Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos dreamed of inventing something extraordinary. Her goal was to diagnose a hundred diseases from a single drop of blood. George Schultz and other powerful men sat on her Board. Fortune and Forbes magazines showered her with accolades. And she raised over $700 million from supposedly tough and smart venture capitalists, as well as private investors.
Now that she’s been indicted, faces twenty years in jail and countless lawsuits, it seems crazy that Holmes wasn’t discovered earlier. She dropped out of Stanford, had no previous success, and zero hard data to support her claims. How did Holmes accomplish all this? She was convincing.
The rational mind always takes a back seat to emotion. Holmes was passionate, visionary, and charming. She copied Steve Jobs, down to the black turtleneck and blue-sky proclamations. And like Bernie Madoff, she was extremely confident, so even intelligent people let their guard down and were conned.
The moral of the tale is to speak truthfully, while employing passion, vision and commitment. As a listener, develop critical acumen so that you never mistake smoke for fire. Most cons eventually get caught. Enjoy the show, but always look behind the curtain.