Creating Knowledge and Overcoming Redundancy in Networks: Beyond the Strong/Weak Tie Dichotomy

Rick Delbridge, Francesca Mariotti
2008 Social Science Research Network  
This paper builds on Granovetter's distinction between strong and weak ties and responds to recent calls for a more dynamic, processual and thus comprehensive understanding of knowledge transfer in networks with regard to both the nature of the ties that link firms to novel sources of knowledge and the ability to mobilize around these new ideas. The concepts of potential and latent tie are introduced in order to consider how new ties develop and relationships decay. The findings of an empirical
more » ... ngs of an empirical study conducted with companies operating in the British and Italian motorsport industries reveal that firms seek out potential new ties and reactivate latent ties in order to solve problems, address perceived knowledge deficiencies and create new knowledge. These conceptual and empirical insights move understanding of the managerial challenge of building effective networks beyond static structural contingency models of optimal network forms to highlight the processes and capabilities of dynamic relationship building and network development. A foundational concept of networks research is Granovetter's (1973) distinction between strong and weak ties and this dichotomy is routinely used at the interorganizational level of analysis (for example, Gulati, 1995; Uzzi, 1997) . However, such theorizing is restricted in both conceptual and practical terms by the conceptualization of ties as either containing a significant social element (strong ties) or not (weak ties). Such constructs are critical to understanding network structures but they are insufficient to delineate the dynamic and multifaceted aspects of ties (Ibarra, 1992) . Recognition of this problem, coupled with the limitations of static, cross-sectional research currently dominating social networks analysis, has led to recent calls for more attention to the process issues around network tie formation, maintenance and decay ). An increased emphasis on process also draws attention to the roles of actors in network building and orchestration (Dhanaraj and Parkhe, 2006; and allows greater attention to be paid to what Obstfeld (2005) calls the 'action problem' in social networks. That is, while connections across sparse networks may act as a conduit for new ideas, opportunities and information (processes of knowledge transfer), such connections are not necessarily conducive to knowledge application and implementation. In contrast, close networks are better at mobilizing and implementing those ideas and information, but their structure poses an obstacle to the recognition of new threats and opportunities and the generation of new ideas. To overcome these challenges requires strategic action on the part of key AIM Working Paper Series:
doi:10.2139/ssrn.1309583 fatcat:kv4o4njidvbidal4d4otybh26m