Five lessons from Twitter founder Biz Stone on using content for social change
It’s hard to note whether the twenty-minute wait for a Monday afternoon SXSW Interactive discussion was really due to a catapulted interest in content as a means of social change, or if it was a clever means of "squatting" one’s way into a good seat for an upcoming session featuring former Vice President Al Gore.
Either way, proponents of social change (and squatters alike) unlocked an inspiring, and humorous, hour with one of the digital world’s most influential entrepreneurs, Biz Stone.
Since founding Twitter in 2006, Stone has been named GQ’s Nerd of the Year and one of the Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine. He’s also used his crowd-sourcing capabilities for good, co-founding The Obvious Corporation (aimed at building systems that positively impact the world) and serving as a barometer of sorts for the Huffington Post’s social impact sector.
As part of his work with HuffPost, Stone teams up with Senior Vice President of Social Impact Brian Sirgutz to dissect how droves of content can be fielded to affect positive change in the world. Influencing “social change around inspiring stories,” says Sirgutz, is the name of the game. And who better to illustrate the tenets of this content model than one of its poster children?
At SXSW, Stone shared five personal stories — ranging from vignettes about childhood lacrosse to the naissance of Twitter — each with a key takeaway.
The takeaways, while simple, create a business model where value is placed above profit: where content and social technology are used for good.
"Change is not a triumph of technology, it's a triumph of humanity."
Twitter was born from dreams of podcasting and texting. And even though "almost everyone we talked to thought it was a dumb idea,” Stone says, he built a platform that he liked, and people flocked. It was at SXSW in 2007 when Stone and his colleagues discovered Twitter’s mass appeal. It became a source for moving people from place to place (even if it was from SXSW panel to SXSW panel or Austin pub to Austin pub). It’s a tool that allows communication among individuals in real-time, where the many can move, at least for a while, as one.
"Opportunities can be manufactured."
As a kid, Stone formed his school’s lacrosse team on his own by securing a coach and a group of athletic guys to play. And they were good. Sure, the reason he started it was because he didn’t know how to play mainstream football, basketball or baseball. But, by removing the "layer of insecurity" that had seeped into his attempts at playing other sports, he created a new opportunity for himself and his school.
"Creativity is a renewable resource."
When he was 19, Stone used his art and Mac skills to swindle his way into a book cover design job. He eventually taught himself how to be a web designer, which led to his work at Xanga and Google (and then Twitter). “When you think of creativity as a renewable resource,” Stone says, “every challenge becomes fun.”
"To succeed spectacularly, be ready to fail spectacularly."
Stone cites 1980s art house film Wings of Desire (upon which the more well-known City of Angels is based) as a great lesson for anyone involved in a start-up that might be hedging, or not going "all in." “You must be willing to fail, be totally embarrassed,” Stone says. “You have to go for it. “
"There is a compound interest in altruism."
As a supporter of Project Red, Stone uses the Lazarus Effect to explain how our early involvement in a cause can show measured results, and make a real impact. “The earlier you get involved, the more impact you'll have over time,” Stone says. Weave causes into what you're doing and you’ll cultivate a culture that is engaged in work and that cares about the larger global community.
By applying these lessons, Stone believes we have the opportunity to revolutionize the current definition of capitalism: "We can change the world, build a business, and have fun."
2012 marked Biz Stone’s first appearance at SXSW since 2007, when Twitter took off and established its 140-character persona. During this SXSW appearance, he announced a new venture in conjunction with Huffington Post. Soon, they will launch a video series where Biz Stone interviews luminaries and CEOs spearheading new models for corporate social responsibility.
On the list are the likes of Bill Clinton, Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo), Pierre Omidyar (eBay). If you want your voice heard, you can email email@example.com (with the subject line “SXSW”) and submit a question.