CEO of em data-ga-track="ExternalLink:http://www.gapingvoid.com/"">>Gapingvoid Culture Design Group. End-to-End Culture Design® based upon Culture Science®. Clients: Microsoft, Zappos, USAF, MIT, USC.
In the opening statements of the Theranos trial, Elizabeth Holmes' defense attorney Lance Wade argued, "Elizabeth Holmes did not go to work every day intending to lie, cheat and steal." Instead, he said, "Elizabeth Holmes worked herself to the bone for 15 years trying to make lab testing cheaper and more accessible. She poured her heart and her soul into that effort. Now in the end, Theranos failed, and Miss Holmes walked away with nothing. But failure is not a crime."
I believe years of working closely with startups and visionary entrepreneurs has given me a unique perspective on the case of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, now on trial for multiple counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Holmes makes for fascinating theater, but rather than picking sides, I’d like to view this 37-year-old as an entrepreneur whose dreams got out of control.
Entrepreneurship: Fact, Fantasy Or Fraud?
At its core, the premise of entrepreneurship is a vision of something not yet in the world. Therefore, it is 100% based upon aspiration. It's not about what already is.
Which makes it easy now for journalists, business analysts, attorneys, trolls and all-purpose scolds to say Theranos’ promise that its proprietary machine could deliver hundreds of accurate blood tests from just a few drops of blood was ridiculous from the start. But step back and think about it. In 2021, in Silicon Valley and beyond, a lot of startup success is built on long-shots, "crazy" ideas and premises far more preposterous than hyper-efficient blood tests. To succeed in this world, entrepreneurs have to block out all the haters and get on with pursuing their dreams. And you better believe that if Theranos were making venture capitalists rich, Elizabeth Holmes’ oddball intensity and Jobs-style turtlenecks would be celebrated, not mocked.
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Remember this quote: “All fiction that does not violate the laws of physics is fact.” These aren’t the words of a science fiction writer but rather a scientist, the great — and perpetually optimistic — British physicist David Deutsch, author of em data-ga-track="ExternalLink:https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Beginning_of_Infinity.html?id=WFZl7YvsiuIC"">>The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World. Deutsch understands that we live in extraordinary times, an age when science fiction from just a few years back is fact today. So, if physics shows almost anything is possible, should entrepreneurs just be given a pass to promote any concept that falls within Deutsch’s guidelines? No. But it does mean that with the transition from fantasy to reality happening at an ever-faster pace, organizations must develop healthy, non-toxic work cultures that hold their leaders accountable.
Why Startups Need Clear Cultural Guidelines
Let’s be clear: By nature, successful startup leaders can be irrational, laser-focused, blinders-on committed, constantly leveling up and driven in unique ways that make them dream bigger, focus harder, work longer hours and, as the cliché goes, see obstacles as opportunities. However, the most successful are also grounded in reality, willing to listen to trusted advisors/mentors and working to create a work culture that — while it may be challenging and "crazy-making" — values honesty and the sharing of ideas, not blind obedience to a leader, no matter how charismatic they may be. And like any business aiming to be successful long-term, startups must have a defined culture that’s modeled by leadership and articulated clearly and frequently in ways all team members can understand and embrace.
Successful work cultures must have a vital ethical component, one that differentiates between the puffery of marketing language or missing non-essential deadlines (launching a new product or website, for example) to outright faking results. For some folks, finding the middle ground between “integrity” and “it’s just business” is a challenge, making it imperative that leadership defines, refines and shares its ethical stance at every opportunity to help team members navigate those gray areas.
It’s not about telling people how to behave. We must develop universal business cultural standards that allow startups to strive, fail and eventually succeed without going off the rails. Clarity of purpose and vigilance is key. A truth-be-damned culture usually doesn’t begin that way. It deteriorates over time, slowly at first and then faster, as lies and ethical infractions pile up.
In closing, I will leave you with a quote from former federal prosecutor Mark MacDougall, who in a recent NPR piece defended risk-taking entrepreneurs, stressing that government lawyers must be careful not to abuse their power to prosecute: "If you begin to require everyone who is considering starting a company, expanding a company, developing a new product to first think, 'Can I be prosecuted for this?’ you’re tinkering with something very fundamental to growth and the economy."
We have to maintain perspective. We live in a society that values entrepreneurship, and that comes with positives and negatives. Was Theranos’ culture a disaster, and did they lie to investors while putting patients’ health at risk? Possibly. Was Elizabeth Holmes wrong to believe she could develop a machine that could run hundreds of blood tests from a few drops of blood? Absolutely not. So, whether she is found guilty or walks free, the conversation around the importance of ethics and culture in ambitious companies like Theranos must continue because dreamers with a strong work ethic are essential to driving progress. Entrepreneurs need the freedom to dream, but corporate culture must be designed to keep these dreams ethically on track.
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Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2021/10/21/theranos-is-a-cautionary-tale-that-shouldnt-dampen-enthusiasm-for-entrepreneurs-who-dream-big/1436