ONLINE: The effect of exploration and exploitation role orientation on dynamic knowledge networks



In this paper we examine how the way in which individuals view their work influences the types of networks that they build. We advance research on social network dynamics by theorizing how role orientation regrading exploration (i.e., pursuit of new knowledge for innovation) versus exploitation (i.e., making best use of existing knowledge for efficiency) affects how individuals change their knowledge networks. Prior research on network dynamics has been limited and where role orientation has been considered it has generally been cross-sectional and has focused on networks of innovators, with little examination of individuals that are striving for efficiency. We theorize and empirically test how three dynamic micro-network mechanisms—network position (centrality), dyadic reciprocity, and ego network structure (closure)—are influenced by exploration versus exploitation role orientation. We bring together ideas on social network dynamics and role orientation to build a theory of intraorganizational work-related social network dynamics. We test our ideas in a dataset comprising 120 employees at three time points in the research and development department of a large industrial company. We analyzed our data using the actor-based Simulation Investigation for Empirical Network Analysis (SIENA) modeling framework. Our results indicate that over time employees with high perceptions of exploration have a tendency to form more knowledge ties, make reciprocal knowledge ties, and a general tendency for open networks. They do, however, like to create closed networks with others that have high exploration role orientation. In contrast, employees with high exploitation role orientation have a tendency not to form reciprocal ties, but do have a preference for closed networks. We conclude with managerial implications and avenues for future research.