You are not currently logged in.

Access your personal account or get JSTOR access through your library or other institution:


Log in to your personal account or through your institution.

Structural Holes and Good Ideas

Ronald S. Burt
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 110, No. 2 (September 2004), pp. 349-399
DOI: 10.1086/421787
Stable URL:
Page Count: 51
Subjects: Sociology
  • Download PDF
  • Add to My Lists
  • Cite this Item
Structural Holes and Good Ideas
We're having trouble loading this content. Download PDF instead.


This article outlines the mechanism by which brokerage provides social capital. Opinion and behavior are more homogeneous within than between groups, so people connected across groups are more familiar with alternative ways of thinking and behaving. Brokerage across the structural holes between groups provides a vision of options otherwise unseen, which is the mechanism by which brokerage becomes social capital. I review evidence consistent with the hypothesis, then look at the networks around managers in a large American electronics company. The organization is rife with structural holes, and brokerage has its expected correlates. Compensation, positive performance evaluations, promotions, and good ideas are disproportionately in the hands of people whose networks span structural holes. The between‐group brokers are more likely to express ideas, less likely to have ideas dismissed, and more likely to have ideas evaluated as valuable. I close with implications for creativity and structural change.

Notes and References

This item contains 122 references.

  • ['Allen, Thomas J., and Saul Cohen. 1969. “Information Flow in R&D Labs.” Administrative Science Quarterly 14:12–19.']
  • ['Argote, Linda. 1999. Organizational Learning. Norwell, Mass.: Kluwer Academic.']
  • ['Argote, Linda, Bill McEvily, and Ray Reagans. 2003. “Introduction to the Special Issue on Managing Knowledge in Organizations: Creating, Retaining, and Transferring Knowledge.” Management Science 49:v–viii.']
  • ['Barley, Stephen R. 1990. “The Alignment of Technology and Structure through Roles and Networks.” Administrative Science Quarterly 35:61–103.']
  • ['Baum, Joel A. C., Tony Calabrese, and Brian S. Silverman. 2000. “Don’t Go It Alone: Alliance Network Composition and Startups’ Performance in Canadian Biotechnology.” Strategic Management Journal 21:267–94.']
  • ['Baum, Joel A. C., Andrew V. Shipilov, and Tim J. Rowley. 2003. “Where Do Small Worlds Come From?” Industrial and Corporate Change 12:697–725.']
  • ['Becker, Gary S., and Kevin M. Murphy. 1992. “The Division of Labor, Coordination Costs, and Knowledge.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 107:1137–60.']
  • ['Beckman, Christine M., and Pamela R. Haunschild. 2002. “Network Learning: The Effects of Partners’ Heterogeneity of Experience on Corporate Acquisitions.” Administrative Science Quarterly 47:92–124.']
  • ['Birner, Jack. 1999. “Making Markets.” Pp. 36–56 in Economic Organization and Economic Knowledge, edited by Sheila C. Dow and Peter E. Earl. Northhampton, Mass.: Edward Elgar.']
  • ['Blau, Peter M. 1977. Heterogeneity and Inequality. New York: Free Press.']
  • ['Bothner, Matthew S. 2003. “Competition and Social Influence: The Diffusion of the Sixth Generation in the Global Computer Industry.” American Journal of Sociology 108:1175–1210.']
  • ['Bothner, Matthew S., Toby E. Stuart, and Harrison C. White. 2003. “Status Differentiation and the Cohesion of Social Networks.” Working paper. Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago.']
  • ['Burt, Ronald S. 1982. Toward a Structural Theory of Action. New York: Academic Press.']
  • ['———. 1992. Structural Holes. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.']
  • ['———. 1997. “The Contingent Value of Social Capital.” Administrative Science Quarterly 42:339–65.']
  • ['———. 1999. “The Social Capital of Opinion Leaders.” Annals 566:37–54.']
  • ['———. 2000. “The Network Structure of Social Capital.” Pp. 345–423 in Research in Organizational Behavior, edited by Robert I. Sutton and Barry M. Staw. Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press.']
  • ['———. 2002. “The Social Capital of Structural Holes.” Pp. 148–92 in The New Economic Sociology, edited by Mauro F. Guillén, Randall Collins, Paula England, and Marshall Meyer. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.']
