Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
John Carreyrou

Ended: Nov. 3, 2018

MOSLEY HAD a weekly meeting with Elizabeth scheduled for that afternoon. When he entered her office, he was immediately reminded of her charisma. She had the presence of someone much older than she was. The way she trained her big blue eyes on you without blinking made you feel like the center of the world. It was almost hypnotic. Her voice added to the mesmerizing effect: she spoke in an unusually deep baritone.
By this point, some Safeway executives were getting angry. They were being denied their bonuses because the company was missing its financial targets, which had factored in the anticipated extra revenues and profits from the Theranos partnership. Matt O’Rell, an executive in Safeway’s finance department, had been tasked with coming up with revenue projections for the wellness centers. Working from the aggressive assumption that each of them would attract an average of fifty patients per day, he had forecast $250 million in extra revenue per year. Not only had that revenue failed to materialize, Safeway had spent $100 million more than that just to build the centers.
A parent who holds too tightly to the child-as-he-is-now rather than sponsor the adolescent-he-is-becoming, for example, is now “overholding” and no longer is best serving that person’s development. Similarly, a company that holds people in the same job for too long, rewarding reliability and dependability as a means to encourage people to be the same people they have been, is not optimally developmental.
In this way, the Bridgewater culture actively encourages individuals not to blindly accept opinions from authorities (its own leaders). Instead, each individual is expected to ask for and assess the logic and evidence independently. This is an especially developmental provocation to anyone who has begun to experience the limits of her socialized mind. These Bridgewater practices are meant to be used to develop one’s own independent (self-authored) conclusions based on assessing and coordinating the views of others (using criteria such as logic, evidence, and believability).
Bridgewater CEO Greg Jensen could not be clearer about his answer to this chapter’s question: “We do not think of our culture as a ‘contributor’ to our business success; we do not think of it as a ‘factor.’ We think of it as, literally, the cause of our success. We are successful because of our culture. We think of the culture as itself our business strategy. Full stop.” You already know that challenging every belief is a watchword of the Bridgewater culture, so you will not be surprised that Jensen has given thought to the basis for this belief. It begins with a consideration of what it takes to succeed in the investment management business. “First, you need to have an independent view, because you are trying to beat the market, and the general consensus is already priced in to the market,” he says. “Second, you need real insight; that independent view has to be worthwhile. Third, you need the humility to survive being wrong, because you are going to be wrong a lot of the time. Finally, you have to be more accurate than not, over the long term.”
This is what happens in a successful DDO, where people are rewarded for demonstrating what they don’t know and can’t yet do, as much as they are for what they do know and can do. At Bridgewater there is only one kind of mistake that is not acceptable, and that is failing to acknowledge your mistakes. At the end of every day, anything you had a hand in that didn’t go as it should you enter in the issues log. It’s not a catalog of shame, a paper trail to justify your eventual firing or loss of bonus. Instead, it’s a living text (the curriculum again) from which you and your colleagues will have the chance to learn and get better. And this idea—that more of the energy flows into the actual work, rather than to hiding out—is not just a New Age abstraction. If it were a real phenomenon—more energy going into a common enterprise per hour—you would literally feel it if you were there.
Worse than just a waste of time, these corrosive dynamics disarm a company’s ability to effectively address and improve any and all of the suboptimal practices from which the organization suffers. Here’s a quick example. We are currently trying to help a company that is not a DDO but wants to become one. The company has a great mission, and its people are dedicated; it has outperformed its competitors, is growing rapidly, and is very profitable. Still, the company is running far below its own targets, leaving on the table hundreds of millions of dollars each year because it is not managing itself as the leaders know it should. The reason? People will not call each other out, across ranks and divisions, when someone is screwing up (although they can clearly see it and are happy to complain about it to others); and people will not call themselves out when they know they’re falling short. In the non-DDO organizations we work with, we regularly ask, “On a one-to-ten scale, how frank are you with each other on matters of importance to how the business is run? ‘One’ equals ‘not at all,’ and ‘ten’ equals ‘completely.’” We gather the scores anonymously (because otherwise they wouldn’t be frank about this either). The averages are usually around 6—a pathetic score. Imagine your doctor, your attorney, or your spouse telling you just 60 percent of what she feels you need to know. If we had to turn this whole chapter into a Tweet and were required to address the strictly business value of being a DDO in 140 characters, this might be our best shot: “Q: Why should a business become a DDO? A: To move its Frankness Score from 6 to 9 or 10! A business w/ a 6 runs at 60 percent efficiency.” It’s easy to see how these two pervasive dynamics collude with each other. We make a sort of bargain: “I won’t take you on directly, if you’ll give me the same pass. I won’t interfere with the work you’re doing to look good, if you won’t interfere with mine.” Each of us is free to keep hiding our weaknesses and letting off steam about others’ shortcomings behind their backs.
