Twitter’s Adam Bain on Keeping It Fresh and Avoiding Sharks and Lawyers

Innovation in unlikely places

CANNES, France–He could be Twitter's next CEO, so it was a perfect time for Adam Bain's talk on innovation and to hear his thoughts on everything from creative corporate culture to the Twitter accounts he follows. Bain is Twitter's president of global revenue and partnerships and one of the company's most well-regarded liaisons to the ad world.

He was at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, where he joined a panel with Mark Read, the CEO of Wunderman, and Pete Blackshaw, Nestlé's global head of digital and social media, to discuss innovation and what keeps a company on the cutting edge.

Bain described two strategies guiding Twitter toward innovation. One was allowing anyone to build anything and test it on Twitter users.

"Anybody in the company can ship any concept that they have to 1 percent of our audience without any approval," Bain said, adding that "instead of trying to debate it, instead of hearing 'no,'—I can actually put that idea into action."

The second program he mentioned gives everyone in the company a week at the start of each quarter to build projects that are then shown off in a Twitter-style science fair, with the best ideas getting worked into the road map.

Bain said employees are more encouraged to test their ideas, now. People used to easily give up, expect a culture of no or think legal would never allow whatever they were thinking, he said, recommending companies cut through that type of negative mindset.

"If that doesn't work, then just fire the lawyers," he joked.

With the 1 percent program, 500 Twitter features have been tested among 3 million users. That kind of testing recently helped the company develop its autoplay video format, Bain said.

Another corporate strategy Bain advocated involves transparent meetings. He said almost every meeting at the company, even if it's between just two people, is recorded in notes and emailed to everyone so people know what's going on. "There's not the 'oh, crap' moment where I stand up and say, 'Why didn't anyone tell me that?'" he said.

Bain also told the audience his favorite Twitter accounts to follow. He follows @trendwatching, a U.K.-based account, and he follows Australia-based @SLSWA, an alert system for sharks that swim close to shore.

"It's an interesting reminder that innovation can come from anywhere, including from the sea," he said.