  • ['Caro, Robert A. 1982. The Path to Power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.']
  • ['Chandrasekhar, Subrahmanyan. (1975) 1987. “Shakespeare, Newton, and Beethoven, or Patterns of Creativity.” Pp. 29–58 in Truth and Beauty, edited by Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.']
  • ['Cohen, Wesley M., and Daniel A. Levinthal. 1990. “Absorptive Capacity: A New Perspective on Learning and Innovation.” Administrative Science Quarterly 35:128–52.']
  • ['Coleman, James S. 1990. Foundations of Social Theory. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.']
  • ['Collins, Randall. 1987. “A Micro‐Macro Theory of Intellectual Creativity: The Case of German Idealist Philosophy.” Sociological Theory 5:47–69.']
  • ['———. 1998. The Sociology of Philosophies. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.']
  • ['Czernich, Christian, and Chip Heath. 2001. “Toward a Theory of Variation in Idea‐Markets: Attracting ‘Eyeballs’ to Websites during the Dot‐Com Boom and Bust.” Working paper. Graduate School of Business, Stanford University.']
  • ['Dalzell, Robert F. 1987. Enterprising Elite. New York: W. W. Norton.']
  • ['Denzin, Norman K. 1969. “Symbolic Interactionism and Ethnomethodology: A Proposed Synthesis.” American Sociological Review 34:922–34.']
  • ['DiMaggio, Paul. 1992. “Nadel’s Paradox Revisited: Relational and Cultural Aspects of Organizational Structure.” Pp. 118–42 in Networks and Organizations, edited by Nitin Nohria and Robert G. Eccles. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.']
  • ['Durkheim, Émile. (1893) 1933. The Division of Labor in Society, translated by George Simpson. New York: Free Press.']
  • ['Feld, Scott L. 1981. “The Focused Organization of Social Ties.” American Journal of Sociology 86:1015–35.']
  • ['Fernandez, Roberto M., and Roger V. Gould. 1993. “A Dilemma of State Power: Brokerage and Influence in the National Health Policy Domain.” American Journal of Sociology 99:1455–91.']
  • ['Festinger, Leon, Stanley Schachter, and Kurt W. Back. 1950. Social Pressures in Informal Groups. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.']
  • ['Fleck, Ludwik. (1935) 1979. Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, translated by Fred Bradley and Thaddeus J. Trenn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.']
  • ['Fleming, Lee. 2002. “Finding the Organizational Sources of Technological Breakthroughs: The Story of Hewlett‐Packard’s Thermal Ink‐Jet.” Industrial and Corporate Change 11:1059–84.']
  • ['Geletkanycz, Marta A., and Donald C. Hambrick. 1997. “The External Ties of Top Executives: Implications for Strategic Choice and Performance.” Administrative Science Quarterly 42:654–81.']
  • ['Geroski, Paul, and Mariana Mazzucato. 2002. “Learning and the Sources of Corporate Growth.” Industrial and Corporate Change 11:623–44.']
  • ['Giuffe, Katherine A. 1999. “Sandpiles of Opportunity: Success in the Art World.” Social Forces 77:815–32.']
  • ['Granovetter, Mark S. 1973. “The Strength of Weak Ties.” American Journal of Sociology 78:1360–80.']
  • ['———. 2002. “A Theoretical Agenda for Economic Sociology.” Pp. 46–80 in The New Economic Sociology, edited by Mauro F. Guillén, Randall Collins, Paula England, and Marshall Meyer. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.']
  • ['Gulati, Ranjay. 1995. “Social Structure and Alliance Formation Patterns: A Longitudinal Analysis.” Administrative Science Quarterly 40:619–52.']
  • ['Gulati, Ranjay, and Martin Gargiulo. 1999. “Where Do Interorganizational Networks Come From?” American Journal of Sociology 104:1439–93.']
  • ['Hardy, G. H. 1940. A Mathematician’s Apology. New York: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Hargadon, Andrew B. 2002. “Brokering Knowledge: Linking Learning and Innovation.” Pp. 41–85 in Research in Organizational Behavior, vol. 24. Edited by Barry M. Staw and Roderick M. Kramer. Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press.']
