Edited by Koen Frenken
Chapter 7: Informational Complexity and the Flow of Knowledge Across Social Boundaries
7. Informational complexity and the ﬂow of knowledge across social boundaries Olav Sorenson, Jan W. Rivkin and Lee Fleming 1. INTRODUCTION Scholars from a variety of backgrounds – economists, sociologists, strategists and students of technology management – have sought a better understanding of why some knowledge disperses widely while other knowledge does not. In this quest, some researchers have focused on the characteristics of the knowledge itself (for example, Polanyi, 1966; Reed and DeFillippi, 1990; Zander and Kogut, 1995) while others have emphasized the social networks that constrain and enable the ﬂow of knowledge (for example, Coleman et al., 1957; Davis and Greve, 1997). This chapter examines the interplay between these two factors. Speciﬁcally, we consider how the complexity of knowledge and the density of social relations jointly inﬂuence the movement of knowledge. Imagine a social network composed of patches of dense connections with sparse interstices between them. The dense patches might reﬂect ﬁrms, for instance, or geographic regions or technical communities. When does knowledge diﬀuse within these dense patches circumscribed by social boundaries but not beyond them? Synthesizing social network theory with a view of knowledge transfer as a search process, we argue that knowledge inequality across social boundaries should reach its peak when the underlying knowledge is of moderate complexity.1 To test this hypothesis, we analyse patent data and compare citation rates across three types of social boundaries: within versus outside the ﬁrm, geographically near to versus far from the inventor, and internal versus external to...
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