Cognition and Strategy: Volume 32

Cover of Cognition and Strategy
Subject:

Table of contents

(24 chapters)
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Introduction

Pages xi-xxiv
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Abstract

This chapter reports on the “CEO’s-eye-view” of the 1990 financial crisis at Citibank using unique data from CEO John Reed’s private archives. This qualitative analysis sheds light on questions that have perennially plagued executives and intrigued scholars: How do organizations change routines in order to overcome inertia in the face of radical change in the environment? And, specifically, what is the role of the CEO in this process? Inertial behavior in such circumstances has been attributed to ingrained routines that are based on cognitive and motivational truces. Routines are performed because organizational participants find them to cohere to a particular cognitive frame about what should be done (the cognitive dimension) and to resolve conflicts about what gets rewarded or sanctioned (the motivational dimension). The notion of a “truce” explains how routines are “routinely” activated. Routines are inertial because the dissolution of the truce would be inconsistent with frames held by organizational participants and fraught with the risk of unleashing unmanageable conflict among interests in the organization. Thus, the challenge for the CEO in making intended change is both to break the existing truce and to remake a new one. In this study, I uncover how the existing organizational truce led to the crisis at Citibank, why Reed’s initial attempts to respond failed, and how he ultimately found ways to break out of the old truce and establish new routines that helped the bank survive. These findings offer insight into the cognitive and motivational microfoundations of macro theories about organizational response to radical change.

Abstract

Strategy scholars have long argued that breakthrough innovation is generated by recombining knowledge from distant domains. Even if firms have the ability to access and absorb knowledge from distant domains, however, they may fail to pay attention to such knowledge because it is seemingly irrelevant to their tasks. We draw attention to this problem of knowledge relevance and develop a theoretical model to illuminate how ideas from seemingly irrelevant (i.e., peripheral) domains can generate breakthrough innovation through the cognitive process of analogical reasoning, as well as the conditions under which this is more likely to occur. We situate our theoretical model in the context of teams in order to develop insight into the microfoundations of knowledge recombination within firms. Our model reveals paradoxical requirements for teams that help to explain why breakthrough innovation is so difficult.

Abstract

We examine the influence of the self-assessment and self-enhancement motives on the choice of comparison organizations in two experimental studies. Study 1 shows that: (1) self-assessment generally prevailed over self-enhancement, guiding decision makers to choose organizations that were more similar and had better performance; (2) self-enhancement was more pronounced under conditions of low performance, leading participants to more frequently choose organizations that were less similar and had lower performance; and (3) self-enhancing comparisons inhibited perceptions of failure and the propensity to make changes. Study 2 extends the results of Study 1 by showing that participants were more likely to choose comparison organizations that had lower performance and were less similar when they were in a self-enhancement mindset than when they were in a self-assessment mindset. The combined effects of self-assessment and self-enhancement on the choice of comparison organizations are discussed in relation to the broader organizational literature on learning from performance feedback.

Abstract

Market participants form conceptualizations of the products exchanged within product markets. Strategy scholars have begun to investigate how these product conceptual systems influence firm strategic behavior. Much of this work characterize these concepts as categories and theorize that the strategic implications derive from the potential penalties of not fitting into a category. This view has limitations in that it does not fully address the other cognitive tasks that concepts perform as well as other system-level characteristics of the conceptual systems. This chapter addresses these limitations by framing the use of concepts as part of the interpretive processes that enable market exchange. It develops a system-view of product concepts and then shows how the structure of the product categorical system influences the interpretation of product concepts. It introduces new mechanisms centered on cognitive processing that influence strategic action within product markets.

Abstract

We extend the literature on network perception by introducing a novel view of how this perception is structured. We propose the concept of Cognitive Aggregated Social Structures (CASS) as a framework to capture perceptions of opaque networks – that is, networks where relations are difficult to observe due to their features, their members, and the characteristics of the environment in which they operate. We argue that actors simplify their perception of opaque network structures via “chunking,” that is, by cognitively representing network ties as between categories of actors rather than between specific network members. We test the validity of the CASS construct and its predictive power by showing how these representations affect actors’ perceptions of relevant network outcomes. Using data from a major inter-organizational technology consortium, we show that perceived density among “chunks” in the knowledge transfer network is positively related to perceived consortium performance. Finally, we discuss the implications of our findings for the strategic management literature, highlighting potential contributions to strategic formulation and implementation, category emergence, industry evolution, and cognitive barriers to entry.

Abstract

Expertise in designing organizations is an important construct for scholars interested in studying the micro-foundations of organizational performance. We investigate the existence and nature of this expertise in this chapter. Conceptualizing the designing of organizations as a problem-solving process, we describe the underlying structure of this problem space. Further, we propose that this process of problem solving should look different for “greenfield” design problems and for “brownfield” redesign problems. We test our arguments through a comparison of the think-aloud verbal protocols of 16 subjects with greater experience with organization design problems (experts) and 16 subjects with significantly lower experience with organization design problems (novices). The results suggest that the parts of the problem that experts focus on are different from those that novices focus on, and expertise matters differently for design and redesign problems.