  • ['Hargadon, Andrew B., and Robert I. Sutton. 1997. “Technology Brokering and Innovation in a Product Development Firm.” Administrative Science Quarterly 42:716–49.']
  • ['Hatch, Mary Jo. 1999. “Exploring the Empty Spaces of Organizing: How Improvisational Jazz Helps Redescribe Organizational Structure.” Organization Studies 20:75–100.']
  • ['Hayek, Friedrich A. 1937. “Economics and Knowledge.” Economica 5:33–54.']
  • ['———. 1945. “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” American Economic Review 35:519–30.']
  • ['Hudson, R. A. 1980. Sociolinguistics. New York: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Katz, Elihu, and Paul F. Lazarsfeld. 1955. Personal Influence. New York: Free Press.']
  • ['Kavolis, Vytautas. 1966. “Community Dynamics and Artistic Creativity.” American Sociological Review 31:208–17.']
  • ['Kish, Leslie, and Martin R. Frankel. 1974. “Inference from Complex Samples.” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A 36:1–37.']
  • ['Knoke, David. 2001. Changing Organizations. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.']
  • ['Kogut, Bruce. 2000. “The Network as Knowledge: Generative Rules and the Emergence of Structure.” Strategic Management Journal 21:405–25.']
  • ['Kogut, Bruce, and Gordon Walker. 2001. “The Small World of Germany and the Durability of National Networks.” American Sociological Review 66:317–35.']
  • ['Kogut, Bruce, and Udo Zander. 1992. “Knowledge of the Firm, Combinative Capabilities, and the Replication of Technology.” Organization Science 3:383–97.']
  • ['———. 1996. “What Firms Do? Coordination, Identity, and Learning.” Organization Science 7:502–18.']
  • ['Koput, Kenneth, and Walter W. Powell. 2003. “Organizational Growth and Alliance Capability: Science and Strategy in a Knowledge‐Intensive Industry.” Working paper. College of Business and Public Administration, University of Arizona.']
  • ['Kuhn, Thomas S. 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.']
  • ['Lamont, Michèle. 1987. “How to Become a Dominant French Philosopher: The Case of Jacques Derrida.” American Journal of Sociology 93:584–622.']
  • ['Lazega, Emmanuel, and Philippa E. Pattison. 2001. “Social Capital as Social Mechanisms and Collective Assets: The Example of Status Auctions among Colleagues.” Pp. 185–208 in Social Capital, edited by Nan Lin, Karen S. Cook, and Ronald S. Burt. Chicago: Aldine de Gruyter.']
  • ['Lin, Nan. 2002. Social Capital. New York: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['Llobrera, Joseph T., David R. Meyer, and Gregory Nammacher. 2000. “Trajectories of Industrial Districts: Impact of Strategic Intervention in Medical Districts.” Economic Geography 76:68–98.']
  • ['March, James G. 1991. “Exploration and Exploitation in Organization Learning.” Organization Science 2:71–87.']
  • ['Marsden, Peter V. 1987. “Core Discussion Networks of Americans.” American Sociological Review 52:122–31.']
  • ['———. 1990. “Network Data and Measurement.” Annual Review of Sociology 16:435–63.']
  • ['———. 2004. “Recent Developments in Network Measurement.” In Models and Methods in Social Network Analysis, edited by Peter J. Carrington, John Scott, and Stanley Wasserman. New York: Cambridge University Press.']
  • ['McEvily, Bill, and Alfred Marcus. 2002. “Embeddedness and the Acquisition of Competitive Capabilities.” Working paper. Graduate School of Industrial Administration, Carnegie Mellon University.']
  • ['McEvily, Bill, and Akbar Zaheer. 1999. “Bridging Ties: A Source of Firm Heterogeneity in Competitive Capabilities.” Strategic Management Journal 20:1133–56.']
  • ['McGuire, Patrick, and Mark Granovetter. In press. “The Social Construction of the Electric Utility Industry, 1878–1919.” In Constructing Industries and Markets, edited by Joe Porac and Marc Ventresca. New York: Pergamon.']
  • ['Meltzer, David. 2001. “Hospitalists and the Doctor‐Patient Relationship.” Journal of Legal Studies 30:589–606.']
  • ['Menon, Tanya, and Jeffrey Pfeffer. 2003. “Valuing Internal vs. External Knowledge: Explaining the Preference for Outsiders.” Management Science 49:497–513.']
