Bad Blood (2018) is a fascinating story of intrigue, power, Machiavellianism and, most likely, what happens when a sociopath ends up at the helm of a company.
Carreyrou, the author of “Bad Blood”, chronicles the story of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos. When it became clear that Holmes lied on her company’s technical capabilities, she went from the richest woman alive and inspiration for millions of businesswomen, to an international pariah.
- Wildly acclaimed media darling Elizabeth Holmes managed a company for over a decade without a functioning product
- Kissinger, Mattis, Murdoch and plenty smart men all fell for the lies and charm of Holmes
- Don’t believe the hype of what the media sell
About the Author: John Carreyrou is a journalist, and was the first to uncover the lies behind Theranos and her founder Elizabeth Holmes. As it’s often the case, he took a lot of flack for going in first but, eventually, he was vindicated.
The Big Unicorn That Came Back to Earth
I personally was surprised by hearing how actually big Theranos was since I had never heard about it before.
But it was big.
Theranos raised over $700 million of venture capital and at its peak had a valuation of $9 billion, making her founder Elizabeth Holmes a multi-billionaire.
The evaluation and money raised were based on false assumptions, optimistic projects, false data and lots of lies and fabrications.
Elizabeth Holmes’ Great Idea
Elizabeth Holmes, like many others, is scared the needles that are necessary for blood tests.
And she set out to change the way blood tests are run: with a wearable patch.
Not only the wearable patch would render needles useless, but by keeping it on for a whole day, doctors could receive real-time information about patients.
It was genius.
Theranos Never Really Had a Working Product
Of course the product never really lived up to the hype.
And not even to the most basic expectations that a medical device should meet.
It’s crazy to realize how far Theranos got without ever really having a working product.
It would be laughable… If it weren’t for all the people who personally suffered the consequences.
People Were Mislead By Theranos’ Analysis
Theranos’ test analysis was unreliable.
But that didn’t stop Elizabeth Holmes to guarantee on their dependability. And the people who trusted her paid, sometimes, with their own health.
How Elizabeth Misled Kissinger, Murdoch Mattis & Everyone
Bad Blood is particularly interesting for me as a researcher of human behavior and, particularly, as a researcher and writer on power moves, games people play and bullies.
Elizabeth Holmes duped a seasoned negotiator like Henry Kissinger general Mattis, who is the same guy who said: “be nice and courteous but always have a plan to kill everyone in the room”.
Obviously, Mattis had no quote to defend against a smart manipulator, because this is what she said of Holmes:
(Holmes has) One of the most mature and well-honed sense of ethics
But this is no indictment to Mattis or Kissinger.
After all, plenty of professional investors and big pharma companies had been duped into the lie and fraud.
Learn more on manipulation:
From Bully to Angel
But as Bad Blood shows, Holmes was also a bully.
Just for not everyone to see.
For the public, she was the image of the revolutionary startup founder with a dream.
And she was a female with blue eyes, blonde hair and a highly charismatic persona.
Here are some key passages of her big lies:
- Elizabeth Playing The Fighter for Better World
Elizabeth Holmes often played the role of the startup founder and who is going to make the world a better place.
Listen to her saying:
Elizabeth: We have a belief system that this is not about us or technology, this is about giving people a basic right
- Stirring Deep Emotions
Holmes often mentioned the pain of sick people as a way of stirring strong emotions in the audience.
In her Ted Talk, which has since been withdrawn, she talks about her uncle, and how depressed she was when he got sick:
Then, she would frame herself up as the woman working to solve those problems.
But John Carreyrou explains that she was never in any way close to her uncle.
But that didn’t stop Elizabeth from weaving a tearjerking story that made it seem as if the two were so close.
- The rebel against entrenched interest
Here she is on Mad Money’s show playing the role of the rebel who changes the world in spite of everything:
Elizabeth: First, they think you’re crazy. Then, they fight you. Then you change the world.
LOL, what lying POS.
These are the people I think of when I started this website. The people we all need to be aware of.
- The narrative
Almost all businesses seek to weave a story in their marketing because that’s what captures attention and that’s what helps sell.
Holmes’s narrative was that of the girl who was afraid of needles who now fights for a better, cheaper, more inclusive healthcare system.
Look at her showing the letter from her child self:
- The #GirlPower angle
And you must love how she took the “GirlPower” angle to shore up support for her lying and cheating.
