In the field of management, employee creativity, which is defined as the production of novel and useful ideas concerning products, processes, and services, has been found to be necessary for organizational success and survival. An employee’s relationships with others in the organization affect creativity because employees work in the presence of, and with, their coworkers. A social network approach has been taken to understand how employee relationships can affect creativity.
Social networks examine the interaction of individuals with those around them, such as asking them for help or advice. Four components of social networks that have a role in employee creativity have received attention: the nature of the employee’s relationships with coworkers, the structure of the employee’s social network, the position of the employee in the organizational network, and the employee’s network heterogeneity. Regarding the nature of relationships, while some researchers have found that weaker ties are more beneficial for employee creativity, other researchers have found that stronger ties are more advantageous. In order to resolve this conflict, researchers examined the role of strong versus weak ties at different stages of the creativity process and found that, while weak ties might be more useful during idea generation, strong ties come into play during idea elaboration. There are also conflicting findings on the role of the structure of social network. Specifically, a group of researchers found support for a positive relationship between sparse networks and employee creativity, and another group found a positive relationship between dense networks and creativity. Some researchers aimed to resolve this debate, and their findings mirrored the findings on tie strength. They found that density affects different stages of the creative process in unique ways, and while sparse networks are more beneficial during idea generation, dense networks become more important during idea implementation.
Compared to the previous two components, the role of network position and network heterogeneity has received less attention from researchers. Researchers found that both central and peripheral positions have certain benefits and costs for creativity. For example, on the one hand, employees located at the periphery of an organization can collect nonredundant information from outside of the organization that has not been shared by others in the organization and has a positive influence on creativity. On the other hand, employees at a central location gain benefits from fast and easy access to information based on many contracts and receiving recognition from many others, thereby improving creativity. Finally, researchers consistently found that different types of network heterogeneity, such as the diversity of one’s contacts in terms of functional background, organizational function, or nationality, positively affects employee creativity.
There are many opportunities for future research on the relationship between social networks and creativity, such as examining the role of motivational and cognitive processes as mediational mechanisms, focusing on the role of alter characteristics, studying social networks in a team setting, and taking a temporal approach to understand how changes in social networks over time affect employee creativity.