Beach, Lee Roy - Image Theory and Decision Making

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

Image theory is an alternative to classical decision theories that are based on subjective expected utility, propounded by Lee Roy Beech (Beach, 1990[1]). Expected utility models of decision making do not match real-world processes, according to Beach. Studies of actual managerial decisions show that decisions are rarely based on explicit cost/benefit calculations. They are also rarely treated as gambles or wagers, as probability-based models suggest. Many decisions do not even involve choices between two commensurate options. They revolve instead around sticking with the status quo vs. introducing a change. Maintaining the status quo is a low-risk default option requiring little justification. Introducing a change is a potentially hazardous choice that one will be held accountable for.

Furthermore, traditional decision theory tends to represent each decision as isolated and unique. This is not how decisions are typically experienced (except perhaps under lab conditions). Rather, they are seen as part of a larger web of purpose, “they are seen as components of a larger scheme that is dedicated to the achievement of some desired state of affairs, with each component contributing a small thrust in the appropriate direction…” (Beach, 1990[1]). Image theory thus attempts to construct a broad and inclusive model of decision making as it is really experienced.

Image theory is a theory of individual decision making, and so does not feature I-type social processes. Collective decision making is simply represented as a division of labor within the same individualistic overall model. P, A and E processes are the only ones represented.

In image theory, an agent’s decision making knowledge is taken to be covered by three different images or cognitive schemata: an image of how things should go, an agenda of goals and outcomes they want within specific time windows, and concrete ways or plans for accomplishing those goals and attaining those outcomes. This makes a three-tier hierarchy with principles or values at the top, goals and timelines in the middle and plans at the bottom. In PAE order, the images are:

P – The Strategic Image (bottom): Plans and tactics for pursuing adopted goals to successful outcomes. Involves anticipation and short-term forecasting.

A – The Value Image (top): Standards, ideals, beliefs, morals, ethics and other principles serve as imperatives or rigid guides that establish decisions as right or wrong. Principles generate goals and also govern the adoption or rejection of candidate goals and plans or tactics that violate the value image.

E – The Trajectory Image (middle): This is an image of direction or directedness, created by establishing both specific goals and abstract goals, as well as by defining markers of progress towards goals. Timely progression towards desired outcomes is itself a goal within the trajectory image.

Beach is notable for his elevation of the A principle to a governing position over E. These two elements (should/want) are more often portrayed as antagonistic. However, on Beach’s formulation, standards set all of the set points against which we can then judge how close or how far some outcome approaches a state of affairs that we want. Want depends on should, on Beach’s account. This draws attention to a different relationship between these two elements than is typically emphasized in Western writing on problem solving, and it may be of significant value in further analysing problem solving in A-dominant cultures.

1. Beach, L. R. (1990). Image Theory: Decision Making in Personal and Organizational Contexts. (Wiley Series in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License