How Jack Dorsey’s Lifelong Obsessions Became World-Changing Companies

What do maps, trains, and emergency dispatch services have to do with one entrepreneur’s path to successful innovation? Everything.

How Jack Dorsey’s Lifelong Obsessions Became World-Changing Companies

Jack Dorsey wasn’t your average kid in St. Louis. He had a speech impediment. He loved maps. He studied trains. He listened to the emergency dispatch center. And he noticed something interesting: Everybody was talking with short bursts of sound.


“They’re always talking about where they’re going, what they’re doing, and where they currently are,” Dorsey recently told Lara Logan on 60 Minutes, “and that’s where the idea for Twitter came.”

Enabled by cell phones and text messages, we became the center of the dispatch.

“Suddenly we could update where I was, what I’m doing, where I’m going, how I feel,” Dorsey continues, “and it would go out into the entire world.”

As Logan notes in the story, Dorsey’s study of trains was the beginning of a “lifelong obsession” with learning about real-world processes and translating them into virtual space. That deep understanding animated Twitter and his second market-shifter, Square, as well as his dream of becoming New York’s mayor.

Still, the link between hanging out in Midwestern train yards and founding paradigmatic Silicon Valley companies is not the most obvious of connections. For those seeking person/universe fit, Dorsey’s path is assuring in the same way as Steve Jobs’s famous commencement speech, when he told Stanford grads to trust that the “dots” of their lives would “somehow connect” in their futures. See also Gentry Underwood, whose quest to solve problems brought him from studying social change to IDEO to cofounding Orchestra, launching Mailbox, and getting acquired by Dropbox.


Bottom Line: The dots will connect. Like Dorsey’s fascinations brought him from St. Louis to New York to Silicon Valley, entrepreneurial energy has a way of taking you into unexpected–and fitting–places.

Watch the original video here.

[Image: Flickr user Guiri R. Reyes]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.