Friday, November 8, 2019

Rather listen to the string broke, than never stretch a bow….

Rather listen to the string broke,
than never stretch a bow….

“Bad Blood” is a book about a girl, Elisabeth Holmes, who at 19 dropped out of college like Jobs, Gates and Zuckerberg and started Theranos in Silicon Valley to revolutionize healthcare/bloodtesting by way of a simple needlestick in a finger to extract one to two drops of blood. A modern vision/panacea appealing to the medical world and to patients, doctors, health care plus food chains hungry for new business ideas (like i.e. Walgreens) etc.. 

The name Theranos, an abriviation of Therapy and Diagnosis, leads the mind to another sensational promise, 50 years ago, of a quick fix in psychotherapy, when Art Janov in his bestseller “The Primal Scream” promised to cure most neroses and mental illnesses in 4 months. Since the time gap between the two revolutionary visions of quick fixes cover almost two generations, then the basis for direct comparisons are difficult from a scientific, economic and technological point of view. 

Except for monitoring vital signs, Primal Therapy had very little to do with digitalization and instrumentation, while Theranos relies on Apple / Steve Jobs' inspired high-tech instruments. Add to that the fact that Art Janov never showed ambition to exploit his therapy treatment like Theranos. His conviction was that the Primal Therapy method's superiority would triumph and make other treatments unnecessary in some natural way.

There are interesting similarities and differences between these two revolutionary visions. Theranos ambitions were to cover medical blood tests in virtually all diagnosable disease areas. All people are of obvious reasons interested, for themselves or a family member. Since we prefer accessible, quick and painless treatment a low cost service that meet these needs can lure us even to seduction. Primal Therapy was the cure-all of mental illnesses. However, in contrast to Theranos, Primal Therapy was never a low cost alternative…

Art Janov had and Elisabeth Holmes has a striking personalitiy with charm, carisma, intelligence and an intuitive custom behavior for individuals as well as large groups. Both arrogantly convinced of their ideas. Both protected anxiously their "trade secrets" which increased the hype around their respective activities. They had nothing to spare for those who doubted their visions. Here, however, there is a crucial difference between them in that Art Janov never tried to consciously manipulate reality. On the contrary, for 50 years he gradually tried to correct his original promise from a quick fix of 4 months, first to a couple of years, then to a couple of decades to finally gently announce at the end of his career that it could be a life long process. Elisabeth Holmes could, without blinking, adjust the truth when she was pressed about Thernos’ delaying the completion of their mini-analyzers and about how she allowed her company to cheat by developing tests using traditional methods when their own instruments did not work. 

Both inventors exploited their sensational health / therapy versions relentlessly utilizing marketing techniques with television, press and celebrities and their location in Cilicon Valley (Theranos), and Hollywood / Santa Monica, (Primal Therapy) provided them with excellent opportunities to establish contacts. Naturally, the superior media and communication techniques of modern times enabled Holmes to recruite board members among politicians and researchers with reputations greater than life such as Henry Kissinger, Georg Shultz, James Mattis and others. Not to mention investors like Tim Draper, Larry Ellison and Rupert Murdoch. President Obama appointed her a U.S. ambassador for global entrepreneurship, and Harvard Medical School invited her to join its prestigious board of fellows. Theranos managed to raise $ 700 million in a few years. At most, the company was valued at $ 9 billion, of which $ 4.5 billion was Holmes' net-worth.

From an economic point of view, at least from an investor's point of view, Art Janov can never be accused of causing unreasonable capital destruction. Possibly, a number of patients over the course of 50 years can complain about the result of their high fees. Janov's most important promotional succes occurred when John Lennon went into primal therapy and created a hype through his (Beatles) personality and through some beautiful songs which alluded to his emotional experiences. The John Lennon effect in Primal circuits continued for a long time despite John living with much mental pain and returning to drug use before being tragically murdered in January 1980.

As a follow-up to his treatment experiences, Art Janov wrote readable books in which he sensitively and skillfully cherry picked unique moments in a patient's treatment process to illustrate how early trauma, step by step, being relieved and how neuroses can be resolved as a result. More and more often through his books he repeated that the only sure guarantee of good mental health is a loving treatment from the moment of conception, during the pregnancy, the birth process and the critical first 3 years. It was as if he subconsciously, over the course of 40 years, realized the difficulty of achieving the treatment success that the first primal experiences had provided a vision of.

Both therapy that cures mental pain and blood sampling that can be done quickly, easily and linked to safe analyzes and medication / treatment methods are fascinating areas of activity that affect us all. From an economic point of view, these areas have multiplied for a century, as has our average age and our increasing need for care. Thus, it is no wonder that sharp creative minds are constantly inventing innovative solutions to solve treatment problems in a socially affordable manner while creating private wealth and fame for their creators.

Creativity is constantly increasing to develop instruments with new digital, chemical and material solutions in a world that is governed by algorithms in Internet controlled deliveries, communications, payments and remote surgical operations. Therefore, the possibility of developing control mechanisms that guarantee the safety of users / patients becomes extremely complicated and difficult to grasp and regulate from a knowledge standpoint.

Skilled manipulators will always be one step ahead of the responsible controlling bodies. Theranos is a typical example of how easily a young intelligent and abitious girl, with tear-jerking emotional arguments in a sector with a crying need for simple, financial and practical solutions, could seduce researchers, doctors, patients, stockbrokers, investors, politicians, lawyers and the media. The reason; everyone liked her vision to succeed, she looked credible and no one had the insight to grasp her cientifically complicated project. Elisabeth Holmes herself also had limited knowledge and experience, but she had a unique intuitive, unscrupulous vision to exploit the hype that Silicon Valley had developed and the privacy drama that legislation and lawyers allow in connection with new business / patent development. The result was a large number of mis-analyzed patients whose lives were at stake, ill-treated employees, deceived investors and $ 900 million in smoke!

Having for decades utilized both simple blood tests and Primal Therapy and had significant yields from them, I must admit that the visions that Elisabeth Holmes and Art Janov introduced continue to captivate me. That none of them succeeded with their original intentions does not mean that fascinating opportunities cease to emerge. Now we are more experienced when someone dares to stretch an arc in problem areas that need solutions.

Jan Johnsson

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