At ArcLight, hourly employees can learn to read the profit-and-loss statement then make decisions about show scheduling the very next week, opportunities other companies in their industry do not provide. Crew members’ identities are not pegged to the duties they might perform in a given shift, but constantly are oriented toward workers’ seeing themselves running the business as a whole. Dashwood sums up the impact of all this on the business: “We see a big difference in our revenues and the experience of our guests because we focus on people’s development and their critical thinking. What’s right for the business actually creates meaning and confidence for the crew members. We have had breakthrough results in every category. This is not just fun and games.”
Most companies, nonprofits, government organizations, and other public institutions (like schools and hospitals) may never take on all the features of a DDO as you have learned about them in this book. But just as the twentieth century saw one kind of recasting of the healthier workplace from being an exception to being the rule (regarding child labor, length of the workweek, industrial safety, health and pension benefits, and the like), might it not be that the twenty-first century may witness a new recasting on behalf of a more interior kind of health—for the benefit of individual workers and their organizations?
You can’t get out on your developmental edge until you’ve created practices that bring it into view. And you can’t sustain these practices (your groove) without first fostering a setting to support a new level of vulnerability. So, for us, the first moves in getting started always have to do with creating a home to support a new level of personal and collective learning.
“To deal with the world in front of us,” the head of HR joins in, “and to bring out the best in our people, we need a much more collaborative, more innovative, more risk-taking culture.” But changing any culture, much less one with over a hundred thousand employees, is not an easy job, as this group knows well. “Everyone might raise their hand,” the HR head says, “when you ask who’d prefer to work in the new culture we hope to move to. But when you ask, ‘Okay, so who wants to make the first big mistake?’ it’s a different story.”
Suncorp Personal Insurance has a traditional strategy team and an enterprise risk management group to help the business make choices and mitigate risk, but Milliner wanted an internal function that would serve many business needs at once. Not only did he want the new division to think in new ways—to challenge assumptions and help the organization learn about change—but also he wanted the new division to seek out alternative business models and new ideas for meeting emerging needs, build relationships around the world with innovative thinkers who would become strategic partners, expand the capacity of leaders throughout the business to think in strategic ways, and continue to evolve the personal insurance business.
In the circle are the core team—the twelve members of the division who are permanent members—as well as a group called the principals—twelve people who come from the business and are posted to SI for a year. (The latter arrive in groups of three every quarter, and so there are always a few people who are new and a few who are about to cycle off.)
Looking at the typical features of a DDO in chapter 3 can be one kind of prompt for such considerations. For example, you might ask, “Do we agree that rank will not have its usual privileges?” This means that subordinates should feel responsibility to push back on their bosses when they do not agree or understand, and bosses will welcome, rather than take umbrage at, such behavior.
The odds that Holmes could pull off this latest Houdini act while under criminal investigation were very long, but watching her confidently walk the audience through her sleek slide show helped crystallize for me how she’d gotten this far: she was an amazing saleswoman. She never once stumbled or lost her train of thought. She wielded both engineering and laboratory lingo effortlessly and she showed seemingly heartfelt emotion when she spoke of sparing babies in the NICU from blood transfusions. Like her idol Steve Jobs, she emitted a reality distortion field that forced people to momentarily suspend disbelief.