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R. Bridgstock, G. Hearn

Queensland University of Technology (AUSTRALIA)
Modern ‘creative’ economies can be argued to possess a number of distinctive characteristics. First, they are characterised by the drive to innovate through the creation of new knowledge, and the deployment of this new knowledge in valued ways. Second, innovation as just defined often involves the combination of disparate knowledge regimes, particularly from the scientific, technical, creative/cultural and business disciplines. Our point of departure here is that this generation and combination of knowledge in the creative economy occurs via social networks.

The importance of the social sphere to economic activity has been discussed extensively. Granovetter (2005) more specifically outlined multiple methods by which social networks underpin economic activity - through the reinforcement of social norms that govern economic behaviour; transmission of labour market and job information and resources; productivity effects within the value chain; and facilitation of innovation capacity.

On an individual level, networking involves the development and maintenance of personal and professional relationships with others for the purpose of mutual benefit in their work or career (Forret & Dougherty, 2001). We argue here that social networking capabilities are those required to perform the networking functions described. Further, we suggest that these capabilities also involve an understanding of the nature and distinctive characteristics of social networks, and what McWilliam & Dawson (2008) refer to as ‘network agility’ - the ability to develop and navigate social networks in a strategic and enterprising manner.

While much has been written about the network mechanisms responsible for generating social capital, and the strength and groupings of connections among individuals within networks (e.g., Burt, 2000), less is known about the qualitative aspects of these relationships (for instance, the exact nature of skill and resource flows between people), and how individuals can develop ‘optimal’ social networks for success in innovative careers (cf Seibert, Kraimer & Liden, 2001). In addition, relatively few studies document social networking capabilities or how individuals might develop these capabilities.

Our paper draws upon findings from a grounded study of the careers of high flying early-to-mid career professionals in the science, technology and creative industries sectors in Australia. We conducted in-depth interviews to explore the extent, nature and development of the innovators’ social networks and the roles that social relationships took in their career paths to date. We employed an analytic induction approach to develop theories regarding the social networking capabilities necessary for productive and innovative social networks. Our research also explores how formal and informal educational experiences contribute to the growth of such capabilities.

We discuss our findings in the light of an apparent gap in educational provision relating to student social networking capabilities, and conclude by suggesting some ways in which formal education might contribute to skill development for social networking and career success in the innovation economy.