The headline grabbed me. The articulate, and passionate argument pulled me in. Too bad the basic premise is obsolete.Thierry de Baillon's brilliantly written article on some early failures of the social enterprise vision has a number of really good points but in the end overreaches in some key areas.
Social for the Borg
de Baillon displays a keen understanding of the nuances of using technology to affect business outcomes. His illumination of the possibility of a dystopian "command-and-control" social infrastructure is quite an interesting idea and I can understand how he has arrived at that possibility. Even if new "bad" lever's are created, it's just not a realistic fear for one key reason.
Underestimation of Plausible Deniability -- Humans are just too cagey and naturally subversive for this prediction to work. Just as technology by itself cannot really solve business problems, neither can it create the efficiency-zealot fantasy land where dictatorial leaders can bark out commands with the assurance that they will be followed. de Baillon recognizes this reality when it comes to social technology's insufficiency in bringing about enterprise transformation, and to his credit, he does not overreach in preaching the social equivalent of the Tiger oil memos (you absolutely must read them if you have not seen them before).
Enablement vs. Affordance
de Baillon's claim that "Technology has nothing to do with enablement" could just barely be labelled directionally accurate and I somewhat agree with the spirit of the claim; it is, however, an overreach. Clearly affordance is more important for long term enterprise systems that interact with humans, but to argue for a conceptual divorce between technology and enablement is like saying that businesses only exist for economic gain (oops! de Baillon said that too! I'll come to that notion in the next section.)
Whether we are talking about middleware with with no human interfaces or the utopian vision of no-interfaces posited by the brilliant Golden Krishna, relinquishing the concept that technology can't help elevate humanity by removing the need to focus on lower-value tasks and concepts is uninspiring in general and disrespectful to the masses of humans who belong to the church of functionalism.
Purpose isn't Obsolete, It's Self-Reinforcing
Much of de Baillon's article is based on a singular idea -- Organizations cannot serve a purpose outside of economic gain. de Baillon hedges at first in his references to Nobel laureate, Ronald Coase, but then goes whole hog with this idea stating the companies should move towards envisioning themselves as transaction-centric, market-supporting platforms with interchangeable workers. While I am one of the biggest proponents of the "enterprise as platform" model (in fact, I've written so much about it, that I had to create an anthology article to bring people step-by-step through each one), I never want to say or believe that the reason for this is that "we are a purposeless transactional engine" with no need for a highly talented employee base that is committed to a "fluffy" vision.
In terms of the recent masterpiece Start With Why, by Simon Sinek, this puts "What" and "How" ahead of "Why" and will ultimately reduce an enterprise's offering to a transactional commodity. The reason to move to platformification is not because enterprises have no relevance or purpose; The reason for platformification is to avail the enterprise in a new avenue that supports their purpose first and also enhances their relevance through an multiplicative approach to channels and partners (e.g., the roads traveled by Netflix, NPR, Amazon, eBay, and others). de Baillon's vision is at once bright and dark, and while I do agree that "social-business" has not lived up to hype as of yet, I choose not to believe that it is dead, I prefer to believe that it is gestating; transformation will not come as quickly as the yay-sayers would believe, but neither as long as the nay-sayers think.