How Overlapping Connections Between Groups Interact with Value Differences in Explaining Creativity?

Antti Gronow, Anssi Smedlund & Aasa Karimo

In: Lehtimäki, Hanna/Uusikylä, Petri/Smedlund, Anssi (eds.), Society as an Interaction Space, Singapore: Springer, pp. 135-159.

Abstract. We build on recent developments in network theory and the sociology of valuation, and we propose that the overlapping connections that groups have with each other (i.e., structural folds) and differences in within-group values are substitutes for explaining creativity (coming up with new ideas and practices). Thus, only groups that lack overlapping connections with other groups stand to benefit from within-group value differences. In order to test this proposition, we developed a scale to measure differences in values in organizational cliques. We constructed 280 cliques of 104 employees at a professional service firm on the basis of their advice relations and tested whether group overlaps and diverging values were positively associated with a group’s creativity and their joint effect. As expected, group overlaps only have a positive effect on creativity when values do not diverge. Furthermore, divergence of values contributes to creativity only when overlapping connections between groups are lacking. These findings are explained by presenting a compensatory theory of the function of overlapping group memberships and differences in values. The findings contribute both to the research on group processes and creativity in network theory as well as the effects of values in social sciences.

Extract. “In addition to pointing out beneficial structural properties of networks, the theory of structural folds also builds on ideas presented by the French school of thought known as the economics of convention (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006). Representatives of the economics of convention school maintain that “economic exchange is only possible to the extent to which there is a pre-existing understanding (a ‘convention’) on the ‘quality’ of the exchanged goods and on the cognitive instruments that allow that quality to be measured” (Vatin 2013: 35). This means that arriving at a basic agreement on what counts as being valuable is a prerequisite for economic exchange to take place. However, there are obviously also instances of disagreement on issues of valuation. For example, is nature valuable to the extent that it can be measured in economic terms, or does it contain some inherent values that do not come down to economic growth? Boltanski and Thévenot (2006) argued that, when people disagree on what is valuable, they tend to rely on six or seven kinds of justifications to make their point. These include justifications that rely on inspiration, fame, the market, the environment, or on domestic (as in the family), industrial, or civic issues as criteria for judging what is deemed valuable. We won’t go through these value traditions in detail, but Boltanski and Thévenot (2006) traced the roots of each logic of justification to the history of philosophy and their study has spurred empirical analyses which, for example, compare value-based justifications used in different countries (Moody and Thévenot 2000; Ylä-Anttila and Luhtakallio 2016).” (p. 138-139)

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