A friend of mine was telling me yesterday how people are inevitably attracted to social networks, social media and social tools because humans are social creatures. Obviously, if work is going to be more social and collaborative, then knowledge workers certainly need to pay more attention to social and collaboration norms, skills and behaviors.
But what are you going to do, fire all the introverts? We should be very, very skeptical of the social enterprise if it doesn't recognize that a lot of your most valuable and talented employees aren't the ones chatting around the water cooler. Introverts are very often the low maintenance people quietly getting things done, bringing a sudden insight or innovation to the team, or watching your back while you make an ass of yourself at the staff meeting.
I also feel really, really strongly that all of the critical, creative conversations are wasted when people do not balance the increased social time with an equal increase in quiet reflective time to absorb and process new information and ideas. Even extroverts need to sit quietly by themselves every now and then. Conrad said, "We live, as we dream—alone." No matter what anybody says, I still believe that we also learn alone just as much as we learn together. The wisdom of crowds depends not on us all knowing the same things, but on all knowing something that others don't.
My take on the social enterprise is that collaborative work can be more valuable but at the same time, it's often less productive in the short term. I think that successful collaboration in business environments really comes down to two complementary sets of issues.
First, I've always argued that collaborative work puts more demands on the individual—not less—and in more ways. We used to work in a linear, serial fashion, where work generally came from one person (always the same person) and was delivered to another. Now we are more likely to work in parallel, while individually owing more deliverables to more people in more unpredictable ways. (Most of us are still evaluated and compensated for our personal output and contributions.) That's how personal knowledge management (PKM) got to be so important to me, and also why I think it hit a nerve with so many corporate CKOs; it tends to be the missing ingredient in enterprise efforts.
Second, of course, there are the practices, skills and tools that you use for the collaboration. (You can't be an antisocial curmudgeon when everything is decided by committee.) With groupware, you want to facilitate collaboration, as well as tapping the wisdom and information of the crowd, without multiplying exponentially any one person's sense of overload. Collaboration absolutely demands increasing the bandwidth of communication and cognition between people. Unfortunately, technology tends to constrict it instead by fitting everything into some kind of homepage, portal, reader, etc. (essentially cramming everything through the visual pipe, instead of all five senses).
The Internet certainly allows for rich interaction when it works. (We had to restart a three-way Skype meeting yesterday a dozen times.) And I think all levels of social tools still have a part to play: presence, chat, e-mail, audio, video, document sharing, application sharing, blogs, wiki's, feeds, and so on. Even the overnight express package and the airline shuttle hub are critical collaboration technologies.
Running social applications from the clouds makes more sense to me for teams and networks than using them that way for the individual parts of work—though I still maintain that the individual parts account for a lot of actual value creation. But my main reason for saying this might be different than you'd assume. Yes, the rapid configuration and reconfiguration is incredibly useful. But I find that groupware tends to be disposable. What worked well for one project doesn't always work for the next (even for the same team). Sometimes it doesn't even maintain its usefulness from one part of the job to the next. Over the past few years I find myself and collaborators constantly picking up one tool and then throwing it away without regret. The low barriers to entry (cost, time, etc.) make this valuable to me, but maybe not so valuable to venture capitalists. That disposability also means we can play with a few tools in the same category before we find the one that works best, for whatever reason, with the particular personality of our team.