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Free Bird

winterBy the time you read this, Snoop Dogg may be Twitter’s new CEO.

With the ‘resignation’ of Dick Costolo on June 11th Twitter finds itself back in the all too familiar land of Spanish TV Novellas.  The Twittersphere, media pundits and Chris Sacca have all outlined their theories to right Twitter’s woes. Jack Dorsey is being reinstated as temporary CEO and has said he and the board are aligned that Twitter doesnt need a change in strategy and he is right. Twitter’s struggles are by their own design. The calls for being acquired, new products, tabs, character limits, and live events are all potentially nice tactics but what Twitter really needs is a new mission.

Dan Pallotta said “an organization on a mission is inspiring” in his 2011 piece for the Harvard Business Review entitled “Do You Have a Mission Statement, or Are You on a Mission?” Twitter’s mission is “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers,” but is that mission inspiring anyone? Does it provide the clarity Wall Street craves? Does it unify a vision for consumers and product development?

The end is the beginning or it is the beginning of the end. “Without barriers” is the critical phrase in Twitter’s mission statement. That has always been the catalyst that has driven its engine. That tension between its potential and its limitations is what made it so disruptive and innovative. But is it still enough? At its core Twitter has always been an uncontrollable schizophrenic mess, which to its most ardent purist fans is its raison d’être. Twitter = free speech. Free speech = without barriers. Ergo Twitter.  It is this world without bounds that makes Twitter brilliant, who/what but Twitter could have been the voice of the Arab Spring?  Twitter also serves to protect the banal, with its endless streams of unconscious musings over life’s most trivial moments. Can Twitter continue to attract, retain and grow an audience in these two universes?

Mission statements sometimes need to grow up.  Facebook’s mission circa 2009 on – “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” – evolved from its roots as a college-only social directory.  Simultaneously, its ambitions, world view and guiding principles matured, giving clarity to its purpose and products. Larry Page said last year that after 14 years Google has outgrown its mission “to organize the world’s information to make it universally accessible and useful.” It happens. Directions change.

It would seem that Twitter’s management revolving door, which has been one of the primary constants, has also lived by this ethos of “without barriers” or at least without stability. Management changes happen. Sometimes grownups are brought in to mentor or counter balance founders who find themselves in that unfamiliar territory going from garage/dorm room to the boardroom.  Twitter has always been a bit more Game of Thrones. How much can Jack actually get accomplished, knowing any time he spends at the top will only be temporary? What legacy is he handing over this time?

Twitter has always been that somewhat rare bird (obvious pun intended) that in many ways has clearly succeeded despite itself. Last year then CFO now CFO/CMO and CEO contender Anthony Noto delivered what some confused as a new mission statement but was in fact just an embarrassingly awful and confusing ‘strategy statement’ laying out Twitters aspirations to “reach the largest daily audience in the world by connecting everyone to their world via our information sharing and distribution platform products and be one of the top revenue generating internet companies in the world’ (breath).  If that was some attempt to evolve or test the waters of a new mission then one thing will be for sure – this rollercoaster will continue, Jack Dorsey will surpass his idol Jobs with the CEO three-(re)peat, Twitter will be no closer to solving any of its issues and there may not be much left worth acquiring.  Twitter is lightning in a bottle and under the right leadership, with the right mission, it can continue to be a disruptive force.

Please help Larry find a new home by submitting or tweeting your suggestions below or at #TwitterNewMission.

Michael Winter is the founder of Future Present Perfect LLC a transformation accelerator and marketing advisory firm. He has been at the intersection of media and technology for the last 20 years working on many of the F100 brands. Michael writes and speaks about innovation, disruption and transforming consumer/brand ecosystem. 

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