r Academy of Management Learning & Education
2018, Vol. 17, No. 3, 322â€“338.
HOW TO DEVELOP STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT COMPETENCY:
RECONSIDERING THE LEARNING GOALS
AND KNOWLEDGE REQUIREMENTS OF THE CORE
ROBERT M. GRANT
Bocconi University, Milan, Italy
City University, London, United Kingdom
The dominance of theory-based approaches to teaching strategy has not displaced
the need for core courses in strategic management to cultivate broader management
skills. Yet, limited attention has been given to explicating, first, why we need to teach
these skills; second, which skills we need to teach; and third, how they can to be
developed in the classroom. To help answer these three questions we need to understand the linkages between theory-based and skills-based approaches to strategy
teaching. We begin with the proposition that the purpose of the core strategic management is to develop the strategic management competency of our students. We then
adopt a systematic approach to identifying the why, what, and how components of
strategic management competency. We show why analytical tools need to be complemented by judgment, insight, intuition, creativity, and social and communicative
skills. We outline what these skills are and where they come from. Finally, we derive
implications for how we should design and deliver of the core strategic management
The rise of strategic management as a research-based
discipline has been accompanied by a transformation
in its teaching. Theory-based, analytical approaches to
strategy teaching have displaced atheoretical business
policy courses. Yet, despite the emphasis given to
theoretical tools, we note that most core courses in
strategic management continue to espouse the development of management skills. However, the current discourse in strategic management education
and research gives limited attention to the role of
skills in relation to strategic decision-making, the
ways in which they complement the formal decision
tools of strategy, or how they are best developed
through strategy teaching.
Our goal here is to take a systematic approach to
specifying the why, what, and how of the knowledge
and skills that the core strategic management course
should seek to cultivate and the means for doing so.
To answer these questions, we begin by proposing
that the overarching goal of the core strategic management course should be to enhance studentsâ€™
competencies in making and executing strategic
decisions. We note that this task is difficult because
the complexity and uncertainty that characterizes
strategic decisions renders them unamenable to
logical decision tools. Hence, the need for these tools
to be supplemented by additional skills. By disaggregating the strategy-making process into four
stagesâ€”situation appraisal and diagnosis, strategic
option generation, strategic choice, and strategy
implementationâ€”we are able to specify the merits
and limits of the concepts, theories, and frameworks
of strategic analysis and identify the cognitive and
behavioral skills needed to fill the gapâ€”notably
judgment, insight, intuition, and social and communicative skills.
We draw on prior literature to explore the nature,
role, and determinants of insight, intuition, creativity, and the interactive skills. However, we note the
limitations of this literature in relation to strategic
decisions. For example, much of the empirical research addressing intuition addresses decision
We acknowledge the help and support of Associate
Editor Ryan Krause and three anonymous referees and
financial support from RCUK- EPSRC grant: EP/K039695/1
â€œBuilding Better Business Models.â€We thank J.-C. Spender
for helpful comments on an earlier draft.
Copyright of the Academy of Management, all rights reserved. Contents may not be copied, emailed, posted to a listserv, or otherwise transmitted without the copyright holderâ€™s express
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situations that lack the complexity and ambiguity
of most strategic decision situations. It is this
complexity and uncertainty, together with the
need for coordination among multiple organizational members, that accounts for the distinctive
pedagogic needs of strategic management. We also
draw upon the educational psychology literature
to identify the different types of knowledge that
these cognitive and behavioral attributes draw
In terms of specific implications for the design
and delivery of core courses in strategic management, we begin with need for clarity over educational goals. Given the constraint of limited class
time, learning objectives need to be clearly defined,
internally consistent, and realistic in the levels of
attainment they aspire to. These learning objectives
should balance the application of conceptual
knowledge with its acquisition. This means restricting the conceptual content of core strategic management courses. We propose giving precedence to
concepts and theories that inform fundamental aspects of strategic choice, have a wide domain of
applicability, and permit the framing of complex
In selecting teaching methods and materials, we
emphasize the need for their consistency with the
types of knowledge targeted. Much of the learning
that occurs in a strategy course is implicit: Competencies such as insight, judgment, and creativity
cannot be taught in the formal sense. The role of the
instructor is to give the students a general map and
guide students in a process of reflection and discovery through which cognitive and behavioral
skills are cultivated. This requires instructors to
manage the social and emotional context of the
learning experience to foster involvement, reflection, communication, active listening, and
Finally, we note that the learning objectives of
core courses in strategic managementâ€”and, consequently, their content and instructional modesâ€”need
to be adapted to the characteristics of students and
their instructors. In relation to students, the balance between acquiring conceptual knowledge
and developing higher level strategic decision
skills depends upon the maturity and experience
of the student. Maturity and experience expand
studentsâ€™ capacity to address complex, uncertain
situations and helps them to recognize their own
cognitive conditioning and biases. In terms of
instructor characteristics, we note the problems
faced by academically trained instructors in
teaching strategic management competencies that
they themselves possess only to a limited extent.
