Wider Networks May Boost Employee Creativity

A new study has found that employees experience a boost in creativity when management encourages them to network beyond their immediate business contacts.

“Social networks can be important sources of information and insight that may spark employee creativity,” say the researchers.

“The cross-fertilization of ideas depends not just on access to information and insights through one’s direct network — the people one actually interacts with — but at least as much on access to the indirect network one’s direct ties connect to.”

The study was conducted by management experts at Rice University in Houston, Australian National University (ANU), Erasmus University Rotterdam, Monash University in Clayton, Australia, and the University of Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia.

The findings show that it is the “nonredundant ties,”  those people we do not interact with directly but with whom our direct ties interact, that offer the greatest source for gathering novel information.

This information can then be used as the raw material for the employee to generate creative ideas, said the researchers, who believe the findings are applicable to U.S. companies.

“More specifically, when networking, building two-step nonredundant ties, which means one’s two direct network ties are not connected by the same third person, is the most efficient way for obtaining nonredundant information and generating creative ideas,” said Dr. Jing Zhou, the Houston Endowment Professor of Management at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

“Thus, employees need to proactively build network ties with such people.”

For the study, the researchers identified sales representatives of a pharmaceutical corporation in China who had developed extensive networks and so were likely to build networks in geographic regions beyond the organization’s territory. These reps would later play key roles building sales networks in these regions.

The researchers then examined the creativity of sales representatives. Sales representatives displayed creativity by developing new ways to promote company products, devising strategies to cross-sell products, figuring out ways to connect with hard-to-access sales targets, and developing ideas or strategies to enhance client sales.

Such examples of creativity are increasingly recognized as essential to gaining competitive advantage and are therefore essential to pharmaceutical marketing and sales the authors said. They then matched measures of sales representatives’ direct and indirect ties in their social networks to managers’ creativity ratings.

The authors said the results have timely implications for management practice.

“Organizations may benefit from developmental efforts helping employees build the efficiency of their direct networks, meaning the proportion of direct ties in an individual’s network that are not interconnected, and guiding employees to establish nonredundant ties, because such networks are likely to result in indirect networks of high-reach efficiency that are conducive to creativity,” they said.

The research is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Source: Rice University

  
Businessman networking with others photo by shutterstock.