07 Apr The Con Redux
After watching The Inventor documentary, we decided to delve deeper into Elizabeth Holmes’ masterful con.
First, there was her odd contralto voice, seemingly modeled on Yoda. (Note: British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher also lowered her voice and hired a speech coach to be perceived as powerful.) Then, Holmes assumed an expressionless face and wide-eyed gaze with eyes that seldom blinked. This made her unreadable. And she channeled Steve Jobs, demanding clean, simple lines for her blood analysis invention, the Edison*. The Edison’s aesthetics were more important than whether or not it worked.
When pressed about medical or scientific details, Holmes resorted to a personal story about her uncle and how he died too soon because his cancer wasn’t diagnosed in time. She played on people’s emotions, so they wouldn’t examine the science of why diagnosing 200 illnesses off a single drop of blood was simply not possible. And in order to further her brand, Holmes included hername on numerous patents, many of which were fraudulent or not hers.
President Reagan was famous for the Russian proverb “Trust, but verify.” We need to champion inventors and visionaries, but not base critical decisions on their presentation skills alone. Although they may have the guts, smarts, and confidence to pull off a business venture, investing serious money and your reputation on a pitch is madness. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.
*In a strange coincidence, Thomas Edison pretended to have a working light bulb for four years, even faking tests. But unlike Holmes, he succeeded before being discovered.