Here we point to the role that interactional expertise can play as a substitute for executive
THE CURRENT STATE OF THE STRATEGIC
MANAGEMENT CORE COURSE
The required strategic management courseâ€”a feature
of almost all graduate and undergraduate degrees in
businessâ€”is a descendant of the business policy course
established at Harvard Business School in 1911. Under
the leadership of Roland Christensen and Kenneth
Andrews, the Harvard business policy course developed as sequence of case studies in which â€œstudents
were asked to â€˜size upâ€™ the situation presented in the
case, plan a course of action, and propose an organization to implement the plan, along with measures
that would permit corrective actionâ€ (Bower, 2008:
270). Following Gordon and Howellâ€™s report on
business education which recommended that â€œThe
capstone of the core curriculum should be a course
in â€˜business policyâ€™â€ (Gordon & Howell, 1959: 206),
Harvardâ€™s business policy course provided a model
for other schools.
However, the rise of strategic management as a
research-based field provided an alternative model
for the teaching of business strategy: one in which
the formulation of strategy is based upon theoretically based, empirically validated relationships between a firmâ€™s actions and performance
The result was debateâ€”and conflictâ€”over how
the strategy course should be taught. Should the
course retain its traditional emphasis on developing
the skills of the general managerâ€”a morphed version of the original Harvard traditionâ€”or should it
furnish students with theory-based, analytical
tools of strategic management? The rivalry inherent in these two approaches played out at Harvard Business School during the 1980s and 1990s
when Michael Porterâ€™s course, Competitive Strategy, challenged and eventually displaced the longestablished Business Policy course as the core
strategy course of the MBA program (see Bower,
The debate between the rival merits of theorybased versus skills-oriented strategic management
teaching has continued in journals and in forums
such as the Academy of Management and Strategic
Management Society. Proponents of an analytic
approach have emphasized the rigor and the
2018 Grant and Baden-Fuller 323
potential for generalization that the empirically validated theories offer (Mahoney & McGahan, 2007;
Grant 2008). Those who emphasize the development
of managerially relevant cognitive and behavioral
skills advocate a more â€œatheoreticalâ€ approach to
strategic management teaching as an integrative,
practice-based experience (Greiner et al., 2003;
Mintzberg, 2004; Gosling & Mintzberg, 2004; Bower,
2008). Yet, on the ground, the situation is clear-cut.
As Greiner, Bhambri, and Cummings observed over
15 years ago: â€œThe traditional required Harvard
Business School policy course is barely alive and in
most top business schools the strategy course is
heavily based upon theory and analysisâ€ (Greiner
et al., 2003: 404â€“405).
Not only have conceptually based courses displaced atheoretical, skills-oriented courses, but the
courses themselves, both at MBA and undergraduate
levels, have become increasingly similar in terms of
structure. Certainly, there is considerable variation
in the topics included in the core strategic management course (e.g., the inclusion or exclusion of topics
such as game theory, corporate governance, business ethics, leadership, and corporate and environmental sustainability). Nevertheless, we can
observe convergence around a dominant design.
Courses are structured around distinctions between
business (or competitive) strategy and corporate
strategy and between strategy formulation and
implementation; their core analytic components are
external analysis (principally the analysis of industry and competition); internal analysis (principally the analysis of resources and capabilities), and
competitive advantage. This dominant design is
reflected in the content and structure of most
Yet, the apparent dominance of teaching theory
and concepts in strategic management is deceptive.
A cursory review of the learning objectives included
in the syllabi of core strategic management courses
that were available online reveals objectives that
extend well beyond acquiring knowledge of the
fieldâ€™s concepts, theories, and analytical frameworks. Additional objectives include developing
a general management perspective, synthesizing
knowledge from other courses, cultivating critical
thinking skills, developing awareness of social and
ethical issues, and enhancing written and oral communication skills. Furthermore, most courses emphasize modes of teaching that reflect a much wider
agenda than just teaching theoryâ€”notably, case
study discussion, simulations, group exercises, and
project work. But why are strategy courses teaching
these skills, and using these techniques? What is their
purpose in relation to the overall goal of the core strategy course?
In the next section we consider why we need
to teach skills. In doing so, we hope to encourage
those teachers who believe that theory is the most
important aspect of strategy teaching to recognize
the limits of theoretical knowledge and, for those
teachers who view skill development as forming the
core of strategyâ€™s teaching agenda, to appreciate
which of the broad array of management skills are
essential to strategy making.
THE NATURE OF STRATEGIC
What is the purpose of the core strategic management
course? Management is not an intellectual pursuit,
it involves doing. So, with strategic management
â€œStrategy is about actionâ€ states Richard Rumelt
(2011: 87), and J.-C. Spender (2014: 4) agrees: â€œâ€˜What
are we going to do now?â€™ is the key question.â€
Teaching strategy involves teaching students about
the nature of strategic decisions, the attributes of
effective strategic decisions, and how to put those
decisions into effect. Providing a list of learning
objectives is not enoughâ€”the starting point for â€œa
strategy to teach strategyâ€ (Greiner et al., 2003) is to
establish a single overarching goal. We propose that
the educational goal for the core strategic management course should be the following: Enhancing our
studentsâ€™ abilities to make and execute strategic
To determine what this goal implies for what we
teach in the core strategy course and how we teach
it, we need to recognize what is distinctive about
strategic management, as compared to other areas
of management, and what these distinctive features
imply for the knowledge required for developing
strategic management competency.
