Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
by John Carreyrou

​If you haven’t followed the story of rogue startup founder Elizabeth Holmes, you won’t regret time spent googling. Holmes was a darling of Silicon Valley, propelled to media stardom (and billionaire status) in short order after the launch of Theranos, which offered seemingly game-changing blood testing technology. The Theranos device, with which the company claimed to be able to use just one drop of blood to obtain results for hundreds of tests, was long on inspired promises and appallingly short on results. Simply put, it was an utter failure. 
 
Nonetheless, Holmes successfully cultivated a cast of supporters including giants from industry, finance, and politics. Theranos negotiated multi-million-dollar deals with Walgreens and Safeway, and saw interest from the U.S. military—all based on the smoke screens that Holmes and her boyfriend/COO (that’s right) Sunny Balwani created.
 
In Bad Blood, John Carreyrou, the Wall Street Journalinvestigative journalist who broke the story, pieces together the company’s rise and details its fall. Carreyrou offers a fascinating glimpse into the ugliness of Silicon Valley, where ethical and financial recklessness (to the point of criminality) is enabled by the cult-of-personality mystique that surrounds successful founders. 
 
What’s not clear from Carreyrou’s exacting reportage is HOW IN THE HELL Holmes was able to take in so many people (and their many millions of dollars). Her device neverworked. Her grasp of the science behind her own technology, as many former employees report, was tenuous at best. The lies and false evidence used to promote the company—which was unable to deliver on any of its promises—were flimsy to the point of laughability. And yet tech gurus, billionaire venture capitalists, and world leaders were utterly fleeced
 
Carreyrou tells a fascinating story, and his reportage shines is in the latter third of the book, when he details his own investigation and the subsequent undoing of the company (in the wake of the book’s publication, Theranos announcedthat it would dissolve after Holmes was indicted for fraud). But the story is missing certain pieces—namely, Holmes herself. The book’s insight into Holmes doesn’t go much further than the image that she strove to perpetuate, though her worship of Steve Jobs, down to her adoption of his signature sartorial style, comes across as almost childlike. Holmes and Balwani (who seems to be just as obvious a charlatan) remain complete ciphers throughout the telling.
 
This lack is perhaps expected, given that Holmes refused every request Carreyrou made for interviews or access of any sort. It’s a work of investigative journalism after all, so there’s no room for speculation or creative filling-in-the-blanks.
 
Nonetheless, the story of howshe was able to build the empire she did on so flimsy a technological pretense is what’s missing. It clearly depended on the force of her personality; but in Carreyrou’s rendering, Holmes comes across as little more than an egomaniacal, ruthless bully. And whatever deep passion that motivated her blind (and seemingly sociopathic) promotion of herself and her company goes unexplored and unexplained, as does her willingness to literally put lives at risk with her fake device. Novel addict that I am, I wanted more of the latent narrative about Holmes the person. I guess I’ll have to wait for the Netflix version of the Theranos story for that.



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As longtime users of MS Word, we experienced some real pain when we began migrating to Google Docs.
 
We’re not complete luddites, though, so we put in our hours, and we now embrace Google Docs with open (if slightly enervated) arms, at least for simply formatted, collaboratively edited docs.
 
If you want an easy interface and straightforward formatting, or if you’re co-authoring or co-editing a document (ideally, with just a small group of other writers/editors), Google Docs is pretty great.
 
Docs benefits include:

  • Multiple device use: Open your doc anywhere, on any device
  • Interoperability: Open any kind of doc anywhere, on any device
  • Collaboration: Easily write and edit with others in real time (best ever for remote, [small] team-driven projects)
  • Simple writing, editing, and formatting interface: Work without Word’s (so-called) distracting toolbar options

 
However, if you’re a macro-loving editor working with multiple versions of densely commented and edited docs, Word is still going to be your project’s best friend.
 
Why? Because Docs doesn’t support macros, doesn’t have enough easy-to-access and finely-tuned formatting options, and doesn’t seamlessly integrate (and, crucially, dis-integrate) multiple comments.
 
And in some cases what constitutes a Docs strength is also a weakness. The simple interface? Not enough formatting options! The revisions history? Absolutely (and automatically) complete but not always easy to access or to view. Further, when the history is viewed, the revisions are privileged, not the revisions within the document as a whole. This means it isn’t easy to decide which version of a particular paragraph is the strongest in situ.
 
Ironically, the revisions history can also reveal way too much information. Readers can see past prompts (like a fact-checking reminder you might have written to yourself) or comment-based discussions with other writers and/or co-editors (possibly awkward).
 
