June 03, 2006

Frank Gehry and Jeffrey Skilling

From a Washington Post review of Sidney Pollack’s new documentary about one of my favorite architects, Frank Gehry:

“Here's a quote not in the film: ‘The uniqueness of Frank Gehry's work is the blending of the functional with the artistic to create an innovative product.’ “

“That was Jeffrey Skilling, Enron president and CEO, in 2001 -- when Enron was funding a huge Guggenheim show devoted to Gehry. Skilling, now a convicted felon, went on: ‘This is a quality Enron relates to every day as we question traditional business assumptions and embrace innovative solutions. We are pleased to help showcase Frank Gehry's genius.’ “

It's not fair to do guilt by association. The point is, Skilling's description of Enron parallels Gehry's architecture very closely. It always questions traditional assumptions; it always embraces innovative solutions. And to some, it suggests a giddiness that seduced many Enron investors: It seems to stay up, as if by magic, hiding its inner structure, glistening on the outside, exuberant and strong.

Real growth questions traditional assumptions.

Real growth embraces innovative solutions.

Real growth is more than technique, though. It’s something that takes places in a particular context and is driven by particular values. Gehry’s context and values have little to do with Skilling’s, just as businesses concerned with progress and forward movement have little in common with Enron’s quest for bigness and bubbles.


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