Two principal factors distinguish strategic decisions from the other decisions that managers face.
First, they are important in relation to the overall
business purpose of the enterpriseâ€”as such, they
are typically irreversible and require substantial
commitment of resources (Grant, 2015: 12). Second,
they are complementary with one another: They
cannot be considered in isolation: â€œWhile operational excellence is about achieving excellence in
individual activities, strategy is about combining
activitiesâ€ (Porter, 1996: 70). Hence, when we refer
to an organizationâ€™s strategy, we allude to a set of
decisions that, in combination, determine the
324 Academy of Management Learning & Education September
organizationâ€™s overall positioning and directionâ€”
what Rumelt (2011: 84â€“87) refers to as a â€œguiding
The implication is that strategic decisions present
challenges that extend well beyond those relevant
to typical functional and operational issues that can
be resolved by taking account of a limited number
of factors and, as a result, are amenable to formal
The earliest writers in our field recognized this
point, when they stressed that management is both
art and science. For example, Chester Barnard observed that â€œ[The Executive Process] transcends
the capacity of merely intellectual methods of discriminating the factors of the situation. The terms
pertinent to it are, â€˜feeling,â€™ â€˜judgment,â€™ â€˜sense,â€™
â€˜proportion,â€™ â€˜balance,â€™ â€˜appropriateness.â€™ It is a matter of art and it is aesthetic rather than logicalâ€
(Barnard, 1938: 235; quoted by Mahoney, 2002: 160).
For Frank Knight, the basis for decision-making â€œis
not reasoned knowledge, but â€˜judgment,â€™ â€˜common
sense,â€™ or â€˜intuitionâ€™â€ (Knight, 1921: 211). The need
for judgment in the face of uncertainty provides the
foundation for Knightâ€™s theory of the firm.
In relation to strategic management practice, the
need for analysis to be complemented by additional
sources of knowledgeâ€”notably judgment, insight,
intuition, and creativityâ€”is well recognized. Kenichi Ohmae, former head of McKinsey & Companyâ€™s
Tokyo office, observed that â€œGreat strategies, like
great works of art or great scientific achievements,
call for technical mastery in the working out but
originate in insights that are beyond the reach of
conscious analysisâ€ (Ohmae, 1982: 4). Some 30
years later, despite the huge advances in theoretical and empirical research in strategy, Richard
Rumelt made the same observation: â€œThe most
powerful strategies arise from such game changing
insights,â€ and further advised that â€œ[t]o generate
strategy, one must put aside the comfort and security of pure deduction and launch into the murkier
waters of induction, analogy, judgment, and insightâ€ (Rumelt, 2011: 10, 245). For Henry Mintzberg
(1994), the essence of strategy making is strategic
thinkingâ€”a process based upon intuition and creativity rather than analysis.
As we have already observed, this need for the
analytical tools of strategy to be complemented
by additional competences is well recognized by
teachers of strategic managementâ€”and not just
within the Harvard business policy tradition. Hence,
the emphasis that strategy courses give to developing
a broader range of cognitive and behavioral skills
in addition to familiarity with strategyâ€™s conceptual and theoretical tools. The problem, however,
has been inadequate attention to defining and describing these skills, investigating the pedagogy
for their development, and integrating them with
analytical approaches to strategy teaching. For example, a guide to the case method by prominent
Harvard teachers is titled â€œEducation for Judgment,â€
yet offers limited attention to the nature, dimensions,
and antecedents of judgment (Christensen, Garvin,
& Sweet, 1991).
Our challenge is to specify more precisely the
knowledge needed to cultivate strategic management competency and then to determine what this
implies for the design and delivery of the core strategy course. Figure 1 provides the reader with a map
of our argument concerning why we need to teach
skills, which skills are essential, and what knowledge these skills embrace. We start with considering
the issues on the left-hand side of the figure: the
stages of the strategy-making process.
THE STRATEGY-MAKING PROCESS AND ITS
We characterize strategy making as a four-stage process: (1) situation appraisal and diagnosis, (2) strategic option generation, (3) strategic choice, and (4)
strategy implementation.1 Let us examine each stage
to investigate the types of knowledge needed to perform them.
Situation Appraisal and Diagnosis
At the start of any strategic decision process is the
need to appraise the current situation. For an existing
business this means asking, â€œWhat is the current
strategy?â€ â€œHow satisfactory is its performance?â€
â€œWhat issues does it face now and in the future?â€
Once we have recognized what issues are present,
we can diagnose their causes. Typically, this investigates the causes of the businessâ€™s superior/
inferior performance and how the changing situation will impact future performance.
