Strong Ties as Sources of New Knowledge: How Small Firms Innovate through Bridging Capabilities


  • The authors are grateful to guest editor Massimo Colombo and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.

  • Sandor Lowik is a PhD candidate in innovation and knowledge management at the Netherlands Institute for Knowledge Intensive Entrepreneurship (NIKOS), University of Twente, The Netherlands.

  • Daan van Rossum is a master student in Business Administration at the University of Twente, The Netherlands.

  • Jeroen Kraaijenbrink is assistant professor in strategic management and entrepreneurship at NIKOS, University of Twente, The Netherlands.

  • Aard Groen is professor of innovative entrepreneurship and scientific director of NIKOS, University of Twente, The Netherlands.

Sandor Lowik, P.O. Box 217, 7500 AE Enschede, The Netherlands. Tel: +31(0)53 489 4513. E-mail:


While extant literature assumes an inverted U-shaped relationship between tie-strength and new knowledge acquisition, our study suggests a positive, curvilinear relationship. Our multiple case study shows that firms use specific relational capabilities—which we define “bridging capabilities”—to acquire new knowledge. These bridging capabilities mitigate the risk of overembeddedness in strong ties through increasing multiplexity, that is, through establishing and leveraging multiple relations within a single tie. Our findings suggest that small firms should invest more in the exploration of strong ties instead of increasing their weak tie network. Doing so helps them to reduce alliance complexity, thereby increasing alliance management efficiency and alliance ambidexterity.