4. Exclusive: Getting to the We
WeWork, the $20 billion office leasing startup, today announced a push into the think-tank space — via a partnership with Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson and the tony Aspen Institute for a series of studies on the future of work and cities.
Like Uber and Airbnb, WeWork has attained an astronomical valuation while changing how cities around the world operate. With the move into public policy, co-founder Adam Neumann seeks to better understand — and, if he can, influence — what happens next in those cities.
Adding it up: Data is said to be the new oil, and artificial intelligence to have a future as big as electricity. But WeWork reflects today's reality in Silicon Valley, whose splashiest companies are selling something wholly different — the intangibles of emotional intelligence and mood music.
The culture starts here: Neumann and co-founder Miguel McKelvey have been the recipients of years of fawning media coverage. Most of these articles and videos point out their fondness for new-agey language (like this 2015 appearance in which, it was noted, Neumann said the word community "at least a dozen times"), and the 6-foot-5 Neumann's looks ("he resembles a rock star," one writer said flatly).
Enter emotional intelligence: Neumann clearly wants to add substance to WeWork's public persona — for lack of better phrase, to show that he is not just a pretty face. He is making no quiet thing out of his leap into public policy — the company is doing a big rollout of the partnership with Aspen.
The research: With the reams of data collected and collated on its work spaces every day, WeWork has the unusual makings of a comprehensive understanding of how work is really done today in 18 countries and counting. The relationship with Aspen intends to help cities understand the economic impact of innovation clusters, with research into these concentrations of startups and surveys of WeWork's far-flung membership (Isaacson is leaving Aspen at the end of the year for a professorship at Tulane University).
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