Dutton, Fahey, and Narayanan (1983: 308) define a strategic issue as â€œan emerging development
which in the judgment of some strategic decision
1 This normative conceptualization of how the strategymaking process is distinct from the â€œstrategy as practiceâ€
approach, which is concerned with how organizations
discuss and execute strategy decisions (see, e.g., Jarzabkowski,
Balogun, & Seidl, 2007).
2018 Grant and Baden-Fuller 325
makers is likely to have a significant impact on the
organizationâ€™s present or future strategies.â€ They note
that such issues are â€œlikely to be broad, diffuse, and
ill-specified.â€ Hence, in appraising a strategic situation, students must grapple with uncertainty over
what the core problem is. Strategic issue identification and diagnosis involves translating â€œambiguous data and vaguely felt stimuliâ€ into â€œfocused
issuesâ€ and then interpreting these issues (Dutton
et al., 1983: 307â€“308). The starting point for all
strategy formulation is answering the question:
â€œWhatâ€™s going on here?â€ (Rumelt, 2011: 79).
Identifying strategic issues is more than simple
observation. We must discern what is important in
the organizationâ€™s overall situation. This requires
awareness of the purpose of strategic management.
This is usually assumed to be enhancing the longrun performance of the organization. Hence, performance appraisal plays a central role in identifying
In diagnosing these strategic issues, analysis
takes center stage. Theoretical conceptsâ€”such as
economies of scale and scope, network externalities, transaction costs, organizational routines, and
legitimacyâ€”and the theoretical relationships that
link them to their antecedents and consequences
provide the basis for understanding superior or inferior performance. Yet, problems of complexity
still confound the application of these analytical
tools. Even if the strategic situation can be reduced
to a single performance variableâ€”loss of market
share, declining profitability, or lack of innovationâ€”
causation is likely to involve multiple factors that
interact in complex ways.
To address multiple sources of causation, students
of strategic management need to deploy frameworks:
analytical devices that structure a strategic situation
by identifying the factors that impact a phenomenon,
thereby providing a systematic picture of multiple
causative factors and their interactions. Different types
of framework have different types of functionality.
Some are purely classificatory devices. For example,
â€œSWOTâ€ analysis is simply a set of â€œbucketsâ€ for categorizing favorable and unfavorable internal and external influences. Similarly, the â€œPESTâ€ framework
classifies external influences into political, economic,
social, and technological forces. Yet, such categorization can offer a useful first step in coming to terms with
complexity. Other frameworks are grounded in theory
and can generate predictions. For example, Porterâ€™s
â€œFive Forces of Competitionâ€ framework for analyzing
industry attractiveness has its roots in the structureconduct-performance model of industrial organization
economics. Similarly, Barneyâ€™s â€œVRIOâ€ framework for
appraising the potential for an organizationâ€™s resources
and capabilities to generate economic rents is based
Linking Strategic Management Competency to Bloomâ€™s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives
Stages of the
Links to the Bloom/Krathwohl taxonomy
Processes Knowledge base Domain
326 Academy of Management Learning & Education September
upon analysis of the sources and sustainability of competitive advantage. Despite the diagnostic power of theories, concepts, and analytical frameworks, they are not
enough. Sizing up the prevailing situation requires distinguishing what is important from what is less important. This entails recognizing linkagesâ€”how one issue
relates to another. Analyzing the causes of strategic issues means selecting the most appropriate concepts and
theories to apply to the situation. This requires bridging
the gap between theprecision and specificity of concepts
and theories and the messiness and uncertainty of the
real-world situation. The predictions of our theoretical
tools must be interpreted. For example, the application of Porterâ€™s Five Forces of Competition framework
may predict that certain forces will cause increasing
competition, while others will cause a weakening of
competitionâ€”how do we assess the net result?
Thus, theories, concepts and analytical tools/
frameworks can provide an organizing structure and
diagnostic guidance for comprehending a strategic
issue, but their application requires additional cognitive skills including judgment in prioritizing issues,
choosing among analytical tools, and interpreting
predictions, insight into complex causal interactions,
and intuition in recognizing patterns and anticipating
Strategic Option Generation
Formulating strategy requires perceiving opportunities for doing things differently. Applying the
knowledge embodied in strategic theories and concepts to diagnosing problems inevitably provides
pointers to their solution. However, the potential for
deductive analysis to generate a range of solutions is
limited by ceteris paribus assumptions of most theoretical relationships; that is, the relationship between a single independent variable and a single
dependent variable isolated from all other causal
factors. The tendency for analysis to concentrate on
such unitary relationships inhibits a systemwide
view in which a desired outcome may be achieved
by interventions in different parts of the system.
Strategic analysisâ€™s limited ability to generate strategic options is exacerbated by the cognitive traits
of the human mind. Decision makers limit the range of
strategic options they consider as a result of bounded
rationality and satisficing behavior (Simon, 1991) and
a preference for exploitation over exploration (March
1991)â€”just two of the elements that Gavetti (2012)
builds into a behavioral theory of strategy where managersâ€™ cognitive structures constrain their recognition
of opportunities for competitive advantage. More
generally, decision makersâ€™ ability to generate multiple
possible solutions to problems is limited by cognitive
fixation: the tendency to settle on a single solution to
a problem, usually one that has worked in the past.
