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Marketers increasingly use online product ideation communities whereby consumers suggest ideas for new products and for improving existing products. These communities allow consumers to see others’ ideas and potentially be influenced by them in a social networking environment. This paper examines the efficacy of this approach by examining how the structure of a consumer’s social network of “inspirations” (other consumers) affects their ability to generate innovative ideas. Having many connections (higher degree) affords one with many potential sources of inspiration, which could prove helpful. However, this depends on how interconnected one’s sources of inspiration are (clustering or egocentric density). Across six experiments involving real-time networked product ideation for three different products, the authors show that having higher degree only helps one’s ability to generate innovative product ideas when their network neighbors are relatively independent of each other (lower clustering). This is because higher clustering makes individuals more interdependent, which in turn makes it more likely that their ideas socially converge to a narrowly defined set of concepts, which stifles innovativeness. Clustering also reduces innovativeness by making it easier for mediocre, lower-innovativeness ideas to spread.
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