WeWorked, WeCrashed, WeUnabashed.
“Not embarrassed.” That is the definition of “unabashed.” That word may define this era more than any other. It makes me sad. Not because I want to cast shame on anyone, but because the world could use a little more self-reflection and humility.
That’s why my stomach turned a couple days ago when I saw that the most prestigious venture capital firm in the world, Andreessen Horowitz, had made their largest initial investment ever in a new company founded by the guy who created the WeWork debacle, Adam Neumann. WTF!
On some level, Neumann’s idealistic bravado of “elevating the world’s consciousness” through creating shared work spaces was admirable…that is, if an adolescent was presenting their business plan in a Junior Achievement contest. But, as comically chronicled in the WeCrashed TV series (which I wrote about in this blog post), it’s hard to believe the money guys fell for this pariah who thought he was a messiah.
What’s so galling about this example of “failing up” is that it’s happening to a guy who has never apologized for the outrageous way he ran his company into the ground, victimizing thousands of employees and billions of investor dollars. Oh, yes, and his golden parachute was worth more than $1 billion. I’m a long-time believer in “karmic capitalism,” what goes around comes around…even if it takes a long time. But, there is no evidence of karma here...yet!
Who gets the “benefit of the doubt” in our society? One could argue it’s primarily people of privilege or those in the dominant demographic paradigm. Academic Joan C. Williams’ research has shown that women and racial minorities have to show multiple examples of success in order to prove competence while white men do not. The default assumption is that a white man knows what he’s doing and, if he gets it wrong, his lessons make him better so he gets a second chance. This isn’t just my opinion. It’s based upon ample research from Williams, Robert Livingston, Ashleigh Rosette and others.
Okay, I know I sound like I’m a raving lunatic in today’s blog, but let me finish with a positive story. While I didn’t think some of the positioning of this recent New York Times’ story on boy bosses was fair (especially in the characterization of Airbnb’s Joe Gebbia leaving an operational role), the article included a mention of one of my closest working associates, Karlene Holloman who was Senior VP of Operations for my boutique hotel company for 15 years. Karlene was recently promoted to CEO of Common, a co-living brand started by Brad Hargreaves, who realized he needed a “modern elder” at the helm. Ironically, Common - backed with $100 million in venture capital - will be competing with Adam Neumann’s new company, Flow. You know who I’ll be rooting for!
It’s been almost three years since I started writing this daily Wisdom Well blog and one of the first posts published was this one, WeWork, Uber, and Theranos. This post blew up and went viral based upon the premise that modern elders can help be the alchemists for young founders who need to blend humility with their hubris. I just hope Andreessen Horowitz has a modern elder up its sleeve because this modern elder ain’t leaving Baja any time soon.