Although the application of conceptual tools may
allow the mind to break away from habitual solution
sets, the main opportunities for extending the range
of strategic options under consideration arise from
liberating the imagination. We shall revisit the role
of creativity and insight later below.
In principle, the impact of environmental and strategic decision variables on firm performance could be
formally modeled, allowing the effects of different
strategies to be simulated. However, attempts to estimate the quantitative impact of strategic variables on
performance outcomes, such as the PIMS project
(Buzzell & Gale, 1997), are doomed by the number of
factors impacting firm profitability and the complexity of their interactions. To capture contextual specificities, formal modeling can only generate clear
predictions by addressing specific strategic situations
(e.g., Casadesus-Masanell & Yoffie, 2007).
Predicting the precise outcomes of different strategies
is further constrained by the fact that strategic choices
tend not to be fully specified action plans, but more
general notions of how the firm will position itself and
what its overall direction of development will beâ€”what
the strategy literature has traditionally referred to as
â€œgrand strategyâ€ (Hitt, Ireland, & Palia 1982) and Rumelt
(2011) calls â€œguiding policy.â€ Hence, strategic choice
tends to be based on qualitative analysis that applies the
principle of strategic fit: Which strategic option is most
consistent with the goals of the firm, with emerging
conditions in the external environment, and with the
firmâ€™s resources and capabilities? Ultimately, such
analysis does not, by itself, generate choices: As with the
other stages of the strategy process, conceptual analysis
must be complemented with subjective judgment. Such
judgment goes beyond an understanding of causality. It
includes synthesizing knowledge from multiple sources, assessing probabilities when information is scarce,
using heuristics, and avoiding cognitive biases. Exercising judgment in situations of complexity and uncertainty inevitably involves intuition, a topic that we
discuss in the next section.
Ultimately, strategy needs to be translated into action. If strategy exists only in the minds and
2018 Grant and Baden-Fuller 327
pronouncements of leaders, then it is intended
strategy. Only with its execution does it become realized strategy (Mintzberg & Waters, 1985). The scope
of strategy implementation is vast: It encompasses the
entire range of management activities, including every
functional strategy. Hence, for the purposes of the core
strategic management course, the scope of implementation must be tightly circumscribed, for example,
by including only management activities in the â€œfirst
tierâ€ of strategy execution (such as resource allocation,
setting performance targets, and organizational design)
and those which are fundamental to competitive advantage (such as developing core competences). In
most business programs, the greater part of strategy
implementation is covered outside the core strategic management course (by courses in organizational
behavior, corporate finance, operations management,
human resource management, and marketing).
For strategy implementation, the concepts, theories, and frameworks of strategic management provide valuable guidance to management action. For
example, real options and portfolio planning matrices facilitate resource allocation decisions; balanced
scorecards can be used to set and monitor performance targets; the principles of organizational design can guide choices over corporate structures and
management systems. Indeed, virtually every aspect
of strategy implementation from the development of
organizational capabilities, to the design of strategic
alliances is informed by a substantial theoretical and
Yet, as with every other stage of the strategy process, analysis based upon cause-and-effect theories
is easily overwhelmed by complexityâ€”including
the large number of decision variables that strategy
implementation encompasses and the plethora of
analytical tools that can be applied to them. Again,
judgment is needed to establish priorities and in
selecting the most appropriate analytical tools, and
insight is required to recognize how particular interventions may yield systemic changes.
Finally, the implementation stage is where social
and communicative skills are most critical to the effectiveness of the strategy. For a strategy to be implemented, it must be communicated to all members of
organization. Moreover, given divergence of individual motives from organizational goals, the members of
the organization need to be persuaded; hence, J.-C.
Spenderâ€™s emphasis on the centrality of rhetoric to the
strategy process (Spender, 2014: 227â€“244). However,
the role of communication is not limited to the implementation stage of the strategy process: Communication
is important in relation to diagnosis, option generation,
and strategy selection. As we shall see, communication
is not simply about sharing information and analysis.
Once we move from individual to organizational
decision-making, communicationâ€”and social interaction more generallyâ€”is important in enhancing
judgment, countering individual and group biases,
and fostering creativity.
Finally, we need to appreciate that strategy implementation is not separate from strategy formulation.
Strategy-making is not a sequential progress: Strategies
are formulated in the course of their implementation
(Mintzberg, 1994), and the formulation of strategymust
take into account how it will be implemented. To the
extent that formulation and implementation can
be distinguished, it is in the terms of, first, relevant
conceptual knowledge and, second, detail: Strategies
begin as â€œguiding policies,â€ and as they are translated into action, they become articulated in greater
BEYOND CONCEPTUAL KNOWLEDGE
We have established that strategy-making requires
that conceptual knowledge needs to be supplemented by other types of knowledge. We have noted
that is not a novel proposition: It has been widely
recognized both by academics and practitioners.
