Unpacking Novelty: The Anatomy of Brokers' "Vision Advantage"

28 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2014 Last revised: 27 Aug 2020

See all articles by Sinan Aral

Sinan Aral

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Paramveer Dhillon

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Date Written: August 27, 2020


The Strength of Weak Ties (SoWT) and Brokerage Theory (BT) rely on the argument that brokers access novel information through weak bridging ties. Yet our conceptualization of novelty is itself fundamentally underdeveloped. We therefore develop a theory of how three distinct types of novelty \textemdash diversity, non-redundancy and uniqueness \textemdash combine with network structure to create vision advantages. We test this theory using panel data on an evolving corporate email network in a medium-sized digital media firm over twelve months. Three main results emerge from our analysis. First, we confirm the Diversity-Bandwidth Tradeoff (DBT) at the heart of the vision advantage. As brokers' networks become more diverse, their channel bandwidth contracts, creating countervailing effects on access to novel information. Second, we uncover a mechanism driving the DBT, which helps explain differences in vision advantages across strong and weak ties. Strong cohesive ties deliver greater information diversity and non-redundancy, while weak bridging ties contribute the greatest uniqueness (the information that is most different from what other contacts deliver). Third, we find network diversity (in contrast to network constraint) is positively associated with longitudinal entropy, a measure of the accumulation of novel information over time. This suggests that weak bridging ties, which provide the most unique information through low bandwidth, structurally diverse channels, contribute the most to one's aggregation of novel information over time. Taken together, these results help resolve two long standing debates in network theory about whether strong cohesive networks or weak bridging networks contribute more to vision advantages. This work establishes firmly that it depends.

Keywords: Information worker productivity, Networks, Information Exchange, Information Channels, Information Flow, Knowledge Transfer, Content Analysis.

Suggested Citation

Aral, Sinan and Dhillon, Paramveer, Unpacking Novelty: The Anatomy of Brokers' "Vision Advantage" (August 27, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2388254 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2388254

Sinan Aral (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

100 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

Paramveer Dhillon

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor ( email )

2350 Hayward Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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