Network mechanisms in innovation: borrowing and sparking ideas around structural holes
29 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2021
Date Written: July 2, 2021
Ronald Burt’s “Structural Holes and Good Ideas” from 2004 is one of the key publications that first conceptualized mechanisms of how structural diversity generates ideas. The article has become a highly cited piece in the scholarship on creativity, organizational innovation, knowledge networks. Burt’s work has also sparked new insights into how and when tie strength figures in processes of innovation, how brokerage and closure relate to one another, and how individual action relates to collective efforts in innovation. I trace the wide reception of the article over three phases marked by the concepts of creativity, innovation, and knowledge networks. This article has also opened opportunities to reflect on conceptual connections with structure, culture, and agency to refine imageries underlying the mechanisms that connect network structure with innovation. In this chapter I start from the mechanism proposed by Burt’s article, describe the intellectual context and history of reception of the article, and reflect on implications for further work on the interplay of individual innovators and collectives, the role of tie strength in ideation, and ultimately the way in which networks help us understand both the borrowing of building blocks for new ideas, and the locations to spark new ideas via generative tension.
Keywords: social networks, brokerage, innovation, structural holes, structural folds
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