The Effects of Network Position in Open Innovation Communities

Bruce Cronin, Mu Yang, Chunjia Han


User ideas, ‘crowdsourcing’, is regarded an important input in open innovation processes. But what sorts of users’ ideas are most useful? Engaging users, when they contribute ideas, provides a source of diversity beyond existing internal processes. But the value of a user input extends beyond simple diversity. Some contributors are effective aggregators of general opinion, ‘mavens’ in Gladwell’s popular typology, others effective ‘connectors’ among diverse views, still others effective ‘persuaders.’ Testing this long-debated question of brokerage and closure in social network theory, we present the results of a study of collaboration among 10,000 participants in the open innovation community of users of Microsoft's Business Intelligence product. We identify the network characteristics of the participants with the best ideas, those adopted by Microsoft engineers for product development. We find distinct social network characteristics of idea generators and idea refiners and surprising roles for brokerage and closure in this process. The findings add nuance and depth to the established theory in this area.

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