When Reflection Hurts: The Effect of Cognitive Processing Types on Organizational Adaptation to Discontinuous Change
2023, Organization Science, 34(6), pp.1997-2525, C2-C3
organizational evolution and change
Technological breakthroughs, institutional disruptions, and natural disasters often alter the course of organizations and entire industries. Such discontinuous changes threaten organizations’ survival by affecting the value of the knowledge accumulated in routines and capabilities. Although it is widely acknowledged that managerial cognition is a critical antecedent of organizational responses to discontinuous change, the role of type 1 (intuitive) and type 2 (reflective) processing in the adaptation of shared patterns of behavior, that is, routines, remains understudied. Drawing on dual-process theory, we propose that particular features of type 1 processing render this approach superior to type 2 processing, especially in highly ambiguous environments in which information is limited and difficult to verify. We tested our hypotheses in a longitudinal experiment linking individual-level factors with organizational-level practices of routine adaptation. Experienced managers, paired in 80 groups, developed routines in a first round of a simulation game; in a second round, we then introduced a discontinuous change making previous routines obsolete in order to observe how they adapted. The data show that priming type 1 processing facilitates organizational adaptation more than type 2 processing by providing faster, more routinized, efficiently coordinated, and optimal responses. In addition, type 1 appears to be more functional in highly ambiguous environments, whereas type 1 and type 2 processes yield similar levels of performance under low levels of ambiguity. Overall, our study advances the understanding of the nondeliberative dimension of organizational adaptation to discontinuous change.