How Much is Too Much?

The husband gave me a significant look, and shook his head disapprovingly. I understood his sentiment. He was reading Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.

I spent the whole time shaking my head disapprovingly, and wondering how one could have started out so nobly and have gone astray so quickly when caught in the web of her own lies, myths, and ambitions.

While being driven is often seen as a good thing in our Society, it generally needs a heathy helping of morals and ethics and all the rest of it. Take the visible case of Elizabeth Holmes.

I had heard of the story of Theranos, the medical blood-testing company that promised to revolutionize the medical industry by doing all blood tests on a single drop of blood instead of the vials and vials that were currently drawn. “That.Is.Amazing!” I thought to myself. Like millions of others, I don’t particularly like having vials of blood drawn, and this was a development waiting to happen.

No wonder the company was valued at billions and more importantly had the potential to save thousands of people. Elizabeth Holmes seemed to be the visionary that everyone yearned for – dropped out of Stanford, after inventing ground-breaking technology in her sophomore year, and it was nice that she was a Woman. The press likes that.

Then, a few years later, a friend sent me an article on the company after an investigative reporter found the whole premise a fabricated one. I was a little dubious at first. How can one be touted as a visionary for this long by this many people have fabricated a premise like that? I mean she was on the cover of Time, Fortune magazine and Business Insider’s darling. Could she have done all that on what we in the software industry refer to as a ‘manual workaround’.

“By positioning Theranos as a tech company in the heart of the Valley, Holmes channeled this fake-it-until-you-make-it culture, and she went to extreme lengths to hide the fakery.” 
― John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

How one manages to fool this many people for so long astounds me, but it also explains our fervent, if pathetic need, for super-heroes. We need someone to adulate, someone to fawn over, someone whose story can inspire the young, and we latch on greedily to anyone the media deems worthy.

“Like her idol Steve Jobs, she emitted a reality distortion field that forced people to momentarily suspend disbelief.” 
― John Carreyrou, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

I recommend reading Bad Blood: Lies and Deception in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.


It is a chilling tale cautioning us about the importance of grounding oneself in reality, the importance of listening, and the underlying question of morals and ethics. Essentially, Elizabeth Holmes seemed to have used her considerable charisma and influence to get top names on her Board, while running a tight ship. Not having any real breakthroughs in terms of technology was a minor problem. Instead, they seem to have come up with less than efficient techniques to dilute blood samples, and test them on standard Seimens equipment.

Why none of her Professors, Board of Governors, Journalists ever stopped to understand the true technology claims of Theranos is beyond me. Or is it that she played into the sweet spot of attention spans to give people what seemed like important information, while not revealing anything?

Whatever, it was. it begs the question of ethics and ambition.
“Her ambition was voracious and it brooked no interference. If there was collateral damage on her way to riches and fame, so be it.” 

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

Ultimately, how much is too much?

“Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principals which direct them.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

P.S: In that gloomy account of ambition gone awry, there are two rays of sunshine. The young interns, Tyler Schultz & Erica Cheung.  In their early twenties, their inner light never wavered. Not when they knew it was time to resign, nor when it was time to reveal the real goings-on in the company. This was not some website that did not deliver a feature after all, it was blood test results that affected people in real ways.

Aren’t those the type of heroes we need to look for in our Society? When we talk about drive and  ambition for ourselves or our children, these are the people we should be referring to.

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