Three Confessions from Biz Stone’s Creative Mind

I put my gifted Commonwealth Club of California membership to the test last night and it’s now officially in the running for the best Secret Santa gift ever. Taking the stage was Biz Stone, who is well known for being one of the co-founders of Twitter and more recently, Jelly. He was in conversation with Kara Swisher, co-executive editor of online tech publication, about the book he recently penned titled Things a Little Bird Told Me.

Toward the end of the conversation, Swisher asked Biz for three tips for life, and the advice he offered built upon the stories he told leading up to that moment. Here are Biz’s three tips, along with highlights from the conversation which bring them to life:


1. Creativity


Creativity is a renewable resource and everyone is creative. Who can really argue with that? While some might discredit themselves because they aren’t a self-proclaimed artist, but people exercise creativity when solving all sorts of problems that life throws their way. So while you might not Picasso your way through life, doesn’t mean you’re incapable of creative thought. Embrace this notion and daydream.

2. Opportunity


The definition of opportunity is: a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. So while you can’t create opportunity per se, Biz argued that it’s possible to architect circumstances which in turn creates opportunity.

The evening’s conversation started with Biz talking candidly about the humble beginnings of his career. He attended the University of Massachusetts on a scholarship for the Arts, and landed a part-time job moving heavy boxes for the publisher Little, Brown and Company. This was the mid 90′s and the publisher was in transition from using spray glue to desktop publishing. One day, when everyone in the art department was out to lunch, Biz jumped on to a Mac and designed a book jacket based on a brief he found. When he was done, he printed it out and slipped it into a folder bound for New York for approvals.

A couple days later, the art director came back asking who designed the mysterious jacket; Biz spoke up and was offered a job on the spot. After a moral debate about dropping out of school, he decided to make the leap.  On the morning of his first day, Biz’s new boss wordlessly pulled out a booklet of Pantone colours and flipped slowly through the brown shades. He ripped one of the light brown swatches out, slid it across the table and said dryly to Biz, “That’s how I take my coffee.” After a moment of frantic thought about the capabilities of the local Dunkin Donuts and his reasoning for dropping out of college, his boss looked at him and said “I’m kidding! What kind of asshole do you think I am?” They worked together for two years and are now lifelong friends.

The crafted ‘circumstance’ of the rogue-designed book cover gave Biz the opportunity which led to his career in web design, entrepreneurship and ultimately, Twitter.


3. Philanthropy


There is compound impact in philanthropy. Biz disagrees with the notion that you should wait until you’re established or have everything you want to give back. He challenges people to give back at all stages of their life. Biz said that you’ll find you gain a whole lot more than you give when it comes to philanthropy. It’s no surprise that Biz, who has a reputation for wanting to help people, would say such a thing. He currently runs a family charity in support of Bay Area schools with his wife.

Also, when Biz told Jack Dorsey about  his idea for Jelly, Jack encouraged him to pursue it as it was a productization of his personality. Jelly exists to help people find answers they are looking for, and this aligns well with Biz’s compulsion to extend a hand. To naysayers who think artificial intelligence is the future, Biz said, “Why not just actual intelligence?”


One more highlight I wanted to share, that didn’t fall into the official three tips was Biz’s ‘bright spot theory.’ In a nutshell, this means that one should always seek the bright spot in life. This could mean looking for that part of your job that you love and putting everything you have into to make it your life’s work.

Biz’s optimism and positive outlook was refreshing. He dreams big and it’s clearly working for him.

Up next for me at the Commonwealth Club, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens with Danah Boyd.


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