For some, the choice between Docs and Word will come down to comfort; for others, it’ll come down to price; and for still others, it’ll come down to convenience. For us, we like to have it all ways: Our heart is with Word, but we moonlight with Docs. 




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As last week’s judicial committee hearings made very clear and very present, anger can be a very powerful tool of expression.

​It’s powerful when it rips the seams of expected rhetorical discourse; it’s powerful when it sears through the superficial niceties of extemporaneous speech. It’s powerful—sometimes even especially powerful—when it is expected and yet does not appear.

As a rhetorical tool, anger is as old as the Old Testament (Leviticus is often cited as a relevant example here, but so, too, is Genesis). Aristotle defined anger in Rhetoric as a compelling means of persuasion—a speaker (or writer) can provoke an audience’s angry response simply by identifying the state of mind conducive to the audience’s anger, grasping the object of the anger, and understanding the reason for the anger.
 
Jonathon Edwards flips this masterfully in the (slightly) more contemporary 1741 classic, Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God. His sermon, which ecstatically describes the hellfire and damnation awaiting his audience, is an ur-text for an orator’s hyper-controlled performative power. Among its unforgettable images is Edwards’ admonition that “the God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his Wrath towards you burns like Fire.”
 
Anger is often powerful in rhetoric because its expression flouts the rules of control that ensure social civility. And its evocation of danger, as Edwards’ sermon makes clear, prompts fear (another useful rhetorical tool). But anger’s persuasive power depends on an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of its expression. Edwards’ congregation must first acknowledge the validity of Edwards’ anger—and God’s—before they can be persuaded to feel afraid.
 
Of course, as Rebecca Traister argues, such acknowledgement is contingent on an audience that shares common ground with the speaker. When, for example, Kavanaugh expressed his outrage, it was deemed persuasive by those audience members with whom he most identified (and who most readily recognized their own anger—and perhaps their own fears—in Kavanaugh’s remarks). This is one of the reasons why so many powerful men in the room viewed Kavanaugh’s opening statement as persuasive, and why women like Amy Klobuchar and Traister and Kate Harding and Megan Garber (and me) saw it as an out-of-control, illegitimate appeal.
 
A perhaps more powerful instance of rhetorically persuasive anger is extemporaneous anger. This was the anger expressed by Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher in their confrontation with Jeff Flake. Its power is different from that exercised by Edwards or Kavanaugh because it depends on forcing identification and recognition where no basis for such identification exists. This is why, without any discernible common ground between Archila and Gallagher on the one side and Jeff Flake on the other, Archila insists that Flake look her in the eye. By her insistence she forces his recognition of the emotion that could push a person to engage in such an audacious social act.
 
But what of the persuasive power of the anger that remains unexpressed? Sometimes this is the anger that provokes the most powerful response of all. Christine Blasey Ford’s opening statement was, as so many women furiously and empathetically noted, calm, candid, and apologetic; in it, she admitted that she was “terrified.”
 
Why didn’t Ford use the anger that many women argued was rightfully hers to express? Perhaps she recognized that unlike Edwards, she was not facing an audience who viewed her as powerful and who would be convinced by her hyper-controlled, performative rage. Perhaps she knew that unlike Kavanaugh, she was not a member of a powerful elite quick to be provoked by threats to self-preservation and more readily convinced by an angry display. Perhaps she realized that unlike Archila she was not a silent survivor and could not have forced an identification through the pain and rage of an extemporaneous, previously undisclosed admission.
 
Or perhaps, to echo Traister, Ford simply recognized that she is a woman, and so she behaved as an angry woman is expected to behave.
 
In the days following Ford’s testimony, however, it has become clear that her absent anger  provoked a fiery and intense response. This is partly due to the fact that Ford, by rejecting anger’s rhetorical power, appealed not to her immediate audience (who, infuriatingly, seemed to accept her terror as tacit acceptance of her “appropriate” place), but to an audience that recognizes the legitimacy—and the urgency—of an anger that cannot be expressed.
 
Anger, after all, is not only a tool of persuasion. It is also sometimes the means for catharsis. Because Ford was disallowed anger’s expression, she—and by extension the women who recognized themselves in her silence—were disallowed the catharsis that Kavanaugh claimed. This doubled denial is one reason for their rage: There are simply too many women who haven’t yet been able to express, much less purge, their pain.


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​Happiness, if the long and prosperous history of the self-help genre is any indication, is generally considered a fundamental human aim. If we aren’t feeling it, and we aren’t striving for it, then we’re doing something wrong. 
 
But is that really true? Is it necessary to be happy—or, hold up, let me tamp down the intensity of that verb—to even try to be happy in order to make the most of the time and the opportunities we’re given?
 
It’s an open question, and one I’ve always considered myself too much of a realist to ask (particularly on days when my kids seem too young, my work seems too hard, the weather seems too bad, the politics seem too ugly, and the internet seems like too deep a void). Of course I (er, you) don’t have to be happy to live a fulfilled life! Sometimes (often?), happiness is too high a bar.
 
And yet I can’t not notice that I’m always in an at least passive pursuit of a lifestyle shift that promises a smarter, stronger, faster, more productive, more in-the-moment, more…happier…me.
 
Given this gap, I turned to The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking with curiosity. I had been researching manifestos and their connection to the can-do, imperative-voiced enthusiasm of today’s self-help books. I needed the break, and Oliver Burkeman’s critique of American-style positive thinking provided the medicine (wink [eyeroll]).
 
In The Antidote, Burkeman charms with a gently dry (and indubitably British) approach to analysis. Case in point: He introduces his subject while gathering intel at a popular business motivational seminar, Get Motivated! in San Antonio, Texas. There, Burkeman is swept up in Dr. Robert H. Schuller’s importation to “cut the word ‘impossible’ out of your life! Cut it out! Cut it out forever!” Then Burkeman notes, with well-timed irony, that mere months after Dr. Schuller whipped up an audience of fifteen thousand into believing that nothing—NOTHING!—was impossible, Schuller’s church, the largest church in the United States, filed for bankruptcy (“a word,” Burkeman says, that Dr. Schuller “had apparently neglected to eliminate from his vocabulary”).
 
Drawing on pop psychology and Pema Chodron-style Buddhism (especially the exceedingly comfortable When Things Fall Apart), Burkeman argues that trying to eliminate words like “impossible” from our vocabularies is, in fact, impossible. It does absolutely nothing to stave off associated feelings or events, and it hopelessly complicates happiness’s path.
 
We’re unhappy, Burkeman argues, because we’ve defined negativity as an obstacle and have single-mindedly focused on clearing our path of all impediments. Instead, we should look to the classical tenets of Stoicism and the Buddhist acceptance of egoless-ness. These paradigms teach us that there is no such thing as an easy and unhampered way. 

Indeed, attempting to reject the word “impossible” and its brethren (uncertainty, insecurity…bankruptcy) is utterly futile: It simply makes their presence all the more insurmountable. We would make our way a bit easier, according to Burkeman, by getting to know—so that we can get good and comfortable with navigating—our fears, our worries, and our sadnesses.
 
The Antidote offers a solace uncommon in self-help: It doesn’t urge, doesn’t exhort, doesn’t try to persuade, doesn’t offer any sort of goal-setting rubric. It argues against affirmations, against a hyper-focus on what we want, on what we desire, and on what we long to accomplish. Instead, it explores the possibility that we live our happiest life when we live our fullest life. And that means recognizing failure, sadness, and even death not as invisible or as enemies, but as possible friends.

In this way, the path toward happiness in Burkeman’s book turns backwards. 


​For organizations or departments that don’t have a dedicated project manager, it’s no small thing to get big comms projects out the door. In our last post, we talked about how not to let the actual writing process gum up the works—namely, by allowing adequate time for writing and editing, and by uncoupling the writing process from the design process. 
 
While that advice may be easy to heed in theory, it can be tricky in practice: Creating large documents involves tracking a lot of moving parts, including points of collaboration and project dependencies that can be challenging to accurately time. That’s why creating a detailed, realistic project timeline at the outset of any big writing project is key.
 
Luckily, there are a lot of tools that can help—many of them free. If you’re new to creating project timelines, you can start simple: Microsoft offers a free template for Excel that’s incredibly easy to use (if devoid of bells and whistles).
​The template allows you to enter dates, tasks or milestones, and people, and to manipulate the visual representation to optimize its readability.
 
Depending on the project or document management system used by your organization, you may already have tools you can configure to create project timelines. Sharepoint, for instance, offers a customizable project task list; and online tools such as Trello offer options for making more complex Gantt-style project roadmaps.
 
Whatever route you take, developing a project timeline for big writing projects will make your life easier, and your final product better.
The stakes are usually high for big communications projects such as stakeholder reports, grant applications, websites, and training manuals. These kinds of projects are often closely linked to an organization’s core mission, and they require a significant outlay of resources.
 
In an ideal world, big projects are planned far in advance, with adequate staff time and budget. In the real world, organizations are often faced with making the best of less-than-ideal conditions for getting big communications out the door. The result? Sub-par or error-riddled documents, harried staff, and dubious stakeholders.
 
Even if you find yourself in those less-than-ideal circumstances (as most of us do, maybe even most of the time), there are still ways to ensure that you end up with the best final product, created in the most efficient, sanity-saving manner possible.
 
As project managers know, creating a detailed (and realistic) project timeline is key. One of the biggest pitfalls is leaving inadequate time for writing, or trying to integrate the writing and design stages. Too often, we see organizations trying to wrap up projects where significant revision is still taking place.
 
Case in point: How often have you found yourself editing sections of a report that’s already laid out in an InDesign file? While a looming deadline may necessitate that backtracking, it’s not only inefficient, but it risks introducing new errors or design requirements if changes to text have to be subsequently inputted into the master document. This can be especially laborious for technical documents with dense text, where precision is paramount.
 
The upshot? Give your writers adequate time to write, revise, and finalize their work early in the project timeline–before moving into the design and publication phase. The more polished the text at the outset, the more smoothly the final phases of the project will go—and the more likely you’ll be to wrap on time and on budget, with your sanity intact and a stellar final product.
 
In a future post, we’ll offer some models for writing project timelines, to demonstrate what this looks like on the ground.

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​Even though text is everywhere, seeping into every corner of our consciousness and flooding our lives, books (if they’re good) still have this magic ability to float above the flotsam in a way that online pubs never can.

That’s why we publish books, and that’s why we do everything we can to make them great.
 
But the publishing world has changed so much in the past five (ten [twenty]) years, it’s hard to know how to define exactly what it means when we describe Double Shift Press as a “full-service” press.
 
What we’re discovering is that full-service accrues a little more complexity—and a little more refinement—with each project.
 
For some authors, it means we help foster their most persistent, won’t-leave-‘em-alone idea. It means we create a plan, including research, for a book that can really—and really compellingly—share that idea. For others, it means that an author independently follows a plan we set forth, returning the manuscript for copyediting, design, and printing. Or it means that we work the plan while an author accumulates more material through interviews or research.
 
With some authors, full-service means that we work one-on-one with them to build out each chapter. We provide relevant research or help in guiding or conducting interviews. We participate in writing, organizing, and polishing the manuscript. And we may even help to attract an agent or a traditional publisher.
 
For still other authors, full-service means something else entirely. Maybe they already have a draft and want to develop a book for a very specific purpose—like launching a speaking series or a workshop course. Maybe they have a thin manuscript and want to integrate a co-author. Maybe they have a disability and can’t get the book in their brain out on the screen. Maybe they already have an edited manuscript and just need design, printing, or distributing services.
 
We launched Double Shift Press to ensure that authors with incredible ideas are totally supported as they write, design, publish, and distribute books with a bit of magic. Full-service means that we do whatever it takes to float these books above the flotsam.


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One of the more amusing (also, damning) cognitive biases described in psychological literature is the Dunning-Kruger effect. Described in Advances in Experimental Psychology under the subtitle, “On Being Ignorant of One’s Own Ignorance,” the bias holds that the vast majority of us think we’re better at tasks than we actually are. (Darkly) hilariously, our misplaced confidence makes us blind to discovering the weakness.
 
It’s delightful because it’s true, or it at least has the ring of intuitive truth (to use the friendly hedging words of a former philosophy professor).
 
Because 75 percent of us cannot avoid the Dunning-Kruger trap (and wouldn’t know it if we could), we must work—and hard—to put in place the external checks that will expose us to our own idiocy. Only in this way can we be tricked into recognizing that no matter how far we’ve come, we probably still have a ways to go.
 
Enter beta readers.
 
When we last discussed beta readers, it was in the context of business or nonprofit communications. Beta readers are essential to this work (especially when the work includes telling a story to external audiences or stakeholders).
 
But beta readers may also be essential for books.
 
It’s hard to solicit outside opinions when you’ve put in months, or maybe years, on an argument or story that has lived in your mind or heart for so long that it feels indistinguishable from you. The distance to a publisher, even when a publisher means potential rejection, can feel safer to travel.
 
But your manuscript isn’t you, and appropriately guided beta readers can provide valuable insight into how well a book is explaining its concepts, backing up its argument, reaching its readers, and persuading its audience. This is especially true of nonfiction genres, where reaching and persuading readers is contingent on elements of language and argumentation that can actually be isolated and improved.
 
Of course, your work is probably excellent. But because you likely wouldn’t recognize if it weren’t, you should save your future book’s reputation (and your own) by recruiting a few beta readers to tell you what’s weak and what needs improvement before sending that work off into the world. 

Recently, a first-time author asked us why we can’t also act as agents. After explaining our very different skill set, we realized that he isn’t the first author to express confusion about what agents do and who they do it for.
 
Agents may bear the mark of mystery, but they’re publishing professionals who are empowered to act on an author’s behalf.
 
Agents know the publishing industry and know what each publishing house wants to publish. Because an agent only makes money on commission, they take on the books they know they can sell. They have a vested interest in working to secure the highest sell price possible.
 
This means that an agent will pick up your book and fight for the very best terms for it when they firmly believe they can make a meaningful profit. Of course, with few books selling for big-bucks advances, it also means that securing an agent can be tough.
 
So, do you need an agent? Like much else in the publishing process, the answer is a resounding “it depends.”
 
It partly depends on your endgame. Many authors imagine a future-bestseller’s experience: A bidding war between well-known, well-staffed publishers who are committed to letting loose marketing mayhem on their book.
 
Does this describe your manuscript-shaped dreams? Do you envision doing the work that will vault you to the top of the bestseller lists and on to a media junket? If so, you probably need an agent. You can certainly shop your manuscript to publishing houses without one, but many of the big houses, or the ones that still offer advances (or the big 5), won’t accept un-agented inquiries.
 
But, real talk: while most of us harbor some version of this dream, it’s pretty much completely unrealistic. This is especially true for first-time authors and authors who lack an already-proven platform. The good news is, if you’re willing to accept other versions of publishing success, you most certainly do not need an agent.
 
And if your manuscript is a niche genre that falls outside of commercial fiction, like literary fiction or niche nonfiction, you don’t need and likely won’t want an agent.
 
Agents aren’t easy to secure, and even if you have the right book, there are lots of reasons you may not want to use one (the minimum 15% commission, for one). But agents are also valuable and skilled contacts in the publishing world: If it’s the right choice for your book, we can help you make it.
Summer reading is the best reading. (Okay, winter reading is pretty cozy, too.) But the beach, the cabin, the heat, or just the season’s surprisingly ceaseless demands want different kinds of books. Maybe something superficial but satisfying, maybe something cold and cutting, maybe just something wacky and weird: I haven’t yet ticked all these boxes , but I’m making my way:
Rabbit Cake (Annie Hartnett) is the (gently) weird one. It’s narrated by ten-year-old Elvis Babbitt, who reports on her family’s disjointed progress through grief after her mother Eva’s death. Eva, a notorious sleep-swimmer (!) who died in a drowning accident, was the full-of-posthumous-surprises life force that held her family together. After her death, Elvis watches as her dad wears her mom’s bathrobe and lipstick, and her sister obsessively makes the rabbit-shaped cakes Eva baked for special occasions. Elvis wonders, with preternatural acceptance, how to make sense of her mother’s death, jolt her dad out of his stupor, and stop her sister from sleepwalking into madness. Rabbit Cake is farcical, funny, and refreshing: Elvis and her family’s grief seem so particular and strange but are narrated (and ultimately felt) as intuitive and universal.
 
Who is Rich? (Matthew Klam) is messy and manic. And it makes a surprisingly good foil for Conversations with Friends (described in the last books post). Whereas the latter explores the restraints and release of sexual, sensual, or just potential intimacies, the former narrator obsessively—and hilariously—mulls over the extravagant fantasies (on which he sometimes acts) generated by the confines of his marriage, children, and job. The book makes marriage and parenthood a Sartrean prison of love and hate that no one can or really deserves to escape. It’s so funny, but its sharply desperate edge makes it cut way too close to the bone.
 
One of Us Is Lying (Karen McManus) is for the beach! It’s a YA, epistolary-style narrative in which four high-schoolers (who are a bit more multidimensional than their stereotypes suggest), must rigorously defend themselves after their classmate dies in detention. The book is often compared to The Breakfast Club, but it’s a little closer to American Vandal: It’s an episodic, winking whodunit set in the gossipy milieu of high-school self-seriousness. It’s a bit silly, but it’s also a lot of fun.
 
The Art of Fielding (Chad Harbach) was recommended by best friend of MWS, Katie Levin. Set at a small midwestern college, it connects a handful of key characters through the school’s once struggling but now stellar baseball team. The character-driven book (check out those names!) offers a John Irving-inspired take on multivariant masculinity, represented by Moby-Dick on the one hand, and “The Art of Fielding,” a fictional bible of baseball held dear by one of the book’s nominal protagonists, on the other. It’s a bit diffuse and meandering, but in that sense it capably recreates Ishmael’s narrative (and possibly baseball’s enactment of the futility of strategy in the face of chance).  
 
Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but, hey, it’s summer! What are you reading?