Innovating through advice networks: Co-evolution of advice seeking and exploration/exploitation

Andrew Parker, Christian Waldstrøm


What do the networks of innovators look like? Are the networks of innovators different to those of individuals who focus on achieving more short-term practical goals? Research has shown how knowledge from higher in the hierarchy, from lower levels of the hierarchy, and from peers effects manager’s exploration and exploitation behaviours. Less well examined are how people who have explorative versus exploitative perceptions develop their networks, i.e., do they have a tendency to form reciprocal ties or prefer open versus closed networks. Since the causality of the relationship between explorative and exploitative perceptions and network change is also not clear there is a need to theorise how these perceptions and networks co-evolve. Do an individual’s explorative versus exploitative perceptions change as a result of the type of network that they have. For example, do people increase their perception of exploration versus exploitation based upon those around them, i.e., does contagion or social influence occur? We explore the coevolution of the perceive work activities as being explorative versus exploitative and advice seeking networks. We theorize that individuals with high perceptions of exploration will prefer reciprocity which enables them to develop innovative opportunities in more depth from the relationships that they form. Alternatively, those that perceive exploitative opportunities shy away from reciprocal ties. Further, we theorize that there while there will be negative tendency for people with high perceptions of exploration to form triads that there is actually a positive tendency for having triads with others with high exploration perceptions. For high exploitation perceptions the opposite should occur. We also theorize that individuals with high exploitation tendencies are influenced by those around them whereas those with high exploration tendencies are not. We test our ideas in the development department of a large industrial company. At each of three time points approximately 120 employees filled out a survey that included social network survey questions and a number of questions about their perceptions of the work environment. We analyzed our data using the actor-based Simulation Investigation for Empirical Network Analysis (SIENA) modeling framework in the RSiena software package. We model how network structural properties and individual attributes explain network change and whether network properties increase or decrease behaviors such as a tendency for exploration and exploitation. Our preliminary results indicate that for the advice network, we find that over time employees with high perceptions of exploration have a tendency to form more ties, make reciprocal ties and a general tendency against triadic closure (transitive triplets). They do, however, like to create triadic structures with others that have high perceptions of exploration. In contrast, employees with high perceptions of exploitation have a tendency not to form triadic structures with others with high perceptions of exploitation. In addition, people social influence is positive and significant for exploitation but not for exploration. An individual’s perception of exploitation is influenced by those around them. We conclude with managerial implications and avenues for future research.

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