February 22, 2011 in My thoughts

Shelve an idea to make it successful

Jack Dorsey (co-founder of Twitter and Square) recently gave a lecture at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program which contained some really interesting insights on the way that both Twitter and Square emerged as ideas. Whilst very few people are going to start companies the size of Twitter and Square, I believe that we all the potential to have as many good ideas as Jack Dorsey.

The hour-long video below is worth watching, and here are my reflections on what we can learn from Jack Dorsey so we can have great ideas:

Be Curious – He seems obsessively curious about how things can be improved. Dorsey was fascinated by maps and managed to do a lot around digital mapping but was really curious about how he could put people on the map. In 2000, he spent a day writing some software that would do just that and used it to send the message “I’m at Golden Gate park, watching the Bison” from his Blackberry. That was the idea that is now Twitter. That same curiosity also came across in the idea for Square, when a friend lost a sale as he couldn’t accept credit card payments and Dorsey was curious as to why people couldn’t accept credit card payments despite having a computer next to their ear! Dorsey also talks about how we can sabotage ourselves when we have an idea and all we do is think about why we can’t do it. His solution is simple: write it down.

Build prototypes – the original prototype of Twitter was coded in one day to test the idea before shelving it. When Dorsey picked the idea up again, he (and 2 other people) spent 2 weeks to develop a prototype to test the idea. With Square, Dorsey and 2 others built a working prototype in a month. The reason he builds prototypes is to see if it can be done, to improve the idea, and to have something tangible that can be used to get support from others.

Take multiple perspectives – If you want to build a product that is relevant to people, then Dorsey is really clear that you need to put yourself in their shoes and he talks about the power of writing user narratives so that you have a clear story for how things will work for all of the key players and will generate one epic cohesive story instead of lots of short stories.

Shelve ideas – Commenting on the first message sent whilst Bison-watching, Dorsey commented that nobody cared and that nobody else could participate as the technology wasn’t readily available. He knew that he had a really good idea, but it was the wrong time for the idea so he simply shelved the idea. That didn’t mean he killed the idea and he revisited the idea in 2005/2006 when he was given some time by his employer (Odeo) and asked to come up with an idea of something that he would like to work on. Shelving the idea of Twitter simply meant saving it until the right time and the rest, as they say, is history!

Be an Editor – Dorsey sees his role as the CEO of Square as that of an editor and he talks about how he has editorial control over a number of key areas. In particular he talks about focus and how it is important that, out of the thousands of things they could be doing, they pick the one or two that will make the biggest difference.

So, be obsessively curious, build prototypes of ideas and think them through from different perspectives, shelve ideas until the timing is right, and be an editor and focus on what will make a difference. It sounds very simple but I think this is very different from how many of us handle the ideas that we have on a day-to-day basis.

How do you choose to handle your ideas?


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