Business

A playful, positive book by Twitter founder Biz Stone

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Biz Stone is the other Twitter founder.

Not the one who first came up with the idea, not the one with the original investment, but the founder famous for donning a nutty professor costume to introduce the messaging platform to the world in a comic video.

In the torrid tale of Twitter's foundation — complete with betrayals and counter-betrayals — he was neither a back-stabber nor the back-stabbed.

His new book from Grand Central Publishing, "Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind," offers a clue about why: He seems to be quite a nice guy.

Management books written by nice guys do not abound. So although the messages of his post-Twitter book are not overly original — make your own opportunity; constraint inspires creativity; be ready to fail spectacularly — it is refreshing to read them written by someone you would like to go to the pub with (if California had pubs).

Part memoir, part manual, the book follows Stone from an impoverished childhood eating "government-issued cheese" to the moment when he sold his first Twitter shares and he and his wife were surprised to find themselves "officially rich white people who live in Marin."

Stone has the entrepreneur's ability to invent himself. When Google hired him before Twitter was founded, he jokingly characterized it as Google's acquisition of his company Genius Labs — which was simply a front for a blog he wrote from his mother's basement. "My blog was my alter ego," he writes. "Full of total, almost hallucinogenic confidence."

As a child, he instituted a "no homework policy," politely informing his teachers that he did not have time for after-school study and managing to get away with it.

This gift helped as Twitter — perhaps the ultimate free speech platform — grew fast and he was suddenly in charge of the company's relationships with governments.

One moment, he feels "joy" that Twitter can show him his fellow co-founder is sipping wine in Napa while he's stuck at home doing do-it-yourself projects. The next, he has to decide how to respond to the State Department's request that Twitter postpone site maintenance to ensure that the platform can be used by protesters in Iran.

Stone describes his job as being the company idealist, trying to "humanize" Twitter, which has gained a reputation for being a fair and free platform.

Although he left in 2011, he writes of his pride last year when reports about the Prism mass surveillance program made it clear that Twitter did not make it easier for government spies.

Skeptical of Google's "don't be evil" message — Stone was worried that the motto gives a fair bit of wriggle room — he came up with six principles for Twitter. They were: "1. We don't always know what is going to happen. 2. There are more smart people out there than in here. 3. We will win if we do the right thing for our users. 4. The only deal worth doing is a win-win deal. 5. Our co-workers are smart and they have good intentions. 6. We can build a business, change the world and have fun."

In reality, the message that all co-workers have good intentions may have gotten lost: One chief executive and founder, and then another, were thrown under the bus by the board.

Stone skirts the main drama of Twitter's founding, summing it up with a scene where he sits in the boardroom, sad about all the broken friendships around him.

A philanthropist and clearly no big fan of riches for riches' sake, he describes an epiphany in which he realizes why building the company has divided his colleagues: "Oh, because billions of dollars are now involved," he says.

"Things a Little Bird Told Me" is a chirpy read, concisely written by someone clearly expert at typing 140-character messages. Its lessons — like the rest of the book — are playful and positive and manage to stay just the right side of Pollyanna-ish.

Kuchler is a San Francisco-based correspondent for the Financial Times of London, in which this review first appeared.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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