On Management #29, Summer Reading (archive piece)

(Slowly bringing my archive to Substack; this is from August, 2018)

If we look closely, we can see that people are at the heart of everything we make.

Nicole Fenton


This time, summer reading.  And more reading about work.  Jump in to a good story, the water is fine! 

Thank you for inviting me to your in-box.


Two (Not-Quite) Thrillers About Secrets, Lies, and Culture at Work

Everyone seemed to be reading Bad Blood:  Secrets and Lies in Silicon Valley (library).  I discovered Ranger Games:  A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime (author's site) (library) via a blog post by its author.

Sometimes the books I’m reading seem to talk with one another.  I love that.

If friction between culture, ethical choices, and free will interest you — and it should — Ranger Games and Bad Blood both explore workplaces where something has gone off the rails.

In Bad Blood, reporter John Carreyrou lays out what happened, and when, at former unicorn Theranos.  Carreyrou describes pushback on his reporting, and the personal fortitude and institutional support required to uncover the story.  Go, journalism.

Carreyrou also depicts a company riddled with extreme red flags:  people being fired after expressing concern; secret projects; restrictive NDAs; legal threats against leavers…

And how employees and supporters responded when they saw dysfunction, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Why does Silicon Valley’s ecosystem elevate and support unproven "geniuses," even as their dazzling stories dissolve?   

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes is a cipher, a puzzle that goes unsolved.  Her family background, physical attributes, and ability to hold powerful men under her “thrall” (srsly) don’t begin to explain Holmes, or her actions.

So why would a privileged young person scuttle their own success?

In Ranger Games, author Ben Blum’s cousin Alex had fulfilled his lifelong dream:  to become a US Army Ranger.

Soon after Alex attained this elite status, one of his Army superiors robbed a bank.

Alex drove the getaway car.  Later, he claimed that the robbery had been a training exercise.

Ranger Games is a singular memoir.  It's an American family epic about a much-loved child who has grown up to do something unexplainable.  A not-quite critique of our wars and military training systems. 

Blum's narrative powerfully exposes one person’s arrival at a decision to act.  And the fallout from his choice. 

Ostensibly, Alex is the focus of Ranger Games.  Ben’s evolution from Computer Science PhD student to journalist emerges in the negative space:  his story is incomplete and compelling.

I can’t wait to read what Ben Blum writes next.  

And I’d love to see John Carreyrou turn his gaze to Uber.  My hypothesis:  Uber and Theranos have been more similar than we’ll know.


This Call Is Now Being Recorded:  Gary Chou and Kirsten Lambertsen

This month's audio is two short, sweet, (edited) conversations with Orbital founder Gary Chou and entrepreneur/developer Kirsten Lambertsen.  Our topic:  their favorite books about work.  As it turned out, they weren't books.

Kirsten's's pick was the 80s rom-com (and more) Working Girl (library.)  Gary chose Nicole Fenton's piece, Words As Material (originally a talk.)

I had a good problem:  too many people to talk with for one episode.  Next month, I'll continue with conversations on this theme with Ashley Milne-Tyte and Amy Vernon.

What book, movie, or other resource has inspired your work?

Click here to listen!


What I've been reading, &

And...


Thanks to Gary Chou, Kirsten Lambertsen, Ashley Milne-Tyte, and Amy Vernon, all of whom put me on their calendar very quickly to talk about books and more.  Thanks to Supporting Members, for being supportive!

Thank you for reading,

Anne Libby

P.S. This email went out in August 2018. I did some light editing when I brought it to Substack in October.


Last word on Bad Blood:  use of the word "thrall."  I can't unsee it.