Enron: An idea incubator?

I flew from Newark to Silicon Valley yesterday, suffering a canceled US Air flight from Phoenix. Most of the way I read Kurt Eichenwald’s Enron tome, Conspiracy of Fools.

In a lot of ways, Enron was a wild dot-com laboratory. It celebrated new ideas, some of the zany (and quite a few of them criminal). There were virtually no controls. The guy overseeing risk didn’t even know the basics on hedging.

And yet, Enron had a crackerjack math research team, headed by Vince Kaminski. One of the Numerati from my book, Samer Takriti, worked on water projects at Enron before returning (just in the nick of time) to IBM. My question is this: amid all the crime and stupidity at Enron, were there were a few brilliant ideas that died in the wreckage? I have no idea, but I do know that lots of the dot-com dreams from the 90s, which were derided following the crash, are back with a vengeance. Social networking is perhaps the biggest. The point is that the ideas weren’t bad. The conditions just weren’t ready for them.

This reminds me. Researchers at IBM are going into their archives and bringing back algorithms, some of them decades old. Many of these algorithms were viewed as theoretical. No machine was strong enough to process them. But now that IBM has powerful machines, the algorithms move from theory into practice. (also posted on TheNumerati.net)

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