  • ['Merton, Robert K. (1948) 1968a. “The Bearing of Empirical Research on Sociological Theory.” Pp. 156–71 in Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press.']
  • ['———. (1949) 1968b. “Patterns of Influence: Local and Cosmopolitan Influentials.” Pp. 441–74 in Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press.']
  • ['———. (1957) 1968c. “Continuities in the Theory of Reference Group Behavior.” Pp. 335–440 in Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press.']
  • ['Milgram, Stanley. 1967. “The Small World Problem.” Psychology Today 1:61–67.']
  • ['Mills, John Stuart. (1848) 1987. Principles of Political Economy. Fairchild, N.J.: Augustus M. Kelley.']
  • ['Mitchell, Lawrence E. 2003. “Structural Holes, CEOs, and Informational Monopolies: The Missing Link in Corporate Governance.” Working paper. Law School, George Washington University.']
  • ['Moreno, Jacob L. 1940. “Mental Catharsis and the Psychodrama.” Sociometry 3:209–43.']
  • ['———. 1955. “Theory of Spontaneity‐Creativity.” Sociometry 18:105–18.']
  • ['Morrison, Elizabeth Wolfe, and Frances J. Milliken. 2002. “Organizational Silence: A Barrier to Change and Development in a Pluralistic World.” Academy of Management Review 25:706–25.']
  • ['Morselli, Carlo. 2003. “Career Opportunities and Network‐Based Privileges in the Cosa Nostra.” Crime, Law, and Social Change 37:383–418.']
  • ['Nahapiet, Janine, and Sumantra Ghoshal. 1998. “Social Capital, Intellectual Capital, and the Organization Advantage.” Academy of Management Review 23:242–66.']
  • ['Northway, Mary L., and Margaret McCallum Rooks. 1955. “Creativity and Sociometric Status in Children.” Sociometry 18:194–201.']
  • ['Padgett, John F., and Christopher K. Ansell. 1993. “Robust Action and the Rise of the Medici, 1400–1434.” American Journal of Sociology 98:1259–1319.']
  • ['Phillips, Damon J., and Ezra W. Zuckerman. 2002. “Middle‐Status Conformity: Theoretical Restatement and Empirical Demonstration in Two Markets.” American Journal of Sociology 107:379–429.']
  • ['Planck, Max. (1949) 1968. Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group.']
  • ['Podolny, Joel M. 1993. “A Status‐Based Model of Market Competition.” American Journal of Sociology 98:829–72.']
  • ['———. 2001. “Networks as the Pipes and Prisms of the Market.” American Journal of Sociology 107:33–60.']
  • ['Pollock, Timothy G., Joseph F. Porac, James B. Wade. 2003. “Constructing Deal Networks: Brokers as Network Architects in the U.S. IPO Market and Other Examples.” Academy of Management Review 29:50–72.']
  • ['Portes, Alejandro. 1998. “Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology 24:1–24.']
  • ['Powell, Walter W., and Peter Brantley. 1992. “Competitive Cooperation in Biotechnology: Learning through Networks?” Pp. 366–94 in Networks and Organizations, edited by Nitin Nohria and Robert G. Eccles. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.']
  • ['Powell, Walter W., Kenneth W. Koput, and Laurel Smith‐Doerr. 1996. “Interorganizational Collaboration and the Locus of Innovation: Networks of Learning in Biotechnology.” Administrative Science Quarterly 41:116–45.']
  • ['Powell, Walter W., Kenneth W. Koput, Laurel Smith‐Doerr, and Jason Owen‐Smith. 1999. “Network Position and Firm Performance: Organizational Returns to Collaboration.” Pp. 129–60 in Research in the Sociology of Organizations, edited by Steven Andrews and David Knoke. Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press.']
  • ['Powell, Walter W., and Laurel Smith‐Doerr. 1994. “Networks and Economic Life.” Pp. 368–402 in The Handbook of Economic Sociology, edited by Neil J. Smelser and Richard Swedberg. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.']
  • ['Provan, Keith G., and H. Brinton Milward. 1995. “A Preliminary Theory of Interorganizational Network Effectiveness: A Comparative Study of Four Community Mental Health Systems.” Administrative Science Quarterly 40:1–33.']
