Is There a Link Between Social Connections and Innovation?

龚亚平 | KIM, Tae-Yeol | LIU, Zhiqiang

The diversity of social ties and its influence on creativity has long been a key focal area for scholars. Social ties are simply interpersonal connections that provide access to resources, while creativity can be described as the formulation of new or useful ideas. Previous studies on social ties and its association with creativity have largely taken an information angle. More specifically, some have suggested that weak social ties provide better access to distinct social circles, and therefore to diverse information. Conversely, strong ties provide access to similar, like-minded individuals, and as a result, redundant information. Creativity is mixed into this formula by way of diverse information facilitating creativity through cognitive recombination and unusual connection.

However, some scholars have argued that weak social ties can sometimes promote information diversity, but this can only be achieved under certain conditions. Similarly, others have pointed out that weak ties do not necessarily connect distinct social circles and provide diverse information, while strong ties do not necessarily connect the same social circles and provide redundant information. In response to these apparent contradictions, it has been suggested that more attention should be placed on one’s diversity of social ties or variety of social circles. It has been agreed that separating diversity of social ties from tie strength is a straightforward approach in theory, and focusing on diversity of social ties also gets closer to non-redundant information. However, a gap in the literature exists when it comes to theorizing and examining any mechanism through which it may promote employee creativity.

To examine these issues more closely, Yaping Gong, Tae-Yeol Kim, and Zhiqiang Liu aimed to look beyond the informational argument by developing and testing creative self-efficacy as a motivational mechanism. “According to social cognitive and research, individuals will not put effort into creative activities unless they can produce creative outcomes”, the researchers explain. Their first goal was to theorize and examine whether diversity of social ties had an indirect positive relationship with employee creativity via enhancing self-efficacy. Additionally, they set out to determine whether tie strength moderates (amplifies) the effect of diversity of social ties on creative self-efficacy and subsequently employee creativity, making creative self-efficacy an effective mechanism under reinforced tie strength.

For their study, the researchers used questionnaires to gather social ties data from 309 employees and creativity data from 98 direct supervisors. The firms selected for their research were from technology, manufacturing, and service industries based in mainland China. It was found that diversity of social ties had a direct positive relationship with self-efficacy, and an indirect positive relationship with employee creativity via creative self-efficacy. The authors also explained that “these direct and indirect relationships were fortified when tie strength was reinforced. As such, they suggested that social ties should be diverse and strong to best promote creative self-efficacy, of which would subsequently motivate the best form of employee creativity in the workplace. The researches also hope that their findings will encourage other scholars to investigate how and when diversity of social ties benefits creativity.


Fung Term Professor of Management, Head, Chair Professor