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Exploration and Negative Feedback – Behavioral Learning, Escalation of Commitment, and Organizational Design

Organization Design

ISBN: 978-1-78756-330-8, eISBN: 978-1-78756-329-2

Publication date: 10 December 2018


How do organizations respond to negative feedback regarding their innovation activities? In this chapter, the authors reconcile contradictory predictions stemming from behavioral learning and from the escalation of commitment (EoC) perspectives regarding persistence under negative performance feedback. The authors core argument suggests that the seemingly contradictory psychological processes indicated by these two perspectives occur simultaneously in decision makers but that the design of organizational roles and reward systems affects their prevalence in decision-making tasks. Specifically, the authors argue that for decision makers responsible for an individual project, responses given to negative performance feedback regarding a project are dominated by self-justification and loss-avoidance mechanisms predicted by the EoC literature, while for decision makers responsible for a portfolio of projects, responses to negative performance regarding a project are dominated by an under-sampling of poorly performing alternatives that behavioral learning theory predicts. In addition to assigning decision-making authority to different organizational roles, organizational designers shape the strength of these mechanisms through the design of reward systems and specifically by setting more or less ambiguous goals, aspiration levels, time horizons of incentives provided, and levels of failure tolerance.




We would like to thank Oliver Baumann, Markus Becker, Michael Christensen, Timo Ehrig, the editor John Joseph, Ronald Klingebiel, Thorbjørn Knudsen, Jacob Lyngsie, Davide Marchiori, Hart Posen, and the two anonymous reviewers for comments and advice that have improved the chapter.


Keil, T., Kuusela, P. and Stieglitz, N. (2018), "Exploration and Negative Feedback – Behavioral Learning, Escalation of Commitment, and Organizational Design", Organization Design (Advances in Strategic Management, Vol. 40), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 147-176.



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