Monday, April 07, 2008

The social cognitive neuroscience of business organizations

Jumping on the bandwagon of getting cognitive neuroscience into business and marketing, there is a special issue of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences which offers one open access article by Klein and D'Desposito, "Neurocognitive Inefficacy of the Strategy Process." Their abstract (written in business-speak gobbledegook, but content can be extracted):
The most widely used (and taught) protocols for strategic analysis—Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) and Porter's (1980) Five Force Framework for industry analysis—have been found to be insufficient as stimuli for strategy creation or even as a basis for further strategy development. We approach this problem from a neurocognitive perspective. We see profound incompatibilities between the cognitive process—deductive reasoning—channeled into the collective mind of strategists within the formal planning process through its tools of strategic analysis (i.e., rational technologies) and the essentially inductive reasoning process actually needed to address ill-defined, complex strategic situations. Thus, strategic analysis protocols that may appear to be and, indeed, are entirely rational and logical are not interpretable as such at the neuronal substrate level where thinking takes place. The analytical structure (or propositional representation) of these tools results in a mental dead end, the phenomenon known in cognitive psychology as functional fixedness. The difficulty lies with the inability of the brain to make out meaningful (i.e., strategy-provoking) stimuli from the mental images (or depictive representations) generated by strategic analysis tools. We propose decreasing dependence on these tools and conducting further research employing brain imaging technology to explore complex data handling protocols with richer mental representation and greater potential for strategy creation.


  1. Anonymous2:38 PM

    The Emperor has no Clothes!

    I always thought that these tools were just an excuse to have meetings and didn't actually map to anything useful.

  2. Strategic planning as we've seen it for decades overlooks the most important questions in commerce, eg:
    "What would have our constituents delighted?"
    "What new roles, actions, and competences might be required?"
    "How might we measure efficacy?"

    Ingenuity is sparked by juicy questions. It requires Neuroplasticity, which is minimized by concerns for status and threat. Strategic planning meetings are not likely to generate competitive advantage.

    Good news for those who know how to work with the brain and operate in genuine inquiry.