Social Networks in the Front End: The Organizational Life of an Idea Defended on Friday, 11 May 2007

An effective front end (FE) of the new product development (NPD) process is important for innovative performance in companies. To date the NPD literature has mainly focused on the selection process of ideas and very little on the processes that take place before selection. This study aims to fill this gap by focusing on the social dynamics around ideas for new products in the FE. We do so by conducting a longitudinal in-depth study on the social dynamics around 18 ideas. In the first part of this study we focus on the social network of an idea, i.e. the people discussing the idea with each other, and the effect on the adoption of that idea. The results confirm existing views on the importance of large and diverse networks and extend existing insights by showing the importance of strong ties, increased density and involvement of senior management. In the second part we look at how the social networks in the FE are built up and how this is affected by both the formal organizational and network structure itself. The results for this part show that people working on a creative initiative interact more intensively in triads with ‘close friends’ and people they have previously worked with in projects, suggesting that the positive effects associated with such relations, such as psychological safety and communication effectiveness, outweighs the possible adverse effects of a lack of diversity. Implications for management could include stimulating employees to use social networks to further develop ideas possibly introducing formal guidelines, using project-rotation to build networks and reconsider recruitment policies.


Social networks, front end, new product development, ideas, network dynamics, R&D, creativity, innovation, tie strength

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