In innovation studies the image of the sole creator is outdated for a long time now. The primeval form of an innovation, the creative idea, is generated by individuals or groups positioned in networks of social relations (Simonton 2000)

The social side of creativity is constitutive in creative processes, although it has been neglected in research for a very long time. However, during the last decades contextual aspects of creativity have come into focus (Moran 2010). The importance of the social context in creativity has led scholars to find out about the importance of social networks and in that respect the influence of social ties on creative behavior.

Granovetters (1973) theory on ‘the strength of weak ties’ within social networks has been the basis for some work done in this field. Concerning creativity it seems that the strength of weak ties is that they often function as bridges between different social groups in order to provide access to novel and non-redundant information and thus facilitate creativity without bearing the risk of conformity (Brass 1995, Perry-Smith & Shalley 2003). However the number of weak ties does not in itself facilitate creativity. Too many ties might be a threat as well, if e.g. information overload makes it impossible to filter the ‘right’ information (ibid.; Zhou, Shin & Brass et al. 2009). Moreover, it needs to be asked how individuals utilize their network ties:

A recent paper by Kim, Shin, Shin & Miller (2016) in the Journal of Creative Behavior addresses the role of individual differences within the topic social networks and individual creativity. They criticize that:

“[…] scholars have neglected the ways that other characteristics may moderate the relationship between social interactions and creativity” (p. 2)

They argue that making use of such ties depends on different personal components of the individual in that network as well as the role he or she fills in that context. For their argumentation they propose a conceptual model based among others on componential theories of creativity (see esp. Amabile 1988) and related to that on individual differences in the theory of organizational creativity by Woodman et al. (1993).They finally focus on four individual differences that relate to their minds to individual creativity (Kim et al. 2016):

  • openness to experience
  • domain knowledge
  • cognitive style
  • intrinsic motivation

What we basically learn: Creativity is a complex construct and the strength or the position within a social network does not per se indicate the level of creativity. We might estimate how many weak ties are needed to get an optimum of information, but we cannot say if this bulk of information is utilized in an appropriate way. There is no creative environment in itself, but the individual’s personality makes it in the end a facilitating or hampering one. Creative products are – as we already know from previous research in the field of creativity – the result of creative behavior as a function of person and (social) environment. This is basically not new but rather a fundamental issue in social psychology.

Besides the theoretical implications, this perspective might have some interesting practical implications as well. Kim et al. (2016) state e.g., that managers should consider employees’ individual characteristics when asking them to be creative or even already in the stage or hiring and staffing (p.11). With a view to the immense field of idea creation, more practical implications can be added. Looking e.g. on the market for online idea creation resp. ‘crowdcreation’ (creative crowdsourcing) we see numerous communities having established. Only little is known about the creative aspect in online idea generation. If we find out more about creative processes in this area, we might find better ways to facilitate idea generation. For this purpose, scholars and practitioners need to learn more about the complexity of creative processes.


Amabile, T. M. (1988): A model of creativity and innovation in organizations. Research in Organizational Behavior, 10, 123-167.

Brass, D. J. (1995): Creativity: It’s all in your social network. In C.M. Ford & D.A. Giosa (ed.): Creative action in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 94-99.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The Strength of Weak Ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), 1360–1380.

Kim, S. K., Shin, S. J., Shin, J. and Miller, D. R. (2016): Social Networks and Individual Creativity: The Role of Individual Differences. The Journal of Creative Behavior. doi: 10.1002/jocb.153

Moran, S. (2010): The Roles of Creativity in Society. In: Kaufman, J.C. u. Sternberg, R.J. (Hg.): The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge et al.: Cambridge University Press, 74-90.

Perry-Smith, J. E., & Shalley, C. E. (2003). The Social Side of Creativity: A Static and Dynamic Social Network Perspective. The Academy of Management Review, 28(1), 89.

Simonton, D. K. (2000): Creativity. Cognitive, Personal, Developmental, and Social Aspects. American Psychologist, 55 (1), 151-158.

Woodman, R.W., Sawyer, J.E., Griffin, R.W. (1993): Toward a Theory of Organizational Creativity. The Academy of Management Review, 18 ( 2), 293-321.

Zhou, J., Shin, S. J., Brass, D. J., Choi, J., & Zhang, Z.-X. (2009). Social networks, personal values, and creativity: Evidence for curvilinear and interaction effects. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(6), 1544–1552.


Anja Solf

Anja Solf

Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Fachgebiet Medien- und Kommunikationsmanagement an der Technischen Universität Ilmenau.

Ihre kreative Ader lebt Anja nicht nur privat, sondern auch im Job aus: In Lehre und Forschung beschäftigt sie sich mit kreativen Prozessen in der Online-Ideengenerierung. Themen wie Crowdsourcing, Kundenintegration und User Innovation gehören zu ihren Schwerpunkten. Ansätze der Kreativitätsforschung in Kombination mit Theorien und Methoden der Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie helfen ihr, diese Konzepte zu entwirren und werfen im Gegenzug eine Menge Fragen auf: So z.B. warum Ideenwettbewerbe Erfolg versprechen, wenn sie Kreativität hemmen?
Anja Solf