This article was published on May 5, 2013

Twitter CEO to the University of Michigan’s graduating class: Be bold, courageous, and in this moment

Twitter CEO to the University of Michigan’s graduating class: Be bold, courageous, and in this moment

Twitter’s CEO Dick Costolo addressed the University of Michigan’s Spring 2013 graduating class on Saturday. It was during this talk where he shared insights into his life following his graduation from the university and lessons that he learned from his comedic experience and also his time as Twitter’s CEO. His parting wisdom to the newly graduated? To be bold, courageous, and to be in this moment.

Prior to beginning his 17 minute-plus speech, Costolo did what any Twitter user would do in the moment: Snap a photo and share it to his more than 1 million followers.

Costolo recounted his days following his graduation from his alma mater when he was confronted with whether to take a job with three technology firms or pursue a life as a comedian in Chicago with the Second City troupe. He chose the latter and it was during his studies in improvisation that he was taught the three lessons he referenced today.

When it came to being bold and courageous, Costolo cited an example when he was asked by a director to describe a specific scene on stage, although there was nothing there. The lesson was that we shouldn’t be afraid of taking risks and setting the scene according to what we want.

In another class, Costolo said that he came up with a perfectly good line to use in his next act and during his performance, he tried to steer the improv group’s conversation in the intended direction. The director stopped the act before it got there and told Costolo that you can’t plan a script. The beauty of improvisation, said Costolo’s director, is that you need to live in the moment. If you try to plan it, you’re going to be disappointed when others don’t do or say what you want them to do, leaving you frozen. The lesson: Be here in this moment.

Eventually he moved on to work on the Internet and it was there that he applied these rules to his experience, most specifically Twitter.

Costolo says that the graduates should choose to do something that they love, and for him, that’s Twitter:

If there’s ever an example of the importance of making bold bets and focusing on what you love, it’s Twitter.

But with Twitter, its effect on the world was nothing planned. Costolo said that none of the co-founders had any expectation or understanding of what could result from millions of people using it to communicate. He cited examples where no one at Twitter expected the service to be influential in, such as President Obama using it to declare victory in the 2012 US Presidential election, being a lifeline in the aftermath of the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, and an important communication tool in organizing the Arab Spring protests.

Costolo implored graduates that if they make courageous choices and bet on themselves, and put themselves out there, they will have an impact as a result of what they do. But they don’t need to know now what that will be or how because no one else does.

Not only can you not predict the impact, you won’t even recognize it when you have it. The impact is what others frame for you and the rest of the world after it happens. The present is only what you’re experiencing right now.

Costolo’s parting line?

Don’t worry about what your next line is, don’t have any expectations, and be in this moment.

Thank you. #GoBlue

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images