Motivation in Knowledge-Sharing Networks

19 September 2008 at 8:10 am 2 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

Knowledge-sharing networks have become a huge research subject in various fields in management. Much of this work builds from applications of the work of Mark Granovetter or Ronald Burt. It probably represent the most potent sociological impact on management research over the last decade. Even strategic management — which has traditionally been strongly influenced, even dominated, by economics — has been influenced by this research. Prominent work has been done by Hansen (e.g., here and here), Tsai (e.g., here), and Reagans and McEvily (here) (and here is an excellent related paper by Obstfeld).

Most of this work treats motivation in a somewhat indirect manner, if at all. Implicitly, individuals that are placed in similar network positions are taken to give or receive knowledge to the same extent. This need not be the case, however, as individuals need to be motivated to seize opportunities, and motivation can differ across networks and employees. However, most studies of knowledge sharing in networks abstract from the role played by motivation. This may be partly justified to the extent that a network position translates directly into motivation. However, this should be treated as an empirical issue rather than as a starting point for analysis.

A recent paper [I suppress the title because we want to send the paper to a journal that does not want submitted manuscripts to be public] by my CBS/SMG colleague Torben Pedersen, my PhD student Mia Reinholt, and yours truly makes an attempt to introduce motivational assumptions (derived from the work of Deci and Ryan) into network arguments. We develop and test hypotheses about how motivation and network size influence the extent to which employees acquire knowledge from colleagues, how motivation moderates the impact of network size on the extent of acquired knowledge, and how this affects creative work performance.

Please mail me at if you want a copy.

Here is the abstract:

Many scholars argue that how an individual is situated in a network matters greatly to that individual’s acquisition of knowledge and learning. However, such research has not examined why individuals who are equally situated in networks do not always benefit equally much from this asset. Focusing on knowledge networks in firms, we argue that while large networks may provide employees with the opportunity to access new and diverse knowledge, they also need to be motivated to seize such opportunities. On the basis of 724 individual-level responses collected within a single firm, we test the effect of acquired knowledge on employees’ creative work performance, and the direct effects of network size and autonomous motivation on employees’ knowledge acquisition. We also examine the moderating role of autonomous motivation on the relation between network size and the acquisition of knowledge. Our results show that knowledge acquisition has positive effects on creative performance and that autonomous motivation is a decisive direct and indirect determinant of knowledge acquisition. Network size, on the other hand, needs to be combined with autonomous motivation to reach its full potency.

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).


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