Does Silicon Valley Operate Like a Cult?

I was recently watching a documentary show about NXIVM, ya know, the creepy combination MLM business and sex cult.  While watching it I started thinking that some of the behavior and tactics of members and leaders reminds me of many Silicon Valley companies.  

As the typical cult story goes, a revered leader knows "the way" and starts building a following.  Along the way the leader picks up a number of dedicated followers who follow them with almost unquesitoning loyalty.  Inside the cult the leader is revered as a god like figure.  Their transgressions are overlooked and rationalized, in some cases for many years.  It all eventually comes to a head, unravels, and ends in tears.  This has been the story of many cults, NXIVM, The Branch Davidians, Heavens Gate, The Manson Family, The People's Temple (aka Jonestown).  While these cults were all different in their beliefs and motivation they all ended badly.

Now think about Silicon Valley.  A new tech leader or founder knows "the way" and starts building a company.  Along the way the person picks up a number of employees who follow them with almost unquestioning loyalty. Inside the company the person is revered as an almost god like figure.  Their transgressions are overlooked and rationalized, in some cases for many years.  It all eventually comes to a head, unravels, and ends in tears.  Some examples here are WeWork, Uber, Secret, Zenefits and most famously, Theranos.  There are several more that arguably have not fully imploded yet including Facebook and Apple.  The one key factor in all of these companies is they had a very influential leader who enjoyed a form of immunity from criticism or questioning of their behaviors.  

The employees in these companies (especially the early ones) learn to adopt the <insert company> lifestyle, slogans and weekly rituals.  The great majority of them view the leader as a being of pure light who can do no wrong and has all the answers.  Everyone swoons when the leader is around and treats every single word out of their mouth like they were just handed the ten commandments by god.  Even when these words are in conflict with peoples feelings of right and wrong.  This affords the leaders of these companies great power over their minions and an unlimited budget to do whatever they want.  After all, they are now a god and don't have to answer to mere mortals.  That is until it all comes crashing down.

It is now so common that people rarely bat an eye when they hear that tech company X crashed.  Usually because the leader was an asshole who was doing terrible things and was enabled by their tribe of sycophants.  In many cases, the companies have not crashed (yet) but show the same cult like indicators.  Steve Jobs was famously one of the most awful people but Apple employees revered him.  Mark Zuckerberg is...well...Mark Zuckerberg.  Silicon Valley is rife with examples.

Keep this in mind if you are looking for a job in tech.  The point of a job is to support yourself and your family.  Work hard and earn your pay but don't ever believe that the leader of your company is above reproach.  The more perfect they appear the more likely it is they are the exact opposite. 

~b 


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