On Twitter Board Fiasco & The Time Op-Ed

Don’t tell my agent and people who expect me to be doing work on stuff I have due to them, but I read all 800 pages of Twitter’s S1. I know. I know. But, I couldn’t (or should I say, wouldn’t?) resist. Partly because I (a) love Twitter, (b) study the tech space for innovations, and (c) wanted to shape my own take on investment-worthiness.

But I didn’t love what I found, it was super-yawn-inspiring at best, but also worrisome.

When Facebook filed, they had a “letter from Mark” sharing the ethos of the company which is the Hacker Way. (link here). It set a stake in the ground for what to expect. When Google filed, they included their code of conduct “don’t be evil” in their prospectus for their 2004 IPO (link, here). They did something remarkable back then by arranging two classes of stocks, so that they could focus on the long-term and forgo the focus on short-term gains. This signaled they wanted to focus on bigger long range issues (And they have: Loon, driver-less cars, etc are all a part of this work – known as X or Google[x], link here). Each was notable in tone and expectations setting.

For Twitter, an organization that says its service is “shaped by the people, for the people”, I found their work and structure sadly lacking the “people” they speak of.  (It also worries me most that they didn’t follow Google’s lead with stock structure to prevent it from being vulnerable to the cyclical market issues of advertising businesses.)

It didn’t come as a surprise, then, to see the talented Claire Cain Miller’s at the NYT with her essay noting the absence of women on the board (link, here). It expands on the question Kara Swisher of WSJ / AllThingsD originally posed, will they add one pre-ipo? (link, here).

But what then followed has been a fiasco. Dick Costolo’s first public response was to hit back to a quote by pundit Vivek Wadhwa, as “the Carrot Top on academic sources” (link here).

Vivek Wadhwa = Carrot Top

I would have preferred he say something to the effect of “that’s strategic / important (to us)”. If the internal stories are to be believed (and I believe them), then Twitter has been on a search for an expanded board for some time. They want someone with global policy experience, since Twitter gives voices to the often-voiceless. But Costolo went on the defensive when — in all likelihood, he has a good handle on it. He probably gets it. But he’s not done acting on it.

What he doesn’t seem to get is how much people are done waiting for change to happen organically. No more words, they think. More action. Even when they love Twitter, they are willing to use it as an example of “what not to do”. or, perhaps, because they love Twitter, they are willing to use it as an example of “what not to do”.

So, when Time Inc reached out on this Sunday, and asked if I could write an op-ed, I said yes. First I could add another voice in the mix to advocate for a change I see as necessary. Also, I find the focus on gender to miss the larger point. Which is this: to make this a gender issue alone, discounts the innovation and economic impact.

An excerpt from that piece:

Most market measures evaluating performance are focused entirely on short-term results: do they have an edge, can they deliver financial profits and so on. Those measures miss one crucial element that determines long-term viability – the ability to innovate. Innovation is a direct result of openness to new ideas. The key is to design for differences of perspective, and world views so you can have a better chance at new ideas. If Twitter doesn’t change, it will fail.

And,

When you get a group of people together with similar backgrounds, all men, and low turnover, what you get is groupthink and continuity. And while an all white male board could conceivably have that ability to challenge one another, the likelihood is much higher if the board included a broader range of experiences. That, of course, has to include gender and color. But it should also include other industries.

And you can read more if you wish: http://ideas.time.com/2013/10/07/viewpoint-twitters-all-male-board-spells-failure/#ixzz2hLjzbJn8

And it’s probably worth noting, even though regular readers will know this…. I’d worry if the leadership of a company is all white women. My point is – and always has been – be open to the difference of ideas regardless of where those ideas come from – from the young and old, from the “qualified’ or less so, from privileged or not, and across different industries and regions. Build structures and processes to enable this. There’s a magic formula for the way ideas become real. And it includes the healthy friction of bad ideas being killed, or reshaped into better ones. (aka: MurderBoarding, which I wrote about it in New How.)  Productive friction is not possible if groups are too alike or too divergent. A happy medium is necessary.

The bottom line is this: Everyone is biased, ample research proves this*. Dick Costolo is no exception. Neither are you. What differentiate the so-so leaders from the great leaders are the ones that acknowledge that they can’t/won’t see certain things (all by themselves), and then to design for inclusion. If you want to create more value, you need to find and develop new ideas — and to create a setting where potential leaders — including those who might otherwise be invisible – can be made seen.


BlogIcon_Right copyWhat will you do to hear / see difference today? On a personal level, could you get involved in a more “fringe” group? I find myself regularly talking to very Santa-Cruzy type folks at one coffee bar I go to in town – people who believe all capitalism is bad. And while I actually see business as being able to do great good, I want to understand why they don’t. There’s some place like this where you live, right? When you will you hang out there?

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