Dick Costolo Keynote – From Twitter to the New Economy #PMOSym

PMO Symposium, 11-14 November 2018, Washington D.C. USA

Session Description: When Twitter began, the founders did not set out to create a new economy, yet the way we do business has changed forever. When consumers are 80% more likely to purchase from a business they follow, there is a real business case for open communication between a brand and its consumers. Open access to information, or creating the feeling of open access to the brand, builds loyalty, identifies new product ideas and provides another channel for consumer influence. Equal access to information renders entire business models fragile as consumers become their own sourcers with all of the information. Costolo lays out the implications of an open access economy on innovation process and the future of work.

Speaker:  Dick Costolo was most recently the Chief Executive Officer of Twitter from October 2010 to June 2015, where he took the company from $0 to $1.5 billion in annual revenue.

[These are my notes from the PMO Symposium 2018 . I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • The keys to Success are Speed of Execution and Leadership
  • Speed of Execution.  There were four things they did at Twitter to build their speed to execution muscle:
    • Adopt a Bias to Yes
      • As an organization grows, increasingly the answer to every question is no.
      • The bias to yes means
        • there have to be many paths to yes within the company
        • any function is not allowed to tell another function “you’re not allowed to do that”
        • avoid the most nefarious version of “no” = “you have to go ask these other 12 people.” So people spend their time asking for permission rather than taking critical action.
    • Focus on Speed of Learning: Every month at Costolo’s operating committee meeting, they asked one question: “What is it taking us too long to learn and how can we learn that faster?”
      • this question causes people within the company innovate cross-functional solutions to the problem that they had not generated previously.
      • This question surfaces commonly held beliefs in the company that are not true.
    • Ed Catmull: Protect the future not the past
      • Protecting the past: The desire for everything to run smoothly is a false goal. It moves the focus to avoiding mistakes rather than getting things done.
      • Protecting the future:
        • enable people to move quickly to get things done
        • resist creating too many rules. Instead, replace the critical rules with principles and guidelines. Then release your team to work within their own good judgment.
        • leaders must be a role model — make sure you are the first to be transparent about failures.
      • For more information on Catmull, read his book Creativity Inc.
  • Leadership. Much of this guidance is based on what Costolo learned from Bill Campbell, executive coach to Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Jeff Bezos, and Dick Costolo.
    • Campbell believes that  anyone can be CEO. It’s a matter of mindset, training, and experience.
    • For more information on Campbell’s advice, see these video interviews.
    • Be yourself. Don’t assume a different persona when you are acting as a leader.
    • Communication is key
      • Communicate context rather than authority.
        • Communicating authority = “Do it because Dick says so.”
        • Communicating context = explaining the reasons for your decision so your team understands the “why” not just the “what.”
      • The way to build trust with your team is to be forthright about the context of your decision.
    • Delegation
      • Push decisions down the stack
      • Write down and put on your desk: “What’s the highest leverage thing I could be doing right now.”
      • When in doubt, force yourself to delegate. Set a weekly goal of the percentage of meetings you will stop attending and delegate instead.
      • One sure sign that you are not delegating enough:
        • At the end of meeting, most of the action items are yours.
      • “Your job as a leader is not to make decision. It’s to ensure that decisions get made.”
        • Your job as a leader is to break logjams when your team cannot reach consensus
      • Ownership is both authority and accountability. If you give people responsibility without accountability, then they don’t care. If you give them ownership, they actually get work done.
    • Eliminate Politics
      • Don’t be the sole decisionmaker. If you make all the decisions, then you become the target of and conduit for organizational politics.
      • Encourage open debate within your team. But once the debate is done and the decision made, follow Jeff’s Bezos’ advice: “Disagree and commit.”
      • When people cannot agree, send them away to develop a joint solution. Don’t play Solomon and try to work out a compromise yourself.
    • The best questions to ask your teams to get really eye-opening information:
      • What’s not working in this organization and why?
      • What is working and why?
  • Final Thoughts.
    • Bezos: Don’t punish the person who disagrees with you.
    • Bezos: When you opt for compromise rather than the truth, then you don’t get the right answer.
    • Bezos: Don’t let the communication architecture follow the organizational architecture.
      • Don’t trap people in the organizational structure, forced to depend solely on their manager for information.
      • Let people talk to whomever they need to talk to get the information they need to do their job