WeWork: When Business Meets Fanaticism

Ricardo Lapeira / May 09, 2021

As a millennial, I sometimes feel that the world expects too much from my generation. Not only do we have to live with the problems created by previous generations (I am mostly referring to climate change and the risk of a nuclear war, but I guess it is also worth mentioning inequality, political divisiveness, and the fact that we are drowning in garbage). It is also expected of us to somehow solve these problems in a very particular way. Curiously enough, my generation seems to have taken this challenge at heart in the most peculiar way: through business.

WeWork office space

The documentary ‘WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn’ is a clear portrayal of this. It shows two important two things: how millennials are looking to business as a way of changing the world, and how business can be used as a means to make sense of life. It isn’t just a documentary about a company and how it almost went bankrupt due to its messianic and delirious CEO. It deals with the somehow uncomfortable fact that an entire generation is desperately looking for meaning exclusively through their jobs.

A Scam Named WeWork

When I first heard of WeWork it was hard for me to understand what the fuss was all about. Even to this day, I find it hard to see why someone would like to pay for a coworking space. However, it turns out that there is a large group of people looking for a place where they don’t really have an office but a ‘collaborative work experience.’

It was even harder for me to understand why a coworking company was being valued in terms of a Unicorn. In case you are not familiar with the term, a ‘Unicorn’ is a startup worth over 1 billion dollars. In the startup world, this is a big deal. Every young company wishes to eventually become a Unicorn, as this says much of its potential, the value it creates, and most of the time, it also says a great deal about its founders. 

WeWork’s then CEO and co-founder, Adam Neumann, was no exception to this last. At the time of the scandal, I didn’t really know anything about him. It was only after the media coverage that I became aware of who he really was. After being acclaimed as one of the most innovative CEOs of a powerful startup, the company ended up being, not surprisingly, nothing more than hot air, and Neumann nothing more than a false god.

Adam Neumann

Strangely, it seemed that many news articles portrayed him as a sort of delusional messianic figure like so many others in the past with the power to lure people. Was this surprising for a CEO of a company with the status of a Unicorn? Not really. 

At the time I didn’t really get a grasp of the whole thing until I watched the documentary. I feel that I might be over-interpreting something that doesn’t really deserve much attention, but I did observe some interesting things

A Documentary worth Watching (but Don’t Expect Too Much)

As much as I love documentaries, I have to say that in recent years I’ve become disillusioned with the genre. There’s so much stuff being done under the documentary label that it has kind of lost its meaning. In this sense, the WeWork documentary is no exception. It covers a bunch of people talking about their experience at the company while the story revolves around Adam Neumann. 

In the end, it feels like it could have lasted about 30 minutes less. I don’t think WeWork is a masterpiece that deserves special attention. After all, it’s just a story about a scam. However, it does have some interesting moments. In my opinion, there’s a couple of things that make it worthwhile, especially if you are just looking for something to watch for fun. 

Millennials and the Ethics of Business as a Means to Change the World

Most millennials are just trying to make it through the day without screwing things up any more than they already are. Others, the ones that are trying to ‘change the world,’ are building companies to disrupt the status quo. There’s nothing wrong with this. After all, many of the things from which humans have been able to benefit are the result of business innovation. If there’s one thing my generation has become apparently good at, it is building innovative companies, especially ones that are ridiculously valued. Nonetheless, this comes with its downturn. 

The words entrepreneur, startup, valuation, and phrases like changing the world have become completely nonsensical. Like documentaries, these words have become so trivial that they no longer seem to have any meaning at all. Don’t get me wrong, entrepreneurs are some of the most impactful people the world has ever seen, and I say that in a good sense. Unfortunately, not everyone can be one, just as not everyone can change the world, even if we have been raised to believe so. 

Millennials are constantly exposed to social pressures where they feel obliged to excel and even build companies that change the world. This is clearly depicted in the documentary. Even if one is not the founder of a Unicorn, being part of something bigger than oneself becomes an end in itself. All other aspects of one’s life seem to become irrelevant next to the purpose found in a job. This is a scary thought, as it resembles cases in history when things ended up in tragedy due to people losing their individual autonomy under the influence of a powerful leader. 

Is this really something that should worry us? Finding meaning in what we do is important, but what happens when it becomes the sole purpose of our existence? You are probably thinking that I’m being too dramatic, and you are probably right. But if you are curious about whether this is something that deserves more attention, go watch the WeWork documentary and come to your own conclusions.

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