Here is what she says as Theranos became more and more embattled:
“Until what happened in the last four weeks, I didn’t understand what it means to be a woman in this space,” she says, shaking her head. “Every article starting with, ‘A young woman.’ Right? Someone came up to me the other day, and they were like, ‘I have never read an article about Mark Zuckerberg that starts with ‘A young man.’ ”
What a conniving b*tch, and I bet many drank the cool-aid and sided with her.
Here again, pushing the “female in science” narrative:
If you want to be a successful woman in business, ditch the sociopaths and check out “how to be a successful businesswoman in a male world“.
- The Steve Jobs references
Elizabeth Holmes secretly invited parallels with Steve Jobs. Starting with the black turtlenecks to dropping out from Stanford to going against the grain.
And, of course, the “reality distortion field” that ended up distorting reality… A bit too much.
In my opinion she overdid her effort to be charismatic and sometimes ended up being spooky and eery.
She wanted to be charismatic in this video, but it ends up being unnatural and fake.
Since she didn’t understand that, it makes me think that Elizabeth was emotionally challenged and lacking in basic social intelligence.
- Lyin’ till the end
Elizabeth Holmes kept lying and going after the journalists and magazine uncovering her story until the very end.
This is one of the public interviews when the flames of the scandal were already raging high:
John Carreyrou says he could not sense any heartfelt apology here and there were no apologies to all the patients who had been hurt and fed a lie.
Is Elizabeth Holmes a Sociopath?
It’s funny, during the whole book I kept thinking “God she’s such a sociopath”.
All the signs seemed to check and with her attitude, she reminded me so much of Donald Trump.
Like Trump, as described by Comey’s book A higher Loyalty, Holmes demanded absolute loyalty from the people around her and she would fire them on a whim if they didn’t comply with her or with her distorted view of reality.
And like Trump and many other sociopaths, she was ruthless in accruing power and getting rid of anyone standing her way.
And then, towards the end, the author John Carreyrou says:
A sociopath is defined as someone with little or no conscience.
I’ll leave it up to the psychologists to define whether Holmes fits the clinical profile, but there is no question that her moral compass was badly askewed
Real Life Applications
- To score big: actions must back ambition
Alright, Elizabeth Holmes’ actions and deceits are disgraceful. However, it’s undeniable that she achieved a lot.
For me, a big revelation was when Elizabeth spent 5 days at her computer sleeping one or two hours per night as she researched SARS.
- Well Researched
We must mention the fact that the main woman, Elizabeth Holmes, is missing from the interviewees.
But Bad Blood is an extremely well-researched book. And, frankly, you might excuse me if I wouldn’t very much trust anything Holmes has to say anyway.
- Well Written
The author manages to combine a descriptive and informative text with the pace and excitement of a novel.
The details he pays attention to, they also often go at the core of the psychological profiles of the people involved.
- High-Quality Audiobook
Some books lose a lot of value when their audiobook have low-quality narrators or bad voices.
It’s not the case for Bad Blood: perfect narration and wonderful voice interpretations.
Bad Blood is a wonderful investigative piece of work into the history -and the mind- of a highly ambitious woman.
You will learn A LOT from Bad Blood.
But not the way you’d learn from a self-help book: here you need to tease out your own lessons learned.
Here are a few of them:
- Media narratives are meaningless
The media loves to glorify -or destroy- people.
It sells well, and people, in general, love a myth.
Elizabeth Holmes was celebrated as the youngest, brightest self-made female billionaire in the world and graced the cover of all major magazines, including Forbes.
Then well.. Reality eventually caught up.
But consider that, many times, reality might never well catch up and we might all be celebrating some lying, conniving, callous sociopath.
- Sociopaths Are Dangerous
High functioning sociopaths, the few that can manage to work hard and stay at things for long enough, they can be very dangerous to deal with.
I discuss how to handle them in the workplace in my course Social Power.
In Short: Bad Blood is a lovely book. You will learn a lot about human nature while also enjoying a story that reads like a novel.
Does Being a Sociopath in Business Pay?
It’s a complex question, but in short: yes, it can work in your favor.
Especially if you can limit the more aggressive and antisocial tendencies and keep the narcissism, drive for power, Machiavellianism.
I recommend you read “empathy VS sociopathy in business“.
And I also recommend you read this article: