"Cosy social networks are stifling innovation", according to an article in the New Scientist (5 August 2009).
This is a familiar argument in a new context. It has often been argued that corporate culture can inhibit innovation, and that groups responsible for experimental products and processes tend to perform better if they are put into a separate organization unit at some distance from the main offices. In recent years, many companies have set up R and D units in special science parks, co-located with similar units from other companies, usually with links to a nearby university. This is essentially applying architectural thinking to the geographical location and distribution of certain classes of capability, and reflects a common belief in the importance of these factors.
But interaction and clustering is nowadays much less dependent on physical geography, and much more dependent on virtual online communities and networks. The New Scientist article quotes Viktor Mayer-Schönberger of the National University of Singapore, who argues that today's software developers work in social networks in which everyone is closely linked to everyone else. "The over-abundance of connections through which information travels reduces diversity and keeps radical ideas from taking hold."
What Mayer-Schönberger sees as an over-abundance of connections is actually another form of tight coupling. If we want to build the capability for radical innovation, we need to create a decoupled space to support a loosely coupled knowledge cycle. Which means careful attention to the effects of social networking and organizational intelligence.