The deep baritone voice. The striking blonde hair juxtaposed against the black turtleneck. The almost exclusively green-juice-based diet. Beyond her intelligence, Elizabeth Holmes is "unnervingly serene."
She's not the only tech CEO to tickle our weird fancy. Jack Dorsey's three-day fasts, Steve Jobs's all-fruit regime, and Tony Hsieh's alphabet diet -- which had him eat only foods starting with a specific letter of the alphabet on a given day -- are all examples of odd behavior.
But we -- and venture capitalists funding these CEOs -- can't seem to get enough. Why are we so drawn to what I call the holy weirdo?
The holy weirdo in all their glory
We're transfixed by the supernatural. From religious scriptures to superheroes, we're spellbound by miraculous feats performed by the chosen few. These include the small subset of individuals who end up running major corporations.
One way to get closer to the supernatural, religions tell us, is through self-deprivation. Denying yourself what your heart desires presumably achieves a state of spiritual purity that rejects the temptations that distract, confuse, and mislead us mere mortals.
That's not easy to do. So, when an intelligent, creative CEO does do it (think daily ice baths, salt shakes, and dopamine-fasting), we not only marvel at their self-discipline, but the signalling of their otherworldly competence makes us trust them more.
The result? We glorify them as leaders. And apparently give them billions of dollars.
Take Me to Your Leader
It turns out, belief in the supernatural is evolutionarily advantageous. Humans tend to look for a unifying force. This allows for large-scale cooperation, accurate prediction of the future, and figuring out what others might be thinking.
Once we do find a unifying force, we tend to work to appease it. This idea has its roots in Freud's theory of transference, but its implications also extend to how we view our modern day sanctified leaders.
Think of the big-name tech CEOs: Zuckerberg, Dorsey, Musk. All have built such enduring brands -- ones on which our daily lives depend -- that it can sometimes feel like they're our celestially assigned caretakers.
And we end up transferring caretaker-specific emotions (like respect, awe, and deference) to them.
The result? Their authoritative reputation builds. And we give them billions of dollars.
When the Going Gets Weird, the Weird Turn Pro
According to the halo effect, our impression of a person in one area influences our perceptions of them in other areas. If we think somebody is attractive, we're likely to also think they're smart.
If you're a venture capitalist looking for the Next Big Thing, you're looking for out-of-the-box thinking -- you're looking for innovation.
But what if the Next Big Thing is still a small startup? And you don't really have much to go by except the founder and their idea?
No problem. The halo effect tells us we can end up extrapolating innovative wardrobes, voices, diets, or personal philosophies to also mean innovation in business. And that's where we direct our attention, interest, and cash. The holy weirdo sells.