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On the cognitive microfoundations of effectual design: the Situated Function–Behavior–Structure framework

Amir Emami (Faculty of Management, Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran)
Mark D. Packard (Department of Managerial Sciences, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, Nevada, USA)
Dianne H.B. Welsh (Bryan School of Business and Economics, University of North Carolina Greensboro, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 9 April 2020

Issue publication date: 20 May 2021




The purpose of this article is to extend effectuation theory at the front end by building cognitive foundations for the effectual design process.


We adopt an integrative conceptual approach drawing on design cognition theory to explain entrepreneurial cognition.


We find a significant gap in the entrepreneurial cognition literature with respect to effectuation processes. We thus integrate the Situated Function–Behavior–Structure framework from design theory to elaborate on the cognitive processes of effectuation, specifically with regard to the opportunity development process. This framework describes the cognitive subprocesses by which entrepreneurs means and ends are cyclically (re)formulated over time until a viable “opportunity” emerges, and the venture is formalized, or else, the entrepreneur abandons the venture and exits.”

Practical implications

Unravelling this entrepreneurial design process may facilitate more appropriate and effective design work by entrepreneurs, leading to more successful product designs. It also should facilitate the development of better design techniques and instruction.


This research contributes to new cognitive foundations for effectuation theory and entrepreneurial process research. It better explains how means are transformed into valuable goods over time through an iterative reconsideration of means-ends frameworks. This theoretical elaboration will expectedly facilitate additional research into the iterative cognitive processes of design and enable more formulaic design thinking.



Emami, A., Packard, M.D. and Welsh, D.H.B. (2021), "On the cognitive microfoundations of effectual design: the Situated Function–Behavior–Structure framework", Management Decision, Vol. 59 No. 5, pp. 953-972.



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