Grant McCracken, This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics, has an interesting post, "Remodelling the corporation" that fits with the cluetrain, 1999 "markets are conversations", and the hughtrain, 2004 "THE MARKET FOR SOMETHING TO BELIEVE IN IS INFINITE", ideas.
I have little contact with c-level managers, so I don't have a glue to what or how they think. What I do know is that real markets for real products with real people are using social software (blogs, wikis, vlogs, IM, podcasts, rss) on the net to engage in conversations and to disseminate information in many forms (video, audio, text, images.)
You know, even when organizations can get it, conversations, for free, they fail. Take a look at youtube, (100 hundred million visitors per month). Most organizations ignored it. They failed to adapt to a gigantic marketing opportunity. Of course, now that google has legitimized youtube, marketing departments will be flocking to them and paying dearly. Oh yes, the fun will be gone, maybe the viewers as well, becuase organizations want total control and they are faceless. They don't trust their employees to do the right thing. They don't trust their customers either and they, organizations, worry too much about competitors. But, in all fairness, they simply move too slow for what's happing on the net. As a result, they miss opportunities.
As an aside, google missed an earlier opportunity, 6 months ago, to get a slice, 25%, of youtube for 11 million. Instead, a vc firm took the risk and they are walking away with 465 million.
So, can corporations become complex adaptive systems, (CAS)?
From Grant, "Remodelling the corporation.
The old idea of the corporation imagined it a model of modernist clarity. In the minds of senior managers (and some analysts), it was a beautifully clear, well defined idea, consistent, coherent, elegant, not a single assumption out of place, a perfect rendering of all but only the roles, responsibilities and personnel needed to make and sell all but only and exactly the kitchen appliances America needs at any given moment.
"The concept of the corporation as a creature of many faces is the concept of the corporation cultivated by complexity theory. From this point of view, the corporation cannot be, and should not be, consistent, integrated, and monolithic. For the purposes of evolutionary success, it should be messy and multiple, a thing constantly in the process of becoming, and entirely unapologetic about the multiplicity that results. By this reckoning, the coporation is a CAS, a complex adaptive system.
Anyhow, perhaps consistency and integration are best regarded as intellectual, managerial antiques."
Wikipedia entry on Complex Adaptive Systems.