Pages : 301
Publisher : Picador
Published : 2019
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou is a business book/industry thriller following the Theranos scandal and it’s founder, Elizabeth Holmes. This is not the sort of book I would usually read, however I absolutely devoured it. There’s so much to unpack with this book, but I can’t cover it all so I’m going to pull out a few themes that jumped out at me.
Elizabeth Holmes’ success seems to be a product of her confidence and charisma, instead of any sort of talent or good ideas. Elizabeth was horrifically unqualified on both the business and engineering/science fronts to run a biomedical start up. Anyone who knows anything about blood testing knows that the Theranos minilab design won’t work, but Holmes’ confidence hoodwinks anyone without a scientific background, and quite a few people who do. It’s an upsetting reminder that in our post-expert society, it’s more important to have a confident opinion than actual scientific training.
Holmes’ also heavily leans on the idolisation of young entrepreneurs. She either truly believes that she is the next Steve Jobs, or cynically brands herself as such in order to inspire confidence. By buying into the idea that Holmes' is a genius and will change the world like the tech entrepreneurs who have gone before her, her investors are buying into the idea of the exceptional individual and the one good idea that will change the world, rather than coming to terms with the fact that successful individuals are beholden to their teams and a huge amount of luck in order to achieve their success.
Holmes' and her partner Balwani are unsurprisingly both terrible scientists and terrible managers. They manage their staff using bullish work practices, and attempt to keep them in line using intimidation. They have no trust in their employees, especially their younger ones. They have a strong culture of presenteeism and personality. Their organisation is full of the classic red flags of poor management, and it’s no wonder that they have a huge turn over of staff. The only thing that keeps the employees around is their belief that they can do something with Theranos to help people, so once they find out that’s not what’s happening they jump ship. As someone who is starting out on their career, it was a good guide (though hopefully an extreme case) for what to look out for in a toxic workplace.
There’s far more to explore in Bad Blood than the few points I’ve pulled out, and is definitely worth the read. I’m not a business book fan, but this book honestly read more like an industry thriller. I hadn’t followed any of the Theranos scandal in real time so I found watching Holmes’ rise and fall absolutely riveting. Carreyrou manages to condense and deliver a massive story featuring a huge number of key players into something that can be consumed without wrecking your brain.