The Practice of Sensational Headlines Should Stop…

A look through any business website and you’ll see them; they seem to be as popular as the social pages you see them on.

They are the one-liners…the promise of knowledge in a single sentence…but should these comments be trusted? Let’s take the comment below from a successful businesswoman, Elizabeth Holmes, vindicating the

They are the one-liners…the promise of knowledge in a single sentence…but should these comments be trusted? Let’s take the comment below from a successful businesswoman, Elizabeth Holmes, vindicating the virtues of not planning for unforeseen circumstances…

Elizabeth Holmes

At first, I felt annoyed that such a comment could be made and publicised, especially by a successful business woman; and then have it validated by Stanford Business School in such a way.

In my opinion, it is careless and foolhardy (in the context of running a business) to not consider alternatives to the desired plan A. I am a firm believer that you should cover all the bases when planning, having a backup plan is not only important but pivotal in weighing up the success and ‘potentially’ the validity of any project, task, objective or the like.

I simply can’t see why you would not want to understand all options open to you? Let alone make a conscious effort to avoid knowing them? Surely to understand is to comprehend? To blindly pursue a task to its conclusion when it is no longer viable, all because you don’t want to consider failure, smacks of incompetence to me.

It is impossible to legislate for all market conditions, clients’ actions and technological developments etc. and consider every dimension of possibility in your Plan A. I am now involved in my third start-up (the previous two are successful and trading well) but I always have a fall-back position. In my opinion, this adds clarity to the venture and avoids the delusional state of ‘blind hope’ that everything will be ok in the end.

No, you should always understand the implications of your venture, the good and the bad. If anything, knowing this is the opposite of the statement made by Elizabeth Holmes, it is actually a motivator; understanding the negative implications of Plan B is a great way to focus, align and maintain the forward motion in achieving Plan A.

Validation or Reality?

I went on a search to find out why this was said and then presented as a ‘badge of honour’, perhaps there was meaning in the comment that I had missed?

I found the comment 5 minutes into a Stanford Business School video (below) and true enough she clearly makes the comment; however, it is the way the comment was made that paints a slightly different picture.

In response to the question from the interviewer “So, did you have a backup plan? What, if this didn’t work out…what was your alternative?” she responds “No…and I think that the minute you have a backup plan you have admitted you’re not going to succeed, so we are not big on backup plans”.

The use of ‘I’ and ‘We’ are important to the context of the statement, by missing these elements from the quote, her comment can be taken as an instruction on practise, or at least an aspiration statement, but by including them it is clear that this is just the way she works and does business.

So, in my opinion, the way Stanford Business School portrays Elizabeth Holmes comment is incorrect or constructed for effect.

But Why?

From my viewpoint of an entrepreneur, I find her comment a bit ill-conceived and not something I can condone. Life is by its very nature unpredictable and can easily become volatile due to actions or circumstances beyond our control. So, why would you want to publicise what I believe most people will find poor practice?

Here’s the rub!

I don’t believe she is the only guilty party here; the media publication from Stanford is equally (or more) to blame.

Once again sensationalism of a statement, which is a poor representation of the actual reality, has been re-dressed to entice us in. All this to get you to click the link…I would expect better from such an institution as Stanford Business School.

Unfortunately, this type of comment is something that seems commonplace in today’s world; take the Brexit Bus now infamous that turned out to be nothing more than a sensational lie stated by politicians. To the best of my knowledge, no one has been held to account for such a lie and this is the people running the country; perhaps we are just too accepting these days?

In Summary

For me, Elizabeth Holmes does not recommend that you don’t have a backup plan per say, this is her way of doing business; which I am absolutely fine with, although wouldn’t dream of recommending this approach to anyone considering a business venture. She simply made a comment which has been sculpted to Stanford Business School’s end.

All this said, it leads me to the point I would like to make, I certainly won’t be taking headlines at face value, no matter who is saying it!

Perhaps the real question is ‘did Stanford Business School take advantage of this situation and is it appropriate/ acceptable to represent influential industry leaders in such a way?’


Since writing this article in response to the Stanford Business School video, it would appear that according to fortune magazine (link below), Elizabeth Holmes company Theranos has announced (July 2016) “…that federal regulators had banned Holmes from owning or operating a medical laboratory for at least two years, and that Theranos could no longer continue operating its California lab”. The article also commented “That [stories had] sparked a series of articles in the WSJ and elsewhere—including an unprecedented mea culpa from Fortune—and regulatory actions that caused many in Silicon Valley to conclude that Theranos was expert at marketing but lousy at science.”

It would seem that having no plan B was a mistake (?) and that the message of not believing the hype was more important that I could have guessed…

Who is Elizabeth Holmes?

At age 31, Elizabeth Holmes is the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire at $4.5B. Her uncle’s death from cancer moved her to develop a way to detect diseases earlier. She dropped out of Stanford and founded Theranos in 2003 to make cheaper easier-to-use blood tests. With a virtually painless prick of the finger, her labs can quickly run a multitude of tests at a fraction of the price of commercial labs. “When you have passion, you will not back up when you get knocked down –and you will get knocked down – over and over again. That’s what winning is all about.”

Nigel stone has, over the last fifteen years, started, led, consulted and nurtured both UK and European businesses to achieve quite outstanding results. Please feel free to drop me an email at

*Any images used in this article are the property of the owners.

Brexit Bus

Stanford Business School Interview with Elizabeth Holmes



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