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Living in a Fish Bowl or Not? The Role of Transparency and Privacy in Creative Dialogues on Enterprise Social Media

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posted on 2024-04-03, 20:36 authored by Wietske Van Osch, Burcu BulgurcuBurcu Bulgurcu, Yuyang Liang

Transparency—the observability of activities, behaviors, and performance—has become the panacea of modern management. Yet, there is a conundrum in the literature with some studies suggesting transparency and others suggesting privacy may benefit group creativity. A similar conundrum exists regarding the effects of different social capital types—structural holes versus network cohesion on group creativity. Enterprise Social Media (ESM) provide a unique opportunity to solve these conundrums by allowing groups to be “transparent”— non-group members can observe and/or participate in group activities—or “private”— group members and activities are hidden from the community—and enabling groups to develop distinct social capital structures. Using data from 28,083 written interactions produced by 109 transparent and 106 private groups in an ESM of a multinational design firm, we find strong support for our contingency hypotheses that both transparent and private groups may produce high levels of creative dialogues, yet, in different forms. Specifically, expansion-focused creative dialogues—those focused on combining or expanding existing concepts—emerge in transparent groups, but only when the group’s social capital is characterized by structural holes. Conversely, reframing-focused dialogues—those focused on challenging and rethinking—emerge in private groups, but only when the group’s social capital is characterized by network cohesion. Theoretically, these findings help solve the conundrums in the literature on group creativity and shed light on the role of ESM use in this context. Practically, our findings offer a critical reflection onto contemporary initiatives for increasing transparency, whether through physical design or digital transformation. 

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