Theses Doctoral

Cultural Brokerage and Creativity: How Individuals’ Bridging of Cultural Holes Affect Creativity

Choi, Yoonjin

Creativity often involves combining existing ideas and knowledge in novel ways. As such, individuals’ access to diverse information and knowledge via social networks has been considered an important determinant of creativity. In this dissertation, I propose another factor to explain why some individuals are more likely than others to generate creative ideas: their ability to bridge disconnected cultural frames inside their organization. I draw on the cultural holes argument (Pachucki & Breiger, 2010) that cultural frames are connected through the persons that employ them (DiMaggio, 1987), and disconnections between cultural frames (i.e., cultural holes) can inhibit the exchange of ideas and knowledge among individuals. Thus, I conceptualize organization’s culture as a cultural network where the nodes represent the cultural frames its members use and the connections between two nodes represent the overlap of their users. I argue that while cultural holes inside an organization can present barriers for the exchange of ideas and information for those that do not share cultural referents, they also create opportunities for generating novel ideas for those that can bridge them. Bridging cultural holes, or cultural brokerage, enables individuals to utilize a wider range of information that is available, and recognize opportunities and combinations of information that others may not be able to see. The heart of this dissertation is this notion that individuals’ position in the cultural network and the patterns of cultural frames they use affect the diversity of information and knowledge they can process and as a result, their ability to generate creative ideas. In Chapters 3 and 4, I test this theory in two very different contexts: (1) an e-commerce company located in South Korea; and (2) two executive MBA groups at a U.S. university. I employ novel methods for measuring individuals’ use of culture and map out the cultural networks as well as the cultural holes inside the organizations. In both studies, controlling for social network brokerage and cultural fit, I find that cultural brokerage leads to the generation of creative ideas. More specifically, individuals who use loosely connected cultural frames were more likely to generate creative ideas compared to those that use cultural frames that are cohesively connected. In Chapter 5, I explore the question of who becomes cultural brokers with data collected from the two studies introduced in Chapters 3 and 4. I find both personal and contextual factors that are associated with cultural brokerage. Overall, these findings provide insight into how individuals’ different use of their organization’s culture affect the diversity of information they can utilize inside the organization and as a result, their ability to generate creative ideas.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ingram, Paul L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 19, 2018