However, our discussion of the strategy process has
enabled us to be more precise than thitherto about
the role and the limitation of analytical tools at each
stage of the strategy process and specify more precisely the additional competencies required to supplement theoretical analysis: specifically, judgment,
insight, intuition, creativity, and social and communicative skills. None of these, at first sight, appear
to be grounded in conceptual knowledge. If we are
to become more effective in teaching strategic management, we need a deeper understanding of the
nature, role, and determinants of these cognitive
and behavioral attributes.
Despite the importance accorded to judgment as
a management attribute, describing its nature and
antecedents has proven difficult. Here again, classical writers help us, as they debated these topics extensively. For Barnard, judgment formed the essence
of leadership whose essential attribute was the capacity to synthesize across the three essential systems of knowing: physical, personal, and social (see
Spender, 2014: 225). In Knightâ€™s (1921) analysis of
economic organization, judgment provides the basis
328 Academy of Management Learning & Education September
for action when objective knowledge is absent. It
includes an individualâ€™s â€œcapacity by perception
and inference to form correct judgments as to the
future course of events in the environmentâ€ and an
individualâ€™s capacity to assess the competencies of
other individuals (Langlois & Cosgel, 1993: 261). If as
Knight (1921) and Spender (2014) propose, judgment provides the basis for entrepreneurial/strategic
action when objective knowledge is absent, we can
use the limitations of logical strategic analysis to
pinpoint the essential attributes of judgment that are
required for strategic decisions. For example, in relation to situation assessment and diagnosis, we have
established that judgment is needed in prioritizing
issues, choosing which concepts and frameworks
to deploy, understanding causality, and interpreting
predictions. In assessing the overall situation, generating strategic options and selecting among them,
synthesisâ€”the ability to integrate information and understanding from multiple sourcesâ€”is an important
component of judgment.
Developing judgment involves enhancing the factors that facilitate good judgment and eliminating
its impediments. If conceptual knowledge involves
knowing what, judgment requires knowing how.
This comprises not only procedural knowledge in
a technical senseâ€”what Aristotle referred to as
techneâ€”but also phronesis, the practical wisdom
that can ensure that oneâ€™s actions are appropriate in
a specific situation (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 2011). Practical wisdom is a complex and sophisticated attribute
that involves synthesizing ethics, social capital, communication, power, and systems thinking. Like other
high-complexity activities, its acquisition requires experience with similar or related problems, then distilling that experience into heuristics (Sturman, 2003).
Other aspects of judgment require recognizing
and avoiding the cognitive biases that distort our
perceptions and impair our decision-makingâ€”in
other words metacognitive knowledge. These biases
include overconfidence, confirmation bias, inappropriate weighting of â€œinsideâ€ and â€œoutsideâ€ views,
failure to distinguish luck from skill, and incorrect
updating of probabilities in response to new information (Tetlock, 2005; Kahneman, 2011).Cultivating
metacognitive knowledge requires avoiding and correcting cognitive biases through reflective introspection,
and/or receiving external intervention.
Insight refers to the notion of â€œinner sightâ€: gaining
a deep understanding of a phenomenon or artifact.
Insight learning is revelatory, in contrast to learningby-doing; it occurs â€œwhen a person suddenly reinterprets a stimulus, situation, or event to produce
a nonobvious, nondominant interpretationâ€ (Kounios
& Beeman, 2014: 71). Insight is especially important
in diagnosing strategic situations in terms recognizing
the essential characteristics of a situation and identifying
the fundamental forces that have brought it about. Although insight has been viewed as a spontaneous,
mainly unconscious process, it can be facilitated by
conscious cognitive activities. For example, concepts
such as transaction costs and economies of scope
provide insights into how to draw the boundaries of
the firm. And investigating the interplay between
resource idiosyncrasies and legitimacy offers deep
understanding of the challenge of optimal strategic
differentiation. Insight also comes from cognitive
discernment that goes beyond the application of
conceptual knowledge. For example, when addressing novel situations, or situations with idiosyncratic
features, insight can be facilitated by analogies and
contraries (Branchini, Bianchi, Burro, Capitani, &
Intuition is the understanding that occurs without
conscious reasoning. Experts have the ability to make
intuitive decisions whether they are chess grandmasters, car drivers, or business executives. The basis
for intuition is therefore familiarity with previous
situations and stored memories of these situations
and the actions which either worked or didnâ€™t work
(Simon, 1987). In the case of strategic decisions, intuition can allow cognition to extend beyond the
limits of logical analysis in terms of synthesizing
multiple facets of a strategic situation. This capacity to
quickly synthesize multiple sources of knowledge is
the primary advantage advanced by the proponents
of intuitive decision-making (Khatri & Ng, 2000;
Gladwell, 2005). Not all intuition is valuable. The
quality of intuition depends upon the expertise of the
decision maker and the extent to which the decision
environment is â€œhigh validityâ€; that is, the relationships between decision variables and outcomes are
stable (Kahneman & Klein, 2009). In unstable environments when wholly new situations appear, intuition becomes unreliable and creativity is called for.
