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On the hard problem of selecting bundles of rules: a conceptual exploration of heuristic emergence processes

Fabrice L. Cavarretta (Department of Management, ESSEC Business School, Cergy, France)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 10 May 2021

Issue publication date: 17 August 2021




So far, the simplicity of heuristics has been mostly studied at the rule level. However, actors' bounded rationality implies that small bundles of rules drive behavior. This study thus conducts a conceptual elaboration around such bundling. This leads to reflections on the various processes of heuristic emergence and to qualifications of the respective characteristics of basic heuristic classes.


Determining which rules – out of many possible ones – to select in one's small bundle constitutes a difficult combinatorial problem. Fortunately, past research has demonstrated that solutions can be found in evolutionary mechanisms. Those converge toward bundles that are somewhat imperfect yet cannot be easily improved, a.k.a., locally optimal bundles. This paper therefore identifies that heuristic bundles can efficiently emerge by social evolutionary mechanisms whereby actors recursively exchange, adopt and perform bundles of rules constitute processes of heuristic emergence.


Such evolutionary emergence of socially calculated small bundles of heuristics differs from the agentic process by which some simple rule heuristics emerge or from the biological calculation process by which some behavioral biology heuristics emerge. The paper subsequently proceeds by classifying heuristics depending on their emergence process, distinguishing, on the one hand, agentic vs evolutionary mechanisms and, on the other hand, social vs biological encodings. The differences in the emergence processes of heuristics suggest the possibility of comparing them on three key characteristics – timescale, reflectivity and local optimality – which imply different forms of fitness.

Research limitations/implications

The study proceeds as a conceptual elaboration; hence, it does not provide empirics. At a microlevel, it enables classification and comparison of the largest possible range of heuristics. At a macrolevel, it advocates for further exploration of managerial bundles of rules, regarding both their dynamics and their substantive nature.

Practical implications

In the field, practitioners are often observed to socially construct their theory of action, which emerges as a bundle of heuristics. This study demonstrates that such social calculations provide solutions that have comparatively good qualities as compared to heuristics emerging through other processes, such as agentic simple rules or instinctive – i.e. behavioral biology – heuristics. It should motivate further research on bundles of heuristics in management practice. Such an effort would improve the ability to produce knowledge fitting the absorptive capacity of practitioners and enhance the construction of normative managerial theories and pedagogy.

Social implications

Bundles of rules may also play a crucial role in the emergence of collective action. This study contributes to a performativity perspective whereby theories can become reality. It demonstrates how the construction of a managerial belief system may amount to the launching of a social movement and vice versa.


Overall, many benefits accrue from integrating the bundles of rules expressed and exchanged by practitioners under the heuristic umbrella. So far, in management scholarship, such emergent objects have sometimes been interpreted as naïve or as indicative of institutional pressures. By contrast, this study shows that socially calculated bundles may efficiently combine the advantages of individuals' reflective cognitive processes with those provided by massive evolutionary exchanges. In conclusion, the social calculations of small heuristic bundles may constitute a crucial mechanism for the elaboration of pragmatic theories of action.



The author thanks Nathan Furr for his thoughtful and supportive participation in the emergence of this research program. So many others have helped me on this program that they cannot be cited all, yet their help is warmfully acknowledged.


Cavarretta, F.L. (2021), "On the hard problem of selecting bundles of rules: a conceptual exploration of heuristic emergence processes", Management Decision, Vol. 59 No. 7, pp. 1598-1616.



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