Sustaining Spirit in Startups
A scene from WeCrashed about returning to the heart when the soul of a company is compromised. Have you experienced "soul suck" within a company?
WeCrashed is a mini series about the founding, growth, and downfall of the commercial real estate company WeWork.
My favorite scene shows the founder and his wife returning to the essence of WeWork in the wake of “lifeless” formalities. They are frustrated by the robotic quality of the S-1 document that’s needed to take their company public and decide to replace legal speak with words of passion that align with the company’s mission. To tap into the spirit of WeWork and discover new words, they throw papers, center themselves, and strike a gong inside the WeWork headquarters.
The scene starts at 32:11 in Episode 7. You can watch this scene by subscribing to Apple TV+. There is currently no official clip on YouTube, but here's the trailer to give you a taste of the show.
INT. WEWORK HQ LOBBY - DAY ADAM Creation began with a word, right? REBEKAH So what are our words? He moves toward the gong. He positions it center with the stairwell. Rebekah removes her jacket and throws it to the side. He hands her a mallet and picks up his own. They stand at opposite ends of the gong, facing each other. He inhales deeply. They close their eyes. ADAM The word... They put their hands in prayer pose. We hold here. Adam's eyes flash open. ADAM Community. He SMASHES the gong with the mallet and it makes a CRASHING sound that fills the room. Rebekah laughs, nearly keeling over with joy. Adam waves his mallet in the air, celebrating. Rebekah raises her hands. Something is coming to her like in an epic game of Charades. REBEKAH Consciousness. She SMASHES the gong. Another CRASH fills the room. She jumps up and down. The joy flows through her unfiltered. ADAM Growth! Another SMASH and CRASH. REBEKAH Spiritual growth! SMASH and CRASH. ADAM Intention! SMASH and CRASH. The words pour out of them now. REBEKAH (louder) Positivity! ADAM (even louder) Meaning! REBEKAH (the loudest) Hope! She SMASHES the gong a final time with everything she hopes for.
The meaning of this scene is to not pander to people in positions of power or submit to traditional ways of doing business if they are not aligned with a mission that is positive in nature and responsible for making a company successful. You must find ways to uphold the spirit of a company’s mission during times of difficulty. To do this, you must seek to understand the point of view of people in positions of power and traditional ways of doing business. Adam and Rebekah do this by reviewing the S-1s of companies with successful IPOs. Then, you must create space for something better. Adam and Rebekah do this by centering themselves in the heart of the WeWork headquarters.
After joining a high-growth startup as an early employee, I published disruptive content that helped us attract iconic investors. But, as the company grew, so did formalities that dulled the spirit of the company. I challenged these formalities and my managers and HR turned against me. Was I crazy to think spirit had a place in high-growth business? No. But I was alone in thinking this. Even then, I knew spirit was worth advocating for and leaving a company for. Like Adam did at WeWork and like I did at that startup. True growth over topical business growth is what matters.
Have you experienced "soul suck" within a company?