Entrepreneurship might be about identifying and fulfilling certain needs of the moment, but remember the Apple maxim? Make a product so good that people feel they absolutely must have it.
Stone was no college professor’s dream. He couldn’t do things his way and that didn’t sit well with him. He worked part time in a publisher’s office and also taught himself graphics on the earliest Mac computers that were coming out. He later apprenticed to create book covers and while some of his stuff which he thought was brilliant was rejected, he simply kept on at it. “An artful approach, though it involved a lot of trial and error,” he said. This actually helped when Odeo — his podcasting idea went bust, and blogging community Xanga didn’t really take off. He went onto explore the idea of Twitter. Most said Twitter wouldn’t succeed because it wasn’t ‘useful’, but then as Stone knew ‘nor was ice cream’ so he developed it anyway. As events in Tahir Square proved, Twitter had indeed ‘invented a new way for humanity to come together as one’.
Stone dropped out of college, and so did the most eminent of this century’s tech leaders. Yet he doesn’t really recommend quitting college. “You can always push the pause button and then go back later,” he says. But in the end, to be successful you must “create your own opportunities, be infinitely creative, to walk in others’ shoes and use technology to achieve that, and consider a new definition of success for entrepreneurs comprising three parts — positive social impact, financial success and joyfulness. If you aren’t covering these bases, you aren’t successful.”