This week’s feature is a bit unique. It’s a mix of business and philosophy that stems from a fascinating new book and a classic that I kept thinking about while reading it. Together, this will be a discount bundle of book reviews—two for the price of one—mixing John Carreyrou’s bestseller Bad Blood and Victor Frankl’s classic Man’s Search for Meaning.
It begins with an expression that fits both books very nicely, a glue that ties them together: everyone wants to be on an epic journey with their friends. This line was delivered by Tobias Lutke, CEO of Shopify, in an broad-ranging interview on the Farnam Street podcast that took place last week.
For Lutke, this is a central idea for how Shopify recruits talent. They look for people who can see the bigger picture of what the company is striving to achieve, people who possess the simple chemistry to build relationships as a member of that team. The combination of passion and affability is a natural sign that a candidate will be deeply engaged if they are drawn by something more than the mere attraction of prestige, salary, and benefits.
A job at Shopify is meant to be more meaningful. That, of course, is deeply complimentary with Victor Frankl’s thesis. To paraphrase a favorite line, we humans aren’t merely on a quest for pleasure or power; we are on a quest for meaning. As he once wrote, “He who has a Why can bear almost any How.”
This purpose-driven method of defining one’s work is precisely what made Elizabeth Holmes, former CEO and Founder of Theranos, capable of launching into a billion-dollar valuation. Sure, it was all a fraud but her ability to communicate a powerful, meaningful vision is what allowed her to recruit some of the best advisors, investors, stakeholders, and talent for her company.
Again, it was all a fraud but it’s important to understand how things got there. As John Carreyrou explains, Elizabeth’s was a story people wanted to believe. Many people loved the “Why”. Board members and investors loved it so much that they ignored the “How” (i.e. the pesky standards and details) for an astonishingly long time.
This is the one of the best aspects of Carreyrou’s book. His investigations show that a deep sense of meaning perpetuates the harmful fraud and also emboldens those who eventually stop it. To that end, these books point toward several fundamental truths. One is that the work we do not only has to count for some thing but also the right thing.