Network boundary spanners have been shown to be in a privileged position to generate innovation outcomes, yet it is unclear how they decide which contacts to rely on when. This paper posits that many boundary spanners will forgo the opportunities their structural position affords, as stronger identification with one of the two domains they span may lead them to predominantly mobilize network contacts in that domain, irrespective of the type of input specific situations may require. We argue that those with a high self-monitoring orientation, however, will overcome tendencies to have identity inform network choices, and will thus selectively mobilize contacts from both sides of the boundary. We test these predictions in the context of scientists with dedicated boundary-spanning roles between industry and academia who are expected to routinely draw on network resources on both sides of the “divide” to perform their jobs. Using a multi-study setup which includes two framed field experiments, we find support for our predictions. Our findings imply that it may not be sufficient for organizations seeking to promote the cross-fertilization of ideas to allocate individuals to boundary-spanning roles; they need to train and encourage their staff to identify with the domains at both sides of the boundary to enable selective network mobilization to help them leverage the potential from boundary spanning.
Anne ter Wal joined Imperial College Business School in 2009 and is Associate Professor of Technology and Innovation Management in the Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. His research, often in collaboration with leading multinational companies as well as start-ups, focuses on the role of networks in innovation and entrepreneurship. Specifically, Anne studies how individuals access new knowledge and ideas through networks within and between organizations and the challenges they face when seeking to apply these ideas to the creation of novel products and services. He leads a large-scale EU-funded research project titled "Networking for Innovation", studying how networking enables entrepreneurs and innovators to build valuable networks that help them achieve business and innovation success. He also has an interest in the management of creativity, in particular in the role of bootlegging and other deviant forms of creativity in driving innovative outcomes. Prior to joining Imperial College, Anne was a doctoral researcher at the Section of Economic Geography at Utrecht University. His work has been published in leading journals in geography, innovation studies and management, including Administrative Science Quarterly, Organization Science, Research Policy, Journal of Economic Geography, Economic Geography, Regional Studies and Industry & Innovation. Anne serves on the editorial board of the Academy of Management Journal.