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The World Is Not Small for Everyone: Inequity in Searching for Knowledge in Organizations

Author

Listed:
  • Jasjit Singh

    () (INSEAD, Singapore 138676)

  • Morten T. Hansen

    () (School of Information, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720; and INSEAD, Fontainebleau 77305, France)

  • Joel M. Podolny

    () (Apple Inc., Cupertino, California 95014)

Abstract

We explore why some employees may be at a disadvantage in searching for information in organizations. The "small-world" argument in social network theory emphasizes that people are, on average, only a few connections away from the information they seek. However, we argue that such a network structure does not benefit everyone: some employees may have longer search paths in locating knowledge in an organization--their world may be large. We theorize that this disadvantage is the result of more than just an inferior network position. Instead, two mechanisms--periphery status and homophily--jointly operate to aggravate the inefficiency of search for knowledge. Employees who belong to the periphery of an organization because of their minority gender status, lower tenure, or poor connectedness have limited awareness of who knows what and a lower ability to seek help from others best suited to guide the search. When they start a search chain, they are likely to engage in homophilous search by contacting colleagues like themselves, thus contacting others who also belong to the periphery. To search effectively, employees on the periphery need to engage in heterophilous search behaviors by crossing social boundaries. We find support for these arguments in a network field experiment consisting of 381 unfolding search chains in a large multinational professional services firm. The framework helps explain employees' unequal access to the knowledge they seek, a poorly understood yet important type of organizational inequity in an information economy.

Suggested Citation

  • Jasjit Singh & Morten T. Hansen & Joel M. Podolny, 2010. "The World Is Not Small for Everyone: Inequity in Searching for Knowledge in Organizations," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 56(9), pages 1415-1438, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:56:y:2010:i:9:p:1415-1438
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.1100.1201
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. George Huber, 1982. "Organizational Information Systems: Determinants of Their Performance and Behavior," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 28(2), pages 138-155, February.
    2. Jasjit Singh, 2005. "Collaborative Networks as Determinants of Knowledge Diffusion Patterns," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 51(5), pages 756-770, May.
    3. K. R. Narayanan, 1954. "Freedom in Modern Society," India Quarterly: A Journal of International Affairs, , vol. 10(4), pages 376-381, October.
    4. Stephen P. Borgatti & Rob Cross, 2003. "A Relational View of Information Seeking and Learning in Social Networks," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 49(4), pages 432-445, April.
    5. Waverly W. Ding & Sharon G. Levin & Paula E. Stephan & Anne E. Winkler, 2010. "The Impact of Information Technology on Academic Scientists' Productivity and Collaboration Patterns," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 56(9), pages 1439-1461, September.
    6. Jerker Denrell & Niklas Arvidsson & Udo Zander, 2004. "Managing Knowledge in the Dark: An Empirical Study of the Reliability of Capability Evaluations," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 50(11), pages 1491-1503, November.
    7. Melissa A. Schilling & Corey C. Phelps, 2007. "Interfirm Collaboration Networks: The Impact of Large-Scale Network Structure on Firm Innovation," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 53(7), pages 1113-1126, July.
    8. Joel A. C. Baum & Andrew V. Shipilov & Tim J. Rowley, 2003. "Where do small worlds come from?," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 12(4), pages 697-725, August.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Jasjit Singh & Ajay Agrawal, 2011. "Recruiting for Ideas: How Firms Exploit the Prior Inventions of New Hires," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 57(1), pages 129-150, January.
    2. repec:ibn:ibrjnl:v:11:y:2018:i:3:p:21-29 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Brendan Boyle & Stephen Nicholas & Rebecca Mitchell, 2016. "The Value of International Assignees’ Knowledge of Interpersonal Networks: Knowledge of People, Networks and Politics and Knowledge Flows in Multinational Enterprises," Management International Review, Springer, vol. 56(3), pages 425-454, June.
    4. repec:eee:respol:v:46:y:2017:i:5:p:1039-1054 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Maggitti, Patrick G. & Smith, Ken G. & Katila, Riitta, 2013. "The complex search process of invention," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 90-100.

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