This paper examines the impact of social capital on the quality of ideas generated by individuals at work. Two dimensions of social capital are investigated—the degree (i.e. size) of individuals' networks of ideation relations, and the structural holes (i.e. gaps between nodes) of those relations. Previous research has presented different and even conflicting empirical results concerning the effect of structural holes on innovation activities, and has not dealt specifically with the ideation phase of the innovation process. By drawing upon an idea database from a Swedish company that has worked systematically with idea management for an extensive period, this study investigates the interrelationship between social capital and ideation. The empirical study reveals that the larger the size of an individual's ego network, the higher is this individual's innovative performance in terms of high-quality ideas, whereas the larger the number of structural holes in an ego network, the lower is the quality of ideas generated by the individual in question. These findings support the conclusion that social capital, in terms of individuals' relationships with fellow employees within firms, has a positive influence on idea-generating behavior. Moreover, the results reveal that the presence of structural holes is negative for ideation performance, thus providing important new input to the recent debate on the interrelationship between structural holes and innovation in general.
- social capital