For all of those who don’t know him (I was one of you guys until 2 days ago) Christopher Isaac Stone, aka Biz Stone, is the co-founder of Twitter. At the age of 40 he helped to create and develop, among many others, Blogger, Odeo and Xanga. His recently published book Things that a little bird told me: Confessions of the Creative Mind is perhaps one of the most inspiring and funny narrations on how a young man managed to create something unique and revolutionary all thanks to his belief on the great powers of Creativity. As he writes in his introduction, ‘This is more than a rags-to-riches tale. It’s a story about making something out of nothing, about merging your abilities with your ambitions, and about what you learn when you look at the world through a lens of infinite possibility. Plain hard work is good and important, but it is ideas that drives us, as individuals, companies, nations, and global community. Creativity is what makes us unique, inspired, and fulfilled.’ Indeed, this book is definitely more than the usual story about a tech genius who was able to outshine his competition.
While reading his recollection of how Twitter came to life, you cannot help to notice how many times he uses the word Creativity and how important it is for him. Without it, he argues, life wouldn’t be so interesting. Creativity is the drive that leads you to see the world from a different prospective. It is an endless pool of crazy, good, bad and amazing ideas that allows you to reach whatever your goals are. Without it we are doomed to failure. We have to rely on creativity in order to achieve something in life. Creativity, he states, is a “renewable resource”. It is fundamental to challenge yourself every day and to be as creative as we like, as often as we want, because we can never run out of it. After all, experience and curiosity drive us to make unexpected, offbeat connections. These nonlinear steps often lead to the greatest work.
What is important is to be willing to take risks and to fail. Embracing the possibilities of having life-shattering, epic and, who knows, fantastic failures can lead to surprising results: you might actually succeed or you at least have a great story to tell while gaining some experience that will give you the drive to try again. What I like the most about this book, which summarizes Stone’s philosophy on both work and life, is his insistence on highlighting the importance of emotional investment in a project. ‘You know in your heart something’s worth pursuing; you’re not sure exactly why, but it doesn’t matter. Success isn’t guaranteed, but failure is certain if you aren’t truly emotionally invested in your works.’Passion is what makes us try again despite the difficulties, seatbacks and failure.
In life and at work we oftentimes feel the pressure from the numerous constraints that have been imposed on us. While many would tell that have limitations is a massive turn off for creativity. It seems that there is a general idea that limitations mean giving something up. How on earth would you be able create a masterpiece if you only have two things to make it? As difficult it may be, Stone remarks, constraints can actually enhance productivity and creativity. He in fact suggests to embrace them, ‘whether they are creative, physical, economic, or self-imposed’, because they are challenging. They wake you up. They make you more creative. They make you better.’
It is no wonder then that constraint, or limitation, is at the core of Twitter. I have to admit that I’ve always found strange, and cursed this aspect countless times, the fact that you only had 140 characters to express whatever was going on in your mind. Finally, after one year of using it and following my reading of this book, the magic of Twitter has been revealed to me. Within this haiku-like space we are required to drop all the superfluous, the diatribes or endless monologues. Twitter enables us to write the story of our lives and say what is really worth saying and what best expresses us as individual.
What is most surprising about this book is that, along with very informative and funny depictions on how the company developed from a startup to be Twitter, Stone takes his time to highlight why it is so important to focus and to invest in people. Central to this book is Stone’s belief in putting humanity, the people, above technology. What really makes it meaningful is how people come to use it in order to affect or even to change the world. This is what makes Twitter, or Facebook or other big companies like Nike, Google or Apple, revolutionary. It is all about giving to their users the ability to do something different, to challenge themselves and perhaps leave a mark in other people’s lives. Throughout the entire book there is a word that comes up continuously and that explains Stone’s vision, not only when it comes to business but also in life in general: humanity. We live in an era in which humanity is hyper connected through technology; Facebook and Twitter are only two of many instruments used. Technology allows us to do fun things such as sharing pictures or videos with family and friends, playing video games and have access to information. However, it’s not all about keeping in contact or playing. To Stone what we are experiencing right now is an opportunity for us to connect with society to help one another. Charity events such as the Twestival and Product (RED) have all started from the desire to do something, even the smallest thing, to change the world. In time, they all became worldwide social media fundraising initiatives.
While I do use Facebook or Twitter to update my family and friends of my adventures, be it around the world as a traveler or here in Sydney as an intern, I’ ve always wondered the consequences of living in such a tech-dependent society. Wouldn’t it be better and easier to call your dear ones instead of posting something on your, or theirs, wall? Reading Biz Stone’s book opened up my eyes on the true potentials of platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The last chapters of this book are in fact focused on describing the different ways in which technology can be used as a positive instrument to connect the world. That is the true beauty of living in a hyperconnected society. At times you forget how these innovations are really meant to do something more meaningful than keeping tabs with family and friends. In a society in which it is so easy to lose yourself into a world of selfishness and egocentrism, these technologies allow us to reach each other and come together not as single individuals but as humanity. As Stone eventually argues, “the true promise of a connected society is enabling our dormant potential for empathy.”
I guess this is what I liked the most about this book. You do get countless biographies of successful entrepreneurs delineating their ascent to business glory. They are tell-tale stories about how they reached their goals. On the other hand, Stone writes about his not so ordinary journey that he shared with his loved ones. It is a story about collaboration, sharing and friendship. It’s about the ability to network and to leave a mark in our society.
I particularly like his closing paragraph:
“Find something about your life that’s great. Follow that thread. Volunteer. Even if you’re in the worst possible situation, there’s always hope. Challenge yourself. Set your own bar. Redefine your success metrics. Create opportunities for yourself. Reassess your situation.”