As Peter Evans-Greenwood (another antipodean!) points out, social organisations aren’t inevitable – some businesses do very well with command and control hierarchies. That doesn’t mean, though, that these businesses can’t find value in a targeted adoption of social business principles: perhaps better collaboration amongst engineers and designers, perhaps a closer relationship with suppliers and customers. The point is that we don’t need to condemn that business to a wholesale culture upheaval or wipe out their current organisation structure before they see value from “social business”.
My personal belief is that future economic growth and prosperity will come from the proliferation of smaller, more agile businesses that specialise, and which are loosely-coupled with similar-sized and complementary businesses via “enterprise2.0” as an organising principle. But there will always be some economic activity out of the reach of these less-formal structures – undertakings of sufficient size and complexity that a large aggregation of assets is required … big business, in other words, where a Weber-style bureaucracy and its implied hierarchical rigidity is quite possibly the most effective way to govern.
“Social” and “un-social” businesses aren’t opposing sides of the one coin, they are points on a continuum of something you might call “sociality” – and any measure of that is relative, not absolute. Each business can find a point on that continuum that works for them, a point where they derive value from some of the tools available. Again, as a personal opinion I think that those businesses that don’t look for a point on that continuum will not prosper … but that’s not a given either. Some businesses are like distant stars – they may already be dead, but their light could last a long time yet.
Perhaps all of us proponents of social business/E2.0 should be looking for the points of value, rather than preaching revolution – when there is sufficient demonstrated value, we may find that “social business” isn’t a bone of contention, but part of the management lexicon, like other good ideas before it. As Peter Evans-Greenwood suggests in a comment on his post, most new ideas first take hold in smaller businesses, and filter up the food chain over time. A lot of this is because new ideas can be adopted more easily where there is less inertia, and less formality in structures (it often only requires one person to decide on AND act on to succeed). Likewise, just because there is resistance to an idea in a larger company doesn’t mean it won’t be implemented – it just has a more arduous journey to make.