The question of how social networks influence flow of knowledge is not new.
Yet there have been relatively few studies rigorously examining this link
in the context of geographic patterns of knowledge flow.
My paper was one of the early contributions systematically using rich
individual-level data (on inventors of patents) to examine the link between
interpersonal ties (that inventors form through collaboration) and the
subsequent patterns of knowledge flow.
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
The basic idea behind the paper is a straightforward synthesis of two
important streams of research, which have in the past evolved somewhat
On the one hand, studies on social networks have emphasized flow of
knowledge through such networks without caring too much about the dimension
of geography in looking at this link.
On the other hand, studies examining geographic patterns of knowledge flow
(particularly showing a geographic localization of it) have, for the most
part, not directly examined the role of the underlying networks. My paper
was an attempt to more closely connect these two streams of literature.
Would you summarize the significance of your paper
in layman's terms?
"...my hope is to complement this research with other
research methods to move towards providing more definitive
prescriptions at some stage."
The conceptual point is very simple. The reason information or knowledge
flow tends to be restricted within regional and firm boundaries is that
people within a geographic region and/or within the same firm tend to be
better connected in the underlying social networks (i.e., are a shorter
While my paper is not the first to make this claim conceptually, its real
contribution is examining this empirically in a rigorous way.
How did you become involved in this research and
were any particular problems encountered along the way?
This paper is largely an outcome of my Ph.D. research done at
Harvard—as a student in Business Economics. I found this research
area conceptually really interesting, but also intellectually fun since I
was also able to use my prior Computer Science education (from IIT-Delhi
and Georgia Tech-Atlanta) to deal with the algorithmic challenges of
working with a network graph comprised of almost two million individuals!
Where do you see your research leading in the
I am continuing to work on several related themes at INSEAD.
In one project (jointly working with Lee Fleming from HBS and Matt Marx
from MIT), I am looking at disentangling the extent to which the effects of
geography on knowledge flow are explained best as the effect of distance,
of political or regional boundaries, or of social connectedness.
In another project (jointly working with Ajay Agrawal from the University
of Toronto), I am examining the role of geographic agglomeration and
technological diversity of inputs in generating high-impact innovations.
In yet another project (jointly working with Morten Hansen from the
University of California, Berkeley, and Joel Podolny from Apple), I am
specifically looking at differences between different kinds of individuals
in their ability to leverage networks to access information within firms.
All my research papers are available
online for anyone who is interested.
Do you foresee any social or political
implications for your research?
Definitely. But I work with secondary databases. And extrapolating from
imperfect measures as well as lack of random assignment in such databases
to make normative prescriptions can also be hazardous, so I am always
cautious in drawing implications for practice.
Nevertheless, my hope is to complement this research with other research
methods to move towards providing more definitive prescriptions at some
stage. But I am not there yet!
Jasjit Singh, Ph.D.
Department of Strategy