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Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter, Talks to the NY Times about Why Improv is Good Management Training

By: Second City | Mar 2, 2015 Comments

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Dick Costolo Thinks It’s O.K. to Never Tweet
FEBRUARY 25, 2015

The C.E.O. of Twitter talks with Farhad Manjoo about how the platform plans to handle harassment, and why improv comedy is good management training.

In a recent earnings report, you said Twitter had 288 million active users a month — only a few million more than in the quarter before. Do you worry that Twitter doesn’t have a broad appeal? Everyone wants to know and stay up-to-date on what’s happening in their world and be connected and know what’s going on. That’s what Twitter provides. So I think that irrespective of whether you want to tweet, everyone can get value out of Twitter right away.

Do you ever meet people who don’t use it or don’t know why they would use it? What is your pitch to them? I meet people who say, “Oh, I don’t tweet.” I think there’s still a misconception that the reason they’d sign up is to tweet. When I meet them, I tell them, “No, you don’t have to.”

You recently sent a memo to employees saying, “We suck at dealing with abuse.” And you said that you lose users because of it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of all the emails I’ve ever sent to the company, that’s probably the first one where I said “we suck at” instead of using more eloquent language. My parents aren’t delighted about that. But I meant what I said. One of the reasons I was so blunt about it was that I wanted to really send a wake-up call to the company that we’re going to get a lot more aggressive about it, and it’s going to start right now.

For years people have called on you to do more. So why did you need that wake-up call? Well, it’s a complex issue. By way of example, in the wake of the news of that internal memo going out, I’ll get emails from people that say, “I agree, and here’s a great example of someone being harassed on the platform” — and it’s not at all harassment, it’s political discourse. And, in fact, fairly rational political discourse. So you know these things have lots and lots of varying degrees: Was that really harassment and abuse? Or is that discourse?

Some people believe that Twitter hasn’t taken the issue seriously because harassment isn’t a form of physical harm — they’re just tweets. No, that’s not true at all. We’ve always taken it seriously. We’ve drawn a line on what constitutes harassment and abuse. I believe that we haven’t yet drawn that line to put the cost of dealing with harassment on those doing the harassing. It shouldn’t be the person who’s being harassed who has to do a lot of work.

You’re putting yourself in the position of deciding what’s abuse and what’s fair speech. How are you going to make those decisions? Well, you set policies and then you try to stick to those policies. One way of thinking about it is: I may have a right to say something, but I don’t have a right to stand in your living room and scream it into your ear five times in a row. Right? I think there are things you can do on the platform that are of varying degrees of severity — not just black and white.

You’ve been interested in improv comedy for a while. Does that affect how you work as a C.E.O.? One of the things that you’re always trying to make sure you really pay attention to in improv is being in the moment and listening. When I was first learning the trade, one of the things that folks at Second City used to always say was “Be in this moment.” That’s one of the things I tell my new managers. The notion of “Yes, and” in improvisation is, I think, important in any sort of discussion.

You recently were part of a CrossFit team at Twitter, and you do CrossFit regularly. Are you a fitness freak? I do those things because they’re physically intense enough that you can’t think about anything else while you’re doing them.

The reason that I usually have trouble focusing on something, like my kids or work, is because Twitter is nearby. How much do you use Twitter? I’m on it all the time. I mean, there will be days when I may not tweet, but I’m listening and reading and searching constantly. So you know, “A lot” is the short answer.

 

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