Facts and Figuring: An Experimental Investigation of Network Structure and Performance in Information and Solution Spaces

J. Shore, E. Bernstein, D. Lazer
Organization Science
2015
April 27, 2015

Abstract

Using data from a  novel laboratory experiment on complex problem solving in which we varied the  structure of 16-person networks, we investigate how an organization’s  network structure shapes the performance of problem-solving tasks. Problem  solving, we argue, involves both exploration for information and exploration  for solutions. Our results show that network clustering has opposite effects  for these two important and complementary forms of exploration. Dense  clustering encourages members of a network to generate more diverse  information but discourages them from generating diverse theories; that is,  clustering promotes exploration in information space but decreases  exploration in solution space. Previous research, generally focusing on only  one of those two spaces at a time, has produced an inconsistent understanding  of the value of network clustering. By adopting an experimental platform on  which information was measured separately from solutions, we bring disparate  results under a single theoretical roof and clarify the effects of network  clustering on problem-solving behavior and performance. The finding both  provides a sharper tool for structuring organizations for knowledge work and  reveals challenges inherent in manipulating network structure to enhance  performance, as the communication structure that helps one determinant of  successful problem solving may harm the other.

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