Thursday, August 06, 2009

Loose Coupling: Innovation and the Web

"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.


Hans said...

I wonder, though, about the balance between allowing radical ideas to take hold and promoting an efficient work environment.

One can't help but think that existing patterns of cooperation, especially among programmers, have developed from efficiency.

Richard Veryard said...

Thanks Hans. Of course there is always a balance between innovation (adaptability to the future) and efficiency (adaptation to the recent past), and this is something I've often talked about before.

My key point here is that the business architecture (tight coupling, loose coupling) is a critical factor in achieving a good balance.

Therefore business architects should pay attention to achieving and maintaining this balance.