  • ['Reagans, Ray, and Bill McEvily. 2003. “Network Structure and Knowledge Transfer: The Effects of Cohesion and Range.” Administrative Science Quarterly 48:240–67.']
  • ['Rees, Albert. 1966. “Information Networks in Labor Markets.” American Economic Review 56:559–66.']
  • ['Ruef, Martin. 2002. “Strong Ties, Weak Ties and Islands: Structural and Cultural Predictors of Organizational Innovation.” Industrial and Corporate Change 11:427–49.']
  • ['Schumpeter, Joseph A. (1912) 1934. The Theory of Economic Development, translated by Redvers Opie. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.']
  • ['———. 1947. “The Creative Response in Economic History.” Journal of Economic History 7:149–59.']
  • ['Sediatis, Judith. 1998. “The Alliances of Spin‐offs Versus Start‐ups: Social Ties in the Genesis of Post‐Soviet Alliances.” Organization Science 9:368–81.']
  • ['Shane, Scott, and Daniel Cable. 2002. “Network Ties, Reputation, and the Financing of New Ventures.” Management Science 48:364–81.']
  • ['Simmel, Georg. (1922) 1955. Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliations. New York: Free Press.']
  • ['Simonton, Dean Keith. 1984. Genius, Creativity, and Leadership. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.']
  • ['Smith, Adam. (1766) 1982. Lectures on Jurisprudence. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund.']
  • ['Sorenson, Olav, and Toby E. Stuart. 2001. “Syndication Networks and the Spatial Distribution of Venture Capital Investments.” American Journal of Sociology 106:1546–88.']
  • ['Stephan, Paula E., and Sharon G. Levin. 1992. Striking the Mother Lode in Science. New York: Oxford University Press.']
  • ['Stewart, Thomas A. 1996. “The Great Conundrum: You vs. the Team.” Fortune 134 (November): 165–66.']
  • ['Stigler, George J. (1982) 1986. “The Process and Progress of Economics.” Pp. 134–49 in The Essence of Stigler, edited by Kurt R. Leube and Thomas Gale Moore. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press.']
  • ['Stuart, Toby E. 1998. “Producer Network Positions and Propensities to Collaborate: An Investigation of Strategic Alliance Formations in a High‐Technology Industry.” Administrative Science Quarterly 43:668–98.']
  • ['Stuart, Toby E., Ha Hoang, and Ralph C. Hybels. 1999. “Interorganizational Endorsements and the Performance of Entrepreneurial Ventures.” Administrative Science Quarterly 44:315–49.']
  • ['Stuart, Toby E., and Joel M. Podolny. 1999. “Positional Causes and Correlates of Strategic Alliances in the Semiconductor Industry.” Pp. 161–82 in Research in the Sociology of Organizations, edited by Steven Andrews and David Knoke. Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press.']
  • ['Sutton, Robert I., and Andrew B. Hargadon. 1996. “Brainstorming Groups in Context: Effectiveness in a Product Design Firm.” Administrative Science Quarterly 41:685–718.']
  • ['Swedberg, Richard. 1990. Economics and Sociology. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.']
  • ['Tillman, Robert, and Michael Indergaard. 1999. “Field of Schemes: Health Insurance Fraud in the Small Business Sector.” Social Problems 46:572–90.']
  • ['Travers, Jeffrey, and Stanley Milgram. 1969. “An Experimental Study of the Small World Phenomenon.” Sociometry 32:425–43.']
  • ['Von Hippel, Eric. 1988. The Sources of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press.']
  • ['Walker, Gordon, Bruce Kogut, and Weijian Shan. 1997. “Social Capital, Structural Holes and the Formation of an Industry Network.” Organization Science 8:109–25.']
  • ['Watts, Duncan J. 1999. “Networks, Dynamics, and the Small‐World Phenomenon.” American Journal of Sociology 105:493–527.']
  • ['Watts, Duncan J., and Steven H. Strogatz. 1998. “Collective Dynamics of ‘Small‐World’ Networks.” Nature 393:440–42.']
  • ['White, Harrison C. 1993. Careers and Creativity. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.']
  • ['Williams, Phil. 1998. “The Nature of Drug‐Trafficking Networks.” Current History 97:154–59.']