Jack Dorsey’s refreshing memo is a reminder to never sell ideas with someone else’s name

Twitter activist.
Twitter activist.
Image: Reuters/Stephen Lam
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

There’s an emerging form of corporate literature that’s great when it works: internal memos posted by startup CEOs describing a specific management tactic or philosophy.

In the latest installment, Square CEO Jack Dorsey today posted a 2012 memo where he told staff of the payments startup that too many of them were saying things like “Jack really wants this to happen” when trying to push ideas through. 

Dorsey sees that as a big problem. It means that ideas get approved due to perceived authority rather than merit. Here’s how he explains why you should never borrow authority:

Using someone else’s name to sell an idea does two things:

It diminishes your authority.

It diminishes the idea’s merit.

Simply: if you have to use someone else’s name or authority to get a point across, there is little merit to the point (you might not believe it yourself). If you believe in something to be correct, focus on showing your work to prove it. Authority derives naturally from merit, not the other way around.

Dorsey, who also co-founded Twitter, urges that instead of trying to end conversations citing someone else not present as an overriding authority, his workers spend more time debating and rethinking the things they take for granted. From a management perspective, always using the CEO’s name makes it look like all ideas are meant to flow from the top, which is the opposite of what Dorsey says he wants.

When you passionately argue for something and convince somebody, you earn authority of your own.

(For further reading in the startup memo genre, see also AirBNB CEO Brian Chesky’s excellent letter on culture.)