Edited by Laura Anna Costanzo and Robert Bradley MacKay
Chapter 5: Strategic Foresight: Counterfactual and Prospective Sensemaking in Enacted Environments
Robert Bradley MacKay Introduction In a 1989 testimony to the United States’ Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology, the 1978 Nobel Laureate in economics, Herbert Simon, argued that the distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences can be misleading. Inquiry into the functioning of competitive markets or into the capacity of human short-term memory is hard because these processes are well researched and understood. They have come to form part of the corpus of knowledge considered to be common sense. Inquiry into how business people and consumers formulate expectations about the future is soft because it is an underresearched phenomenon. A science that is hard all the way through becomes an arid place for furthering knowledge. For science to progress, he postulated, it must push its frontiers into soft areas (Simon 1990, p. 33). Sensemaking has become one of the signature domains of research in the study of strategic management. While having its roots in the cognitive sciences, in strategic management it refers to the social processes that people use to make their environment sensible (Weick 1995, p. 16). It is portrayed as a retrospective, multifaceted phenomenon whereby managers focus on certain cues in their environment and place them in schematic frameworks (Weick 1995; Brown 2003; Maitlis 2005). It diﬀers markedly from other information processing models advanced by social and cognitive psychologists working from a positivist tradition. Where Simon (1957), for instance, advances a notion of information processing as a rational and sequential aﬀair constrained only by one’s...
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