Creativity relates to the capacity to perceive opportunities that are not derived from deduction and is
2018 Grant and Baden-Fuller 329
especially relevant to the generation of strategic options. Mintzberg reminds us that most major creative
advances in both science and business are not acts of
genius, but interpretations of mundane observations
that have surprising implications (Mintzberg, 2015).
Despite a traditional view that creativity is a spontaneous, exogenously determined capacity to think
â€œout-of-the-box,â€ a growing body of evidence points
to creativity as a learned skill that utilizes analogous
thinking and social interaction to loosen the cognitive
conditioning that limits the imagination. Analogies
can be valuable not only in giving a strategic decision
maker confidence in an unfamiliar situation, but also
in suggesting strategies that worked in a previous
situation that are unconventional in the new context.
Analogies are dangerous when they are based upon
superficial similarity and when they encourage anchoring: the tendency for decision makers to fixate on
an initial solution to a problem (Gavetti & Rivkin,
2005). To counter anchoring, decisionmakersmust be
willing to abandon initial solutions and seek an even
better oneâ€”a process Rumelt (2011: 263â€“273) described as â€œcreate-destroy.â€
Social and Communicative Skills
The components of strategic management competency
we have discussed so far relate principally to individual cognition. Yet, as the process- and practice-based
schools of strategy explicitly recognize, strategic management is an inherently social process. In the face
of uncertainty and complexity, organizational members must develop a shared understanding of the situation and consensus over what actions to takeâ€”a
process known as â€œsense-makingâ€ (Weick, Sutcliffe, &
Obstfeld, 2005). If strategy formulation is a social process, strategy implementation is even more so: As
strategy cascades down the organization, it must be
elaborated in ever-increasing detail, posing huge
challenges for cooperation and coordination among
Communication skillsâ€”the ability to share knowledge, convey meaning, persuade, provide instructions,
listen, and understandâ€”are essential to the social
processes of strategy formulation and implementation.
The social skills that support strategic management
also extend beyond communication to include attributes that support social awareness (such as empathy, attunement, and social cognition), and social
facility (such as self-presentation, synchrony, influence, and concern)â€”skills that have collectively
been referred to as â€œsocial intelligenceâ€ (Goleman &
Linking Strategy Competencies to Bloomâ€™s
To appreciate what these different attributes mean
for how we teach strategic management, it is useful
to draw upon research in educational psychologyâ€”
specifically, Bloomâ€™s taxonomy of educational objectives as revised by Krathwohl (2002). By locating the
different skills that constitute strategic management
competency within the Bloom/Krathwohl framework,
we can appreciate the broad scope of strategic management teaching in terms of the different types of
knowledge it seeks to develop and guide us toward
the educational processes through which these types
of knowledge can be cultivated.
The Bloom taxonomy identifies three domains of
learning: the cognitive (relating to mental skills), the
psychomotor (relating to physical skills), and the affective (relating to feelings and emotions). Our emphasis, so
far, has been the cognitive domain, which Bloom views
as a hierarchy of ranging from the simple (memorizing)
to the complex (creating; Bloom et al., 1956). These
processes correspond to a hierarchy of knowledge
that ranges from facts, to concepts, to procedures, to
â€œmetacognitionâ€â€”knowledge about cognition, including awareness of oneâ€™s own cognition. Figure 1, mentioned earlier, shows how the different cognitive and
social components of strategicmanagement competency
that we have identified map onto Bloomâ€™s taxonomy.
Although our cognitive decision skills lack a precise
correspondence to Bloomâ€™s hierarchy of cognitive processes, all four of the cognitive skills we emphasize are
located at the upper end of the Bloom hierarchy: the
ability to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. Given the
correspondence of cognitive processes with different
types of knowledge, the implication is that judgment,
insight, intuition, and creativity draw upon procedural
and metacognitive rather than factual or conceptual
As hinted above, procedural and metacognitive
knowledge is acquired through learning processes that
are different from those needed to acquire conceptual
knowledge. Procedural knowledge is gained through
practice: accumulating expertise in applying concepts,
theories, and frameworks to strategic situations that are
complex, uncertain, and idiosyncratic. In principle,
experience-based procedural knowledge can be
substituted with codified knowledge in the form of
checklists, decision trees, programs, and algorithms.
In practice, the complexity, uncertainty, and context
specificity of strategic decisions means that such decision tools are woefully inadequateâ€”judgment can
never be dispensed with.
330 Academy of Management Learning & Education September
Judgment, insight, intuition, and creativity also
draw upon metacognitive knowledge. Such knowledge is obtained through twomain processes. The first
is introspection: reflecting on oneâ€™s own cognitive
processes, patterns of success, and failure in diagnosis
and prediction, and the emotions that impact on oneâ€™s
decision process. Rumelt (2011: 240, 271) advocates
using an â€œimaginary panel of expertsâ€ for â€œexpanding
the scope of your thinking and subjecting your ideas
to deeper criticism.â€ Second, external stimuli and
interventions can provide valuable triggers to facilitate insight. By observing the reasoning processes of
others, engaging in dialogue with others, and having
oneâ€™s own reasoning processes and outcomes challenged by others, reflection is stimulated and, through
evaluating and corroborating oneâ€™s own cognition,
perspective is acquired.
It is important to realize that withmany students such
learning involves adapting and developing preexisting
cognitive frames: the thought processes through which
the world is interpreted and accorded meaning. These
cognitive frames are embedded in language and narratives and, ultimately, within the synapses of our brains
(Lakoff & Johnson, 1999). The tendency for such frames
to be shared among the members of an organizationâ€”or
even an entire industryâ€”can prevent the recognition of
opportunities and become major barriers to change
(Porac, Thomas, &Baden-Fuller, 1989). The implication
is that social and communicative skills are important
not only for the more explicit aspects of strategic management (e.g., the execution of strategic plans through
direction), but also are relevant to decision-making
cognition. Hence, the social nature of strategic management means that affective knowledgeâ€”our ability to
deal with our feelings, emotions, values, motivations,
and attitudesâ€”is relevant to all stages of the strategymaking process.
Thus far, we have pointed to the role of procedural
and metacognitive knowledgeâ€”as well as communication and social skillsâ€”in complementing conceptual knowledge. But is it possible that conceptual
knowledge could substitute for these additional
forms of knowledge, in particular for attributes such
as judgment, insight, and creativity? It is notable that
in complex strategic games such and chess and go,
computers now outperform even the best human
players. So, is it not possible that in business strategy too, to use increasingly sophisticated analytical
tools and take decisions in the absence of human
cognition? Mahoney and McGahan (2007: 80) are
optimistic that broadening strategic management research to â€œgenerate new integrative theory based
upon empirically validated insightsâ€ will also build
â€œcreative complementarities between teaching and
research.â€ It appears to us that a number of the concepts and frameworks introduced into strategic management in recent decades have greatly extended the
effectiveness of our analytical toolkits and, in the process, reduced the need for some of the higher cognitive
skills we have identified, such as judgment, insight,
and creativity. For example, systems theory and complexity models have increased our ability to comprehend situations where multiple variables interact.
Conceptualizing the firm as an activity system allows
intuitive notions of strategic fit to be replaced with
more precise considerations of complementarities
between the elements of strategy, structure, and management systems (Porter & Siggelkow, 2008). Similarly, business models and their application to
configuring firmsâ€™relationships with their ecosystemsâ€™
components of strategy and relationships within the
firmâ€™s ecosystem can potentially substitute for imagination and creativity in generating strategic options
(Baden-Fuller & Mangematin, 2013; De Jong & Van
However, for the most part, these tools provide
guidance and direction to judgment, insight, and
creativity, but they do not substitute for it. Ultimately,
it is the uncertainty and contextual idiosyncrasies of
strategic situations that rule out mechanistic analysis.
Explicit recognition that conceptual knowledge cannot substitute for procedural, metacognitive, and affective knowledge is important because of the
propensity for academically trained teachers to seek
conceptual solutions to educational challenges. For
example, advocates of practice-based approaches to
strategy teaching emphasize advocating the teaching of analysis â€œthrough such sociological lenses
as ethnomethodology, dramaturgy and institutional
theoryâ€ (Jarzabkowski & Whittington, 2008). Yet,
furnishing students with theoretical and empirical
knowledge relating to the processes and practices
of strategy-making will not necessarily equip them
with procedural knowledge of how to assess and diagnose strategic problems: This knowledge has to be
developed experientially. Similarly, teaching students cognitive psychology may give them extensive
knowledge of the nature, manifestations, and causes
of cognitive bias, but may not help them to avoid such
biases in their own decision-making.
IMPLICATIONS FOR COURSE DESIGN
The major part of our essay has been devoted to examining why competency in strategic management
2018 Grant and Baden-Fuller 331
is much more than knowing the theories and the
analytical tools of the strategy theorists. It requires
the addition of five core skills: judgment, insight,
intuition, creativity, and social skills. These core
skills may to some extent encompass other skills that
appear in course objectives, such as critical thinking,
general management perspective, sensitivity to ethical issues, ability to integrate different themes of
management teaching, and ability to negotiate, but
we suggest they are not substitutes for these other
objectives. More critically, we suggest that it is essential that teachers of strategy consider how these
five core skills will be addressed in their courses.
Below, we give some hints as to how teachers might
address this challenge.
Specificity and Consistency of Learning Objectives
Many of the course syllabi in strategic management
that we surveyed appeared to lack coherence among
the learning objectives they espoused. A strategic
approach to course design implies selecting individual learning objectives that complement one another to form a unified purpose for the course and are
tailored to resource constraints and environmental
conditions. The dominant constraint limiting the
scope and attainment levels of course objectives is
time: The typical core strategy course has between
16 and 45 class hours; hence, even the mundane
objective of acquainting our students with the conceptual knowledge of strategic management is implausible given the fieldâ€™s ever-expanding breadth
and depth. For learning objectives to be realistic,
they need to be specific, clearly defined, realistic,
and internally consistent. Broad objectives such as
developing â€œa general management perspectiveâ€ or
â€œcritical thinking skