Jun 13, 2018

Theranos: the religion

Theranos was a messed-up place for a lot of reasons, but its explicit utopia-cult overtones are the most mind-blowing. On p. 287-8 of my copy of Bad Blood:

The resignations infuriated Elizabeth and Sunny. The following day, they summoned the staff for an all-hands meeting in the cafeteria. Copies of The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho’s famous novel about an Andalusian shepherd boy who finds his destiny by going on a journey to Egypt, had been placed on every chair.

Still visibly angry, Elizabeth told the gathered employees that she was building a religion. If there were any among them who didn’t believe, they should leave. Sunny put it more bluntly: anyone not prepared to show complete devotion and unmitigated loyalty to the company should "get the fuck out."

And on p. 348:

To accommodate its swelling ranks, which now totaled more than five hundred, Theranos was planning to move to a new location it had leased from Stanford a few blocks away on Page Mill Road. It was the site of an old printing plant that had been demolished. Patrick was put in charge of the new building’s interior and hired the South African architect Clive Wilkinson, who had designed the converted Chiat-Day warehouse in L.A., for the job.

The central motif of the design was once again the sacred geometry of the circle. Desks were arranged in large circular patterns rippling out from circular glass conference rooms in the center. The carpeting followed the same circular patterns. In the building’s lobby, interlocking rings of brass were embedded in the floor’s terrazzo tiles to form the Flower of Life symbol.

Elizabeth’s new corner office was designed to look like the Oval Office. Patrick ordered a custom-made desk that was as deep as the president’s at its center but had rounded edges. In front of it, he arranged two sofas and two armchairs around a table, replicating the White House layout. At Elizabeth’s insistence, the office’s big windows were made of bulletproof glass.

Apparently if you accrue enough capital & cultural buy-in, you can hire a bunch of really smart people, set up your office to be a New Age simulacrum of the US President's office, and tell all the really smart people you hired not only that your product is going to save world, but also that you are building a religion to which they need to show "devotion and unmitigated loyalty."