I have been vacillating between an intense discussion of Bad Blood and a terse and blunt statement about Theranos.  In the end, I took a middle path. If you want to dive into the detail again, grab the book and the follow our re-read through it.  If you want the later,  the bottom line is — sleazy company, bad board and sociopathic people at the top.  Now the middle path.

Let’s begin with the statement that Bad Blood is an interesting story. The book is a real-life cautionary tale for our times, whether you are in Silicon Valley or the rust belt. We live in a time in which many feel that the ultimate yardstick is how much profit a firm can squeeze out of a market and the size of the net worth of the owners. Social responsibility, and in some cases the health and welfare of their customers, is thrown to the wind.  Theranos is a perfect example. In Theranos’ case (and probably in all of the firms that are like Theranos but don’t have books written about them) there are often good people that want to do the right thing. The problem is that waiting for people to do the right thing often takes a long time to happen therefore people get hurt. 

Diving into the themes the Carreyrou draws out in the text suggests the main takeaway is that excess and bravado will always attract followers. A corollary to this idea is those true believers will be slow to abandon their leaders even when it is apparent they are just smoke and mirrors. Followers want to say yes to authority even when asked to do the impossible. I have seen project managers and/or development managers agree to deadlines that are impossible on the surface because they believe that is what is expected. The rationale is often pain delayed is pain avoided. The Theranos story is rife with examples of people that avoid doing what they think is right and but painful in a blind hope that they can avoid pain. Whether Holmes and Balwani are sociopaths, while important to the story, is less important when extracting ideas useful for a typical software development team. One ideas we can extract is that transparency is an important first step for any leader for foster in an organization. Yet, if a team or organization expects action based on transparency there needs to be a mechanism to take action. Any mechanism must also have a way to navigate around blockers and to balance the power between those speaking truth and those hearing the truth.  In the book, the use of H1-B visa contractors was a way to generate a power imbalance that stops information flow. In Theranos’ case balancing power to expose problems would have been at odds with Holmes’ shell game.

I recommend that you read the book and if you find yourself in a situation that is anything like described in Bad Blood (whatever level — team, organization or personal), run don’t walk to the exit or if you don’t exit or expose the problem, you are part of the problem. It is easy to say, tough to recognize at the moment and then to act upon.

Next week we will lay out our approach to The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

Previous Entries:

Week 1 – Approach and Introductionhttps://bit.ly/2J1pY2t

Week 2 — A Purposeful Life and Gluebothttps://bit.ly/2RZANGh

Week 3 — Apple Envy, Goodbye East Paly and Childhood Neighborshttps://bit.ly/2zbOTeO

Week 4 — A Reflectionhttps://bit.ly/2RA6AfT

Week 5 — Sunnyhttps://bit.ly/2AZ5tRq

Week 6 – The miniLab –  https://bit.ly/2rfmwJh

Week 7 – Wellness Playhttps://bit.ly/2rqUYk6

Week 8 – Who is LTC Shoemakerhttps://bit.ly/2GkbWv0

Week 9 – Lightning a Fuisz and Ian Gibbonshttps://bit.ly/2QR7poR

Week 10 – Chiat\Day, Going Live and Unicornhttps://bit.ly/2SrRpGv

Week 11: The Grandson, Fame and The Hippocratic Oathhttps://bit.ly/2FfSwp3

Week 12: Chapters 19 through Epilogue – https://bit.ly/2RoSYZ3