Another One Bites the Dust: What is it about narcissism and hucksterism that we fail to learn?

By now anyone not living under a rock is aware of Adam Neumann’s status as the latest tech entrepreneur/wunderkind to have a career implosion amid scandal and serious allegations of misbehavior. Whether Neumann joins the ranks of Uber founder Travis Kalanick and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes remains to be seen, but the similarities to these case studies are unmistakable:

  • Meteoric rise as an entrepreneur touting a tech-enabled way to transform an established industry (work space for Neumann, taxicabs for Kalanick, and blood tests for Holmes);
  • Rapturous praise from the business press, venture capital and serious financial institutions (in Neumann’s case, the Japanese SoftBank);
  • Support from leading figures in and out of the business world;
  • Whispers of problems and innuendo that fail to get traction until far too late; and
  • Hyper-positive claims that seem too good to be true and, ultimately, fail to be substantiated by hard data.

When the dust settles, the same media that once praised the entrepreneurial figure changes sides and clucks that the writing was on the proverbial wall and that anyone could see the fall-from-grace coming.

What the WeWork (wonder what this means for their schools venture, WeGrow?) case illustrates more than anything else is that there are always people willing to let charisma and hope supplant hard logic, even in the supposed coldly rational business world.

Business and leadership  |  permalink

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