Innovation Communication in Multicultural Networks: Deficits in Inter-cultural Capability and Affect-based Trust as Barriers to New Idea Sharing in Inter-Cultural Relationships

by Roy Y.J. Chua & Michael W. Morris

Overview — What makes sharing new ideas across cultural lines so difficult? Given that disclosing new ideas makes one person vulnerable to the other, innovation communication requires trust. The literature on workplace relationships distinguishes affect-based trust—feelings of socio-emotional bond with the other—and cognition-based trust—judgments of the other's reliability and competence. Recent organizational psychology research on capabilities needed to work across cultures has also identified affect-relevant strengths such as confidence and nonverbal communication. HBS professor Roy Y.J. Chua and Columbia Business School professor Michael W. Morris survey a sample of business executives with diverse professional networks, assessing their inter-cultural capability and measuring both kinds of trust as well as idea sharing in their working relationships. Key concepts include:

  • A diverse professional network is not sufficient for cultural idea exchange and cross-pollination. In the study, individuals with low inter-cultural capabilities did not share new ideas across inter-cultural ties due to deficits of affect-based trust, but not cognition-based trust.
  • Inter-cultural capability may be particularly predictive of affect-loaded interactions and relationships, such as mentoring an employee or inspiring an audience, rather than more intellectual tasks, such as evaluating performance.
  • Individual differences play a role in harnessing the power of multiculturalism for creativity.

Author Abstract

Innovative solutions to pressing global problems require effective inter-cultural communication. We propose that a barrier to the sharing of ideas pertinent to innovation in inter-cultural relationships is low affect-based trust, which arise from individuals' deficits in inter-cultural capability. Results from a study of sample of executives' professional networks indicate that individuals lower in inter-cultural capability are less likely to share new ideas in inter-cultural ties but not intra-cultural ties. This effect is mediated by tie-level affect-based trust but not cognition-based trust. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed. 21 pages.

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