On its way up, WeWork was described by The Atlantic as a company that "perfectly captured the Millennial Id" — tapping into the unconscious needs and desires of a whole generation. But once the public became conscious of the company's financial performance, shareholders were trapped in a nightmare: The valuation was cut down by nearly 90%, the charismatic founder was ousted, and investors had to risk billions in new capital to stage a turnaround.
WeWork's travails are much more than a Millennial cautionary tale; they capture all that is good and bad in the global economy circa 2019. More capital than ever is available to fund creative ideas, but traditional jobs are becoming less stable. Our ability to retire with dignity is dependent on increasingly risky investments by public and private pension and insurance funds. Many of the old ways of doing business are obsolete, but the new ways cannot yet be delivered profitably. Customers are delighted with new services that meet their exact needs but are wary of a growing dependence on corporate giants. Meanwhile, the abundance of goods and services leaves humans hungry for a sense of meaning and belonging, with offices and residential towers expected to fill in the gap left by religious institutions and bankrupt ideals.
WeWork is at the nexus of all these paradoxes, at the forefront of the clash between our analog past and our digital future. Perhaps that's what makes it so fascinating: We are all Adam Neumann, looking to "make a life, not a living," to be noticed in a world of short attention spans, to get everyone to look at us. Even if to do so, we need to set ourselves — or a pile of money — on fire.
So long, 2019! Let's see what 2020 has in store.
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