Abstract

Entrepreneurial orientation (EO) plays an important role in explaining firm performance. In this study, we investigate the relation between EO and performance at the strategic business unit (SBU) level and examine the influence of decision-making mode and social capital of the focal business unit manager. Adopting the attention-based view (ABV) as our main theoretical perspective, we examine the impact of decision-making mode (i.e., participative vs. autocratic) on the EO–performance relation. In addition, we investigate the extent to which strong network ties with actors at lower, similar, and higher hierarchical positions, respectively, enable SBU managers to effectively engage in participative decision-making processes when leveraging EO. Our findings based on 119 SBUs of one large international company provide nuanced insights into how local conditions interact to shape EO’s influence on performance.

Abstract

The growth of research on the cognitive origins of market performance has focused on the impact of categories as a primary cognitive mechanism by which exchange occurs. In this research, performance outcomes are typically reduced when firms and products fail to meet audiences’ expectations about membership into categories. The ensuing literature has focused on spanning categories as evidence of not meeting audience expectations while largely ignoring the specific study of expectations themselves. This chapter argues that expectations for market behavior are important in their own right, and can impact market outcomes even when categorical boundaries are respected. Using the market for engagement rings as a setting, I show how lack of adherence to expectations can both increase and decrease market value even as the engagement rings adhere to categorical boundaries. Rather than simply focusing on category spanning as evidence that audience expectations have not been met, the findings suggest that expectations should be considered explicitly, with implications for competitive strategy.

Abstract

The attention-based view (ABV) of the firm highlights the role of decision makers’ attention in firm behavior. The ABV vastly improves our understanding of decision makers’ focus of attention; how that focus is situated in an organization’s procedural and communication channels; and how the distribution of the focus of attention among decision makers participating in those procedural and communication channels affects their understanding of a situation, their motivation to act, and, ultimately, their behavior. Significant progress has been made in recent years in refining and extending the ABV. However, the role of individual differences in the capacity to read other people’s desires, intentions, knowledge, and beliefs – that is, the theory of mind (ToM) – has remained on the sidelines. The ToM is a natural complement to the ABV. In this study, we explore how the ToM allows for an understanding of the advantage that organizations have over markets within the ABV.

Abstract

Although two decades have passed since the publication of Walsh and Ungson’s (1991) seminal article on organizational memory, there has been only limited theoretical elaboration and application of this critical aspect of cognition in the strategic management literature. We remedy this gap by advancing the construct of competitive memory, which we define as a firm’s dynamic capability consisting of stored information from its past competitive interaction with a given rival that can be brought to bear on present or future competitive actions. We theorize that competitive memory is composed of both procedural and declarative elements and can be accessed automatically and deliberatively. Additionally, we suggest that competitive memory is relational: As rivals within a competitive set interact in the market, competitive memory drives not only their strategic actions, but also their expectations about their competitors. Last, competitive memory is also dynamic, which can be constructed and reconstructed over time by an organization’s enactment of its internal and external environments and by purposive memory trials with its competitive set.

Abstract

This chapter explores the phenomenon of managerial overoptimism, focusing on the cognitive underpinnings of the mechanisms that generate this bias. It develops a formal model of probability estimation that is inspired by the biological (cognitive neuroscience) evidence on associative information processing in the brain. The model is able to make novel, testable predictions about managerial overoptimism. It is able to parse out three mechanisms that could lead to overoptimism, as well as predict boundary conditions on when these effects should be observed and when the opposite (a pessimistic bias) should be observed instead. Furthermore, it predicts that under certain conditions, attempts by managers to “debias” their estimates might exacerbate the overoptimistic bias.

Abstract

This chapter discusses the practical challenges and opportunities involved in merging the two fields of cognitive neurosciences and strategic management, starting from the premise that the need to marry them is justified by their complementarities, as opposed to the level of analysis on which they both focus. We discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks of using methods borrowed from cognitive neurosciences for management research. First, we argue that there are clear advantages in deploying techniques that enable researchers to observe processes and variables that are central to management research, with the caveat that neuroscientific methods and techniques are not general-purpose technologies. Second, we identify three core issues that specify the boundaries within which management scholars can usefully deploy such methods. Third, we propose a possible research agenda with various areas of synergy between the complementary capabilities of management and neuroscience scholars, aiming to generate valuable knowledge and insight for both disciplines and also for society as a whole.

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Abstract

We return to the problem that motivated the original behavioral theory of the firm, price adjustment, but from the standpoint of post-Carnegie School perspectives on cognition, attention, and routines. Whereas work in the Carnegie School tradition has tended to develop models of firms in opposition to economic theory, we seek to understand how economic ideas are used to shape decision processes. Using a combination of interview, observational, and archival data gathered at a large manufacturing firm that produced parts to maintain machinery, we develop a behaviorally plausible story of how organizations shape price adjustment. We follow three successive waves of managers seeking to improve the pricing routines through shifting attentional perspective, managing attentional engagement, and structuring attentional execution. We demonstrate how managers redesign routines to shape cognition and attention, thereby developing greater coherence in the market representations of the sales force. Our findings show how reshaping cognition and attention in pricing routines can improve organizational intelligence in pricing decisions. Economists treat markets as the ideal – the best that can be imagined – and organizations as second-best options – the best that can be achieved, but our findings invert the story, suggesting that in modern market economies, organizations and routines are essential to making the price system work.

Abstract

This study examines the effects of organizational attention on technological search in the multibusiness firm. We argue that attentional specialization and coupling, or (respectively) attention given to problems within and across units, affect a unit’s ability to engage in distant and local search by shaping how problems are perceived and addressed. We test this theory by applying a probabilistic topic model to all Motorola patents issued from 1974 to 1997, thus identifying and measuring attention to technical problems. Our results suggest that (a) subunits with specialized attention are not myopic but instead explore broadly and (b) tight attentional coupling across units increases the breadth of search. This study contributes to attention-based views of the firm and to studies on organizational design and search.

Abstract

Strategic option generation is a fundamental step in strategy formulation. Several lenses have been proposed to explain its foundations, including the microeconomics positioning school, and the resource and capabilities based view of the firm. These approaches are largely based on inductive and deductive logics, which are not the logics that provide strategic options that are potentially novel, profitable, and largely differentiated from competitive offerings. In this chapter, we propose a unifying framework of the cognitive foundations of strategic option generation. Building on five fundamental cognitive acts – imitation, framing, analogical reasoning, abductive reasoning, and mental simulation, this proposed model both synthesizes the extant literature and provides guidance about promising avenues for future theoretical and empirical research.

Abstract

Past theorizing and empirical work suggest that long-standing strategic leaders generate harmful attention and information-processing effects in their organizations, which in turn impair organizational learning and performance. In contrast, our argument is that longevity and its attendant inertia foster useful transformational and strategic persistence for organizations pursuing stretch goals. Through attentional vigilance and restricted focus, inertia may create the cognitive profile necessary for effective learning when organizations pursue the seemingly impossible. We empirically examine our ideas in the context of the French royal navy and the naval battles it had with the British in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. More specifically, we focus on two distinct but related stretch periods during which the French royal navy was tasked with building a powerful naval force and using it to gain naval supremacy over Great Britain. Given its exceptionally weak starting position at the beginning of the two studied periods and its desire to displace the established and advantaged navy of the era, the French had a lofty task. Our results are supportive of the stability argument, with leader longevity and inertia being positive for outcomes.

Abstract

Developments in the social neurosciences over the past two decades have rendered problematic the main knowledge elicitation techniques currently in use by strategy researchers, as a basis for revealing actors’ mental representations of strategic knowledge. Extant elicitation techniques were advanced during an era when cognitive scientists and organizational researchers alike were preoccupied with the basic information of processing limitations of decision makers and means of addressing them, predicated on an outmoded conception of strategists as affect-free, cognitive misers. The need to adapt these techniques to enable the investigation of the emotional content and structure of actors’ mental representations is now a pressing priority for the advancement of theory, research, and practice pertaining to several interrelated areas of strategic management, from dynamic capabilities development, to upper echelons theory, to strategic consensus formation. Accordingly, in this chapter, we report the findings of two studies that investigated the feasibility of adapting the repertory grid, a robust method, widely known and well used in strategic management, for this purpose. Study 1 elicited a series of commonly mentioned strategic issues (the elements) from a sample of senior managers similar in composition to the sample recruited to the second study. Study 2 participants evaluated the elements elicited in Study 1 in relation to a series of researcher-supplied bipolar attributes (the constructs), based on the well-known affective circumplex model of human emotions. In line with expectations, a series of vector-based multivariate analyses revealed a number of interesting similarities and variations among participants in terms of the basic structure and emotional salience of the issues under consideration.

Abstract

To explain the origin of novel strategies I elaborate the managerial judgment perspective as an alternative to the serendipity and managerial foresight views on the origin of novel strategies proposed in the earlier literature. The managerial judgment perspective closely integrates resource-based theories and theories of managerial cognition. It builds centrally on the construct of “management’s theory of success” as a representation of managers’ beliefs and expectations concerning the factors that lead to desired outcomes in the light of Knightean uncertainty and that is formed through learning from small samples over time. The managerial judgment perspective may be seen as a theory that explains the formation of strategies independently from their eventual performance, but may also shed light on the cognitive antecedents of superior performance. It also argues for a conception of strategic agency in terms of ecological rationality.

Cover of Cognition and Strategy
DOI
10.1108/S0742-3322201532
Publication date
2015-08-19
Book series
Advances in Strategic Management
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78441-946-2
eISBN
978-1-78441-945-5
Book series ISSN
0742-3322