Lessons from the Theranos Debacle – Info Decision Make

Several years ago, journalists far and wide heralded college dropout Elizabeth Holmes for her bold vision, innovative strategy, and charismatic leadership at her well-funded startup, Theranos. Holmes proclaimed that she had invented an entirely new blood testing regimen for patients.  Journalists drew parallels to Steve Jobs, even noting that she dressed in a similar fashion. Holmes did not only fool journalists though.  She allegedly managed to deceive an array of investors and board members with extensive experience in industry and government.   Of course, the governnent now charges that the entire organization turned out to be a massive fraud. Last week, Elizabeth Holmes and her firm's former president, Ramesh Balwani (also her boyfriend at one point), were indicted for engaging in an elaborate scheme to defraud investors, patients, and doctors.   

So what can we do? First, investors should maintain a “trust but verify” attitude toward companies. We want to enable innovation by providing appropriate resources to creative people—but simultaneously scrutinize their claims, especially when it comes to technology that affects patient safety. Second, companies should foster open cultures and allow for feedback and safe environments for whistleblowers when necessary. Third, industry must continue to embrace transparency and recognize that in the long run, those companies that listen to their constituents achieve sustainable success.

These are highly valuable.  I think there's a broader point though.  We have to be careful about becoming too enamored with a bold and highly appealing vision.  We fall in love with dreams.  We have to ask: Is this vision technically feasible and economically viable?  Sometimes, we find the vision and the desired end state so desirable, and the leader proclaiming that vision so appealing, that we begin to put too much faith in their ability to do the highly improbable.  We stop asking tough questions.  We want to believe that the vision will become reality, and that fervent belief erases some of the natural skepticism that would be healthy in scrutinizing the organization.   Does this make you think of any other visionary leaders these days pursuing what are perceived to be very socially beneficial outcomes?  Hmm… 

Article Prepared by Ollala Corp

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