The importance of a social network for creativity

Having a wide network of informal acquaintances helps increase the inputs and influences vital to any creative thought process.

Scientific research indicates that most people have between four and seven close friends. This figure varies slightly between different countries and social categories. However, the number of acquaintances with whom people have a more remote relationship is extremely variable and is greatly influenced by their environment. People with the most acquaintances usually live in cities.

The advantage of a wide informal circle of acquaintances

People with a wide social network usually show more creativity. With this in mind, Martin Ruef, a sociologist at Princeton, studied 766 graduates from the Stanford Business School who had set up a business. Most of them had relatively few contacts, confining themselves to a small group of people with whom they shared common interests or who came from the same background.

But a small number had cultivated a wide informal social network. They would not hesitate to approach people they did not know at a conference or enter into a discussion with someone at the next table in a restaurant. These entrepreneurs were three times more innovative than their peers who had a smaller circle of friends. The inputs provided by their social network enabled them to come up with more original concepts and to move away from prevalent conformist thought, according to the researcher.

Communicating with colleagues

The sociologist Brian Uzzi from the Kellogg School of Management looked at communication between the traders of a large hedge fund using instant messaging. The researcher analyzed two million messages, posted over a period of 18 months. He found that the financial analysts who communicated the most with their colleagues had a higher success rate – they generated profits on over 70% of their investment positions, compared to the usual 55%.

Peaks in the exchange of messages generally occurred just after the announcement of important news by the press agency Bloomberg. The best-connected traders managed to accumulate as much information as possible by speaking to their colleagues and then used this to invest creatively and intelligently.

Being a small dense country promotes social connections

Some environments are more favorable than others to building a wide social network. A small country like Israel and, to a lesser extent, Switzerland, where most people working in the same sector know each other, promotes interaction. Israel is one of the most dense countries in the world, with an urbanization rate of 91%. Compulsory military service – everyone, men and women, has to complete two years’ service – encourages meetings with people from different backgrounds or who live on the other side of the country. As a result, in the last 10 years, Israel has produced more startups than Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and India.

Source: Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Last modification 29.06.2018

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