Social Distance and Knowledge Transformation: The Effects of Social Network Distance on Organizational Learning

Brandy Aven, Evelyn Ying Zhang

Sociological Science, December 15, 2016
DOI 10.15195/v3.a48

Abstract

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Organizations are increasingly adopting technologies to promote knowledge sharing across boundaries of specialized groups. Yet, prior research beginning with March (1991) suggests that such knowledge-sharing technologies actually inhibit organizational learning by reducing solution diversity. This line of reasoning stems from the prior literature’s assumption that the knowledge shared will be transferred from one member to another perfectly and without distortion. We challenge this assumption and argue, instead, that knowledge is often altered or transformed when it is shared between members and that the degree of this transformation increases as the social distance between the knowledge sender and receiver increases. Because the implementation of knowledge-sharing technologies encourages learning between members across greater social distances, it increases knowledge transformation. Thus, knowledge-sharing technologies present a new opportunity to diversify solutions and lead to innovation.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Brandy Aven: Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University
Email: aven@cmu.edu

Evelyn Ying Zhang: Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University
Email: yingzhang@cmu.edu

Acknowledgements: We are particularly grateful to Linda Argote for her extensive comments and suggestions. We also wish to thank all of the participants in the Strategy and Management Seminar Series at the Tuck School of Business, the Organizational Behavior and Theory Seminar at the Tepper School of Business, and the Carnegie School’s Organizational Learning Conference for the helpful suggestions and critiques. Please direct correspondence to Brandy Aven, Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University.

  • Citation: Aven, Brandy, and Evelyn Ying Zhang. 2016. “Social Distance and Knowledge Transformation: The Effects of Social Network Distance on Organizational Learning.” Sociological Science 3: 1103-1131.
  • Received: September 8, 2016
  • Accepted: October 28, 2016
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Olav Sorenson
  • DOI: 10.15195/v3.a48

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