Thompson, J. D. - Decision Making Strategies & Uncertainty

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.

James Thompson is a classic figure in organization theory. His 1967 book Organizations in Action was one of the first major syntheses of the open systems organizational model (Thompson, 2003[1]). His main focus was on system dependencies and boundary dynamics, but he did offer a model of decision-making strategies that recapitulates the structure of concern.

Thompson observed that preferred decision strategies shifted based on two kinds of uncertainty: uncertain beliefs about the cause/effect relations involved in producing an outcome, and uncertain preferences regarding what outcomes would be most desirable. Crossing these two dimensions of certainty-uncertainty results in the following PAEI decision-making strategy specification:

P – Judgmental Strategy (Certain preferences, Uncertain beliefs)
A – Computational Strategy (Certain preferences, Certain beliefs)
E – Inspirational Strategy (Uncertain preferences, Uncertain beliefs)
I – Compromise Strategy (Uncertain preferences, Certain Beliefs)

When preferences are certain and it is clear how to make them happen, all we need to do is figure out the requirements of the task and meet them (computational). If we know what we want but there is no totally clear indication that the means we are considering will reach that end, we have to exercise judgment and take some risks.

When our preferences are not clear but everybody knows how to produce the various ends possible, we need to weigh, balance and trade off goals and priorities to find some effective manner of focusing our efforts. When we aren’t sure about the best outcomes and wouldn’t know how to reach them anyway, inspiration is required to resolve some radically new approach to the opportunity.

1. Thompson, James D. [1967] (2003). Organizations in Action: Social Science Bases of Administrative Theory, with a new preface by Mayer N. Zald and a new introduction by W. Richard Scott. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.
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