Pando

WeWork Elementary: Move fast and break kids

By Sarah Lacy , written on November 7, 2017

From The "You know, for kids" Desk

The best thing I can say about yesterday’s revelation that WeWork is starting an elementary school is…

...well, at least Uber isn’t starting an elementary school.

WeWork isn’t as bad as Uber, but it’s had its share of scandals, whether it’s misclassifying workers so that they can’t get overtime, aggressively and litigiously going after critics, including evicting a tenant for suggesting in a Medium post WeWork’s churn was increasing.

And of course, there’s the matter of WeWork’s absurd valuation. They’ve stopped even coming up with business-sounding rationales for their gazillion dollars per desk post-SoftBank valuation.

The Bloomberg story made clear, a WeWork-inspired elementary school is intended to be exactly what it sounds like:

“In my book, there’s no reason why children in elementary schools can’t be launching their own businesses,” Rebekah Neumann said in an interview. She thinks kids should develop their passions and act on them early, instead of waiting to grow up to be “disruptive,” as the entrepreneurial set puts it.

There are three main reasons I’d never put my kids in any startup’s elementary school. The first is that companies like WeWork pride themselves on putting out a lousy product and then iterating. Half-baked betas are thrown out into the world, and then people watch the data.

Then there’s the startups obsession with trite mission statements over actual cultural values.  The central, narrow entitlement in WeWork’s slogan “Do what you love” seems as if it would preclude the hard lessons, courses, and perseverance that school brings.

Lastly, there is the lack of other values, kids typically learn in kindergarten. “Move fast and break things” and “Ask forgiveness not permission” are not core values I want my children raised with. In most Kindergartens, disruptiveness lands you in the principal's office.

Still, if we know anything about WeWork’s defiance of the laws of economics, it’s that you bet against the company at your peril. For good or ill, parents across the country might soon be enrolling their children in WeWork Elementary.

To understand the kind of education those kids might expect to receive, I referred to my copy of Robert Fulghum’s best selling “All I Really Need to know I Learned in Kindergarten,” and tried to figure out how the principles outlined within might be modified to fit WeWork’s disruptive school project...

  • “Share everything” - > … but only with other people rich and lucky enough to get into WeWork kindergarten.
  • “Play fair” -> ...or don’t. Here at WeWork Kindergarten we’re all about finding and exploiting the “unfair” advantages.
  • “Put things back where you found them” -> Look, disruption is about entering a staid, existing industry and destroying it. We expect you to break all of our existing systems and remake them in a way that suits only you.
  • “Don’t take things that aren’t yours” -> Oh, come on! How else are we supposed to get to hyper-growth in a competitive industry?
  • “Say you’re SORRY when you HURT someone” -> See, we’re just a platform. We aren’t responsible for any hurt that occurs using our service.
  • “Wash your hands before you eat” -> ...or, rather, drink your Soylent. Also, lunch is for wimps.
  • “Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you” -> Like the kegerator, these will be on tap at WeWork kindergarten
  • “Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some” -> One of WeWork’s mantras painted on its walls is “Hustle Harder”
  • “Take a nap every afternoon” -> (See above)
  • “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together” -> Bros before disgruntled employees and competitors.
  • “Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup- they all die. So do we.” -> Nope. Death is just another problem to be hacked. The singularity is near.
  • “And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned-- the biggest word of all-- LOOK” -> At WeWork Kindergarten, “Look” is always followed by “at the data.”
  • “You may never have proof of your importance but you are more important than you think.” -> At WeWork, everybody is precisely as important and valuable as they believe they are. Just look at the valuation. Anyone who disagrees is a hater.
  • “Speed and efficiency do not always increase the quality of life” -> Wrong again. Speed is everything here. Spend as much as you need to to go faster.
  • “The leaves let go, the seeds let go, and I must let go sometimes, too, and cast my lot with another of nature’s imperfect but tenacious survivors” -> Acquihires.
  • “Imagination is more important than information.” -> Wrong. It’s the data. It’s all data. Look at the data.
  • “About winning and losing: It isn’t important, what really counts is how you play the game.” -> Uh, what? No, we are all vying to become the world’s first $1 trillion company. The valuation is the only barometer of self-worth.
  • “I may be wrong” -> Founders are never wrong. That’s why we don’t have board oversight.

See you at the WeWork bake sale! Prices are just $300 per brownie, with most of the brownie ownership going to Softbank.