Hoisted by Their Own E-Mails

Opinion: The Enron execs are officially guilty, and maybe one of the most important lessons learned from this scandal is how e-mail can come back to bite you.

So today Ken Lay and Jeff Skillings were were found guilty on all counts.

One of the great business lessons in this whole mess (aside from the value of being an honest rather than dishonest business executive) is how e-mail can come back to bite you.

Remember that as part of the legal proceedings, 1.5 million e-mails among Enron employees of all levels were made public and posted on the Web.

When those 1.5 million electronic missives were created you can be sure those writers and readers didnt think that one day their discussions about back room business dealings, hotel suites and visits to strip clubs would become part of the living Web. But were they wrong. For a revealing and humorous romp through the e-mail story, click on the Salon article here.

One lesson for the tech community, business executives and all those aspiring comic e-mail writers is: dont do it. Dont put anything in e-mail that you wouldnt feel comfortable having your mom read on the Web.

The threats of Elliot Spitzer and the SEC is nothing compared to wrath of an irate mom. If you are in the tech profession in your company, now is a good time to remind one and all that you need an up-to-date e-mail policy that is very specific on how long those e-mail records are meant to remain.

Hoist by your own petard is one of those hoary phrases that often seem to have a meaning but no one seems to know the definition of what the phrase means.

A petard in the 1600s was a bomb used to blow open the doors and gates of castles under siege. If the bomb went off too early or the engineer who built the bomb was too close, the poor unfortunate builder would be, well, abruptly hoisted into the air.

For a full definition, you can click on The Phrase Finder here.

The most enduring version was written by Shakespeare in 1604 and was used in Hamlet.

So, Enron, which unfortunately but most appropriately used a crooked E as their corporate logo, will go down in history as one of the great examples of unfettered greed.

And maybe the next great playwright looking at the demise of Skillings, Lay et al, will explain more eloquently how these seemingly brilliant, but flawed, execs were for the most part, "hoist by their own e-mail petards."


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