Brokerage that works: Balanced triads and the brokerage roles that matter for innovation

Oscar Llopis, Pablo D'Este
Journal of product innovation management

A key premise in innovation literature suggests that individuals enabling contact between pairs of otherwise disconnected others (i.e., holding open triads) are more innovative, as they benefit from more opportunities for knowledge recombination. Such benefits also come with a cost, as conducting innovative action from open triads requires finding common ground to coordinate and integrate disparate knowledge and efforts from unconnected others. However, it is yet unclear which specific open triadic structures offer the greatest net value to facilitate individual innovativeness. We contribute to this debate by going beyond a homogeneous conceptualization of open triads, examining the relation between different brokerage roles and individual innovativeness. We theorize that some roles are more balanced than others in terms of access to knowledge novelty and integration costs. Specifically, we find that balanced open triads (gatekeepers and itinerant roles) are crucial to facilitate individual innovativeness, as compared to unbalanced open triads (coordinator and liaison roles). We also propose that brokers obtain the greatest innovation benefits from balanced open triads when they are embedded in institutional settings that are distant from knowledge applicability. We test our ideas through a large-scale study of 1.010 biomedical scientists.