Moving Beyond the Smoke Screen

Read this post in: French

“Social software enables people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication and to form online communities.” This definition, taken from Wikipedia, and quoted by Andrew McAfee in his 2006 definition of Enterprise 2.0, summaries pretty well most present ‘social’ approaches. Or misconceptions, should I say… ‘enables’, really?

The innovation literature is full of controversies between technology-first and customers-first invention, but there is very few evidences of preeminence of technology in emergence of new human behaviors. As Steven Shapin stated it:

The tendency to exaggerate the impact of technological innovation follows from an artifact of historical consciousness

Use transforms technology, and gives it its meaning and usefulness. Enterprise 2.0 makes no exception; wikis, for example, are a more than 15 years old technology, and some companies have developed a true collaborative, adaptive and customer-centric structure without the help of any 2.0 or social technology.

Vendors pitch ahead

… co-workers come together to swarm on problems, seize opportunities, and make the important outcomes happen. They easily share what they are learning and doing in real time, to keep the wheels of innovation turning.

This glorious sentence was picked on Jive Software’s website. I have nothing against Jive, I instead think they are developing one of the most innovative and interesting platform of its kind. But this sentence is typical of a discourse indistinctly mixing important behavioral concepts with marketing babble, typical of a trend toward technology-driven transformation.

Examples abound. BlueKiwi allows you to “engage with your influencers”, although influence is for now such a vague and loose notion than nobody can precisely define what an influencer might be. IBM’s Lotus Connections call Communities what should in fact be called Groups, blurring further the concept of workplace collaboration. Microsoft SharePoint 2010 tackles trust as it “provides trusted access to the right information to the right people at the right time”. And I could go on endlessly…

An unavoidable wreck

Technology moves fast. Really fast. Reframing for the social enterprise takes a lot of time convincing, mentoring, changing people mindset to foster interaction and build trusted relationships among people who mostly don’t trust each other as I wrote in my last post. The fast pace of technological innovation doesn’t leave vendors enough time to align their solutions with organizational problems. Considering that new behaviors are enabled by technology will lead to an unavoidable wreck between vendors’ promises and actual companies needs. Today, as IT companies and departments take over the place, there is no more room for pilots, cultural change and bottom line uncertainty in Enterprise 2.0’s bandwagon…

Let us stop believing (and saying) that technology enables collaborative and innovative behaviors, and focus instead on the fact that it can at best support them.

Integration into existing hierarchies and systems, spontaneous customer adhesion and socialization of business-as-usual are a smoke screen, which hides both the difficult rise of new and emergent ways to drive business and the richness of human mind’s resources. We don’t need more social platforms, we need more human companies.

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2 Responses to Moving Beyond the Smoke Screen

  1. Pingback: Sumeet Moghe: What constitutes a Social Learning Culture? | Software Secret Weapons

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