For the most part, theirs was not a talk focused on the use of enterprise social software. They made some occasional references to it as a theme of the conference and a type of innovation some attendees might be trying to introduce in their companies.
When social collaboration fails, it's usually because "there's no thought process associated with why use it," Labash said. The professors said they do see more organizations getting interested in social business as a way of generating "engagement no matter what," recognizing that even trivial "water cooler" conversations create connections across the organization and can lead to "serendipitous innovation" and social learning. They also gave a nod to the power of collaborative innovation networks, or COINs, that include people inside and outside the enterprise.
Lightman devoted a portion of his presentation to talking about the "Generation Z" digital natives just arriving on campus -- the young people who will come into the workforce with particularly elevated expectations for the digital workplace set by social media and online games. Members of this new generation also tend to be very non-political, although sometimes that hurts them when they fail to understand the political obstacles in their way, he said.
On the other hand, the fact that more than 90% of kids under 18 play computerized games could set them up to be talented innovators, Labash said. "One of the things it teaches them is how to fail, then iterate, optimize and try again."
One of the problems with corporate incentive structures is they don't recognize the power of this cycle of failure and learning, he said. "If you want to create a culture of rapid prototyping, you have to be able to fail quick, fail fast, and learn, learn, learn."
I would argue that social collaboration is also very relevant to one of their other recurring themes, which was that the makeup of innovation teams needs to stretch beyond the usual suspects and include people who will challenge your ideas and make you think harder.
"You've got to smash people together for innovation teams. When you have different inputs, you're going to get different outputs," Lightman said.
Of course, it's possible to conduct an online collaboration within a tightly controlled circle of people who all think alike. But an enterprise social network does make it easier to mix things up -- if you have the wit and the courage to do so.