Origin Stories

Apropos the Square front page story this morning…

I am sure many have probably already read this article about the creation of Twitter and Jack Dorcey’s conduct in particular.

Whoever side you’d like to believe here, it’s a fascinating read and an interesting look into how tech companies artificially build up the lore about their creation and kick people and collaborators out along the way to never be mentioned again.

So, now Twitter is going public with a board of all white rich men looking to maximize the profitability of a social media entity whose allure has always been it’s altruistic appeal. Seems to me all of the players in this article got played by the investors.

As more social media platforms go public these stakeholders are going to start lobbying against net neutrality to sell out to the highest bidders (content providers). If that’s not ironic I don’t know what is. Arab Spring, brought to you exclusively by Twitter, powered by Comcast. Sad.

People love the lone genius origin story - it is a fantasy that allows the average joe to think “with just one idea I’ll make millions!!!”- people want to believe it’s all about the idea and not the execution/ hard work/ iterations and failures.

How many times have you heard someone say something like “I had the idea for the iPad back in 1985” - well, what did you do about it?

It’s like when you are at a museum and see something abstract, and some idiot says “I could do that”…no you can’t, coz you didn’t.

Ideas are cheap, execution is hard. Some of the simplest projects I’ve ever worked on were the most difficult to execute. Kudos to the Apple team and Jackson Pollock for executing things that, while may have been thought of 20 years earlier, were still (largely) unrealized.

As for origin stories, I think it is marketing. Personal stories are captivating. This is why marketers long ago stuck a wise looking quaker on oatmeal boxes and a maternal african-american woman on syrup. They create a more personal relationship with the customer than a photo of 1,000 anonymous people standing around a grey factory can.

The lone genius comes about for a couple reasons. It’s a simpler more direct narrative that people can more easily visualize and follow. Every added hand-off, change of direction, tertiary detail, circling back, person with their finger in the pot, make the story harder to follow and keep track of. Stories like to have a hero, a person or face they can put on the narrative that made this great thing happen. This is why the narrative of your product development story focuses in the meaty bits that impacted the outcome and showed insight instead of how many times you may have looped back to your problem statement, or anything else that doesn’t directly relate to the story you are trying to tell, call it storytelling, editing, whatever…