By Paul Kini, Nebraska, USA
When I wrote this article, two and half years ago, Elizabeth Holmes and Theranous, the company she founded, were flying high and garnering praise on Wall Streets and in the pages of Fortune and Forbes Magazines. Holmes was used in the story, and not Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, because her story was compelling and she is a woman.
Holmes’ Cinderella story and her inventions were later discovered to be lacking in truth. The scandalous discovery tumbled her fortune and ruined her reputation. I have decided to add this note to the article, to say that Holmes’ story is not relevant to this write-up. But because the central thesis remains the same, for that matter, the article will not be changed to reflect current realities.
I will not attempt a rewrite. Doing so will render the article meaningless. This note, correcting the untruth story, should suffice. Shall we go to the article now?
You Cannot Give What You Don’t Have. It Is A Fact of Life.
Elizabeth Holmes is a 31-year-old astute businesswoman with $4.6 billion in fortune. She is also the founder and CEO of Theranos. Her story is a marvel of human ingenuity, and her meteoric rise from a college dropout to a billionaire in a short span of time is mesmerizing, as well as startling, to both her admirers and Wall Street analysts.
She enrolled to study chemistry at Stanford University, like any 18-year-old would do, but dropped out after a year and half in college. The reason for the dropout was not immediately known but from an educated guess she might have figured something out and was confident that whatever it was that she had discovered was enough to see her through life in the real world. She did not need to complete college to realize her dream. School had come to an end for her. The next phase of her life would be lived in the grueling and ever demanding real world. This exhibition of free spirit is common among people who discover something tangible in life. They stop whatever they are doing, set out on their own, and pursue their dreams. Holmes was no exception.
Later, it would become clear. Holmes had discovered and patented a transformative innovation that revolutionized the way blood is tested, and at age 19 years she formed Theranos to crystallize her dream. Her method only requires a few drops of blood to test hundreds of different health-related diseases. Traditional methods require lots of blood to conduct same tests.
Her method is also noted for fast delivery of results, cheaper and better than traditional methods of blood testing. Theranos started offering 30 lab tests and by 2014 it was offering 200 blood tests and had a stock valuation of $10 billion.
What makes Holmes’ story fascinating and compelling is that she dared into a practice that is highly technical, heavily dependent on FDA approval and requires peer review studies. Holmes’ Theranos weathered them all. How did a 19-year-old female startup entrepreneur get it so right? What is different about her? Why did Holmes exhibit such exceptional entrepreneurial oomph but not a 19-year-old in Africa? Again, is the white skin an advantage? We shall find out soon.
As I examined the things that were, and still are, holding us back, I became fixated on the innovative spirits of American entrepreneurs and wanted to know what made them so tick; became flummoxed by the drive that made them abandon school and work to set up their own startups. Why is the dark-skinned person (Africans) not as daring and adventurous when we stumble on ideas as our peers in white skin?
What made the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gate, Steve Jobs think that what they discovered was worthy of dropping out of school for and worth pursuing? This is not to say everybody who discovered a novel idea dropped out of school. In fact, some finished school before discovering their aha moments. But, for those who felt inclined that an idea or an invention was plausible, they stopped, abandoned whatever they were doing and ventured to set up their own business. Why does innovation come so easily to Westerners but not us?
To help us understand what is it that makes them tick, it is imperative that we understand a fact of life: you cannot give what you don’t have; you can only give what you have.
When Gayle and I got married, we spent a lot of time attending Aaron’s –my stepson –school games. Not only us, but the entire family from both sides would always be present at all his games. He was into basketball as well as football, and at one time into athletics. We went to all of them. We never missed one. I was enamored of the experience of all family members showing up at Aaron’s game to cheer him up. I would soon find out that it was not peculiar to him. Other kids’ parents and families showed up as well giving them their unalloyed supports.
I loved the experience so much that I wanted to do more. My initial reaction was like that of a virgin excitedly angling for her first kiss. But along the way I hit a snag. I became tired of the experience and soon started to complain. I found it too grueling and time-consuming. We always had to adjust our work schedules to make time for all his school games.
As someone coming from Africa, the habit of being at every game of your child was an alien concept to me. I never had my dad nor my mom at my school games or at any school activity, and like most Ghanaians, we went alone and came back home alone. We savored our victories alone and agonized over our defeats alone. Celebration of victory or agonizing over defeat is a self-activity in my country. No one joins you except your teammates. But as time went by and as my initial excitement began to fade into oblivion, I began to find the experience tiring and soon began to hate it. My lack of interest started to show in my questioning.
“Are we going to be attending every game, every week, even the ones out of town and out of state?” The answer had always been an emphatic YES. I would learn from my wife that she never missed any of Aaron’s school game and did not intend to miss the forthcoming ones and I was advised to suck it up and better get adjusted now so that when the younger ones grew up I would be in a better position to attend all their games.
The warning sounded like a nightmarish dream. But wait a minute. What changed? Why the sudden loss of interest in an experience I had lauded as the best for a child, for his morale, for the psychological effects it has on his development and for the love it demonstrates to him?
The answer is simple. My inability to continue to contribute to the experience of being at all of Aaron’s games was because I did not grow up receiving that experience and since I did not have a deposit of it, it became difficult to give beyond the initial excitement phase. But my wife, who was born and raised here(US) there was, and still is, a reservoir full of that experience and she was never tired of giving it to Aaron, to her nephews and the younger ones growing up.
Aaron would wind up to the practice himself. He attends all the games of his younger siblings, playing a cheer-leading role. The tradition, they say, will go on for him, for his children and his grandchildren, but probably not for the child in Ghana, not for the child in Kenya. It is a tradition that wasn’t there in the first place and will never be there for them. For me, I have acclimatized and I am better than before. I can’t say I am perfect.
The fact of life is that when we receive enough deposit of an experience it becomes easy and effortless to give that experience to others or easy to replicate it. On the contrary, if our reservoir is empty of an experience there is no way we can give to others, no matter how desirable the experience. There is a reservoir capacity built in every one of us and if we fill it up with an experience, it becomes part and parcel of our lives, and out of the abundance, we can release it to others.
It is akin to having enough deposit in your bank account. The more you have deposited, the better positioned you are to withdraw and use it. If you don’t have any deposit in your account, it is just practically impossible to make withdrawals. Such are the things of life.