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Interview

Bruce Daisley, Twitter

18 October 2017

When it comes to productivity, Twitter’s European boss argues it’s time to call time on the status quo

Bruce Daisley, Twitter’s EMEA vice president, is on a mission to make the modern workplace a more creative, more productive space. And it’s not just because he works somewhere trendy.

In fact, the author of the New Work Manifesto can be quite cutting about the “work culture” obsession of new tech companies, where the “laundry list of perks and benefits offered doesn’t remotely correlate with people being happier or more fulfilled in their jobs”.

Besides, he says, even the word “culture” can sound too fashionable for more traditional firms, and that puts them off making the changes needed to tackle today’s productivity woes.

He prefers the word “tone” – and it has everything to do with chief executives’ willingness to loosen the reins, trust their staff and give them the autonomy to adapt to new technology. It’s the only way they can hope to keep up with the pace of change, he says.

Space to daydream

“There’s been this extraordinarily singular tsunami of technological change over the last 15 years and it’s had zero effect on productivity,” Daisley explains. “All we’ve done is added more to the jobs that we’ve got.”

The tone of how an organisation is run is more important than ever

In particular, he challenges the fact that people are governed by their email counter as a measure of how productive or otherwise they are being. And he argues that the stress of waiting for emails or keeping on top of them damages creativity. As does the drudgery of commuting in rush hour, to adhere slavishly to the 9-5 office hours of old – or working through your lunch hour.

He quotes Georgetown University professor and Deep Work author, Cal Newport, saying that in 15 years we’ll look back at the way we’re working now and laugh.

“The tone of how an organisation is run is more important than ever,” says Daisley. “And if you’re going to try and capture the creativity and the inspiration, then you need to leave people space to daydream.”

Pressure to innovate

Daisley is the first to admit that that is easier said than done. At Twitter’s London HQ, his first instinct as a boss is to question where staff are if they are not at their desk. Change is always difficult, he says.

But he started his quest to challenge traditional ways of working when he was looking for something to read to help him improve the happiness of his own staff (and found nowhere that pulled all the evidence together).

Twitter is under as much pressure as any 21st century business to keep pace with technology and consumer demands and improve profits. And only a couple of days before Daisley spoke to Business Voice, jokes were circulating about the trial introduction of the 280-character limit.

We all love the idea of innovation, as long as it doesn't mean we're changing anything

“The interesting thing about innovation is that we all love the idea of innovation, as long as it doesn’t mean we’re changing anything.”

Although he acknowledges “brevity is at the heart of Twitter”, Daisley explains that the 140-character limit is one of the most frequently cited barriers to those not on Twitter. Twitter is also bigger than Facebook in Japan, where you can write twice as much in 140 characters. With those two factors combined, “it would be crazy not to experiment”, he says.

He adds that many people get daunted by the word “creativity”, when “improvements” is a concept everyone can get behind. And it that vein, he also explains how Twitter is now targeting a smaller, daily audience – and finding good growth as a result. 

There’s a limit to what CEOs can do

It’s the Twitter audience that businesses are increasingly interested in. And Daisley is, of course, accustomed to answering questions about how businesses can use Twitter to best effect (yes, Business Voice asked him that too).

You’d also expect him to drive home the message that business leaders can tap into the social network to understand their consumers better. But instead he insists that anyone can build a capability in their business to understand consumers and the change of technology – by delegating.

“I don’t think any CEO is going to understand the changing patterns of consumer behaviour, but I bet you there are hundreds of people in their organisation that can,” he says. “Just as you can’t read a book on what is going to change in technology in the next 12 months, but you’ve got people who are living it right at the cutting edge, every day.”

However, harnessing the power of their creativity isn’t easy if they’re exhausted, he adds.

“The tools for productivity growth are in everyone’s hands. It’s about leaders making the decisions to put that technology to best use.”

Bruce Daisley is a keynote speaker at this year’s CBI Annual Conference, “A World of Opportunities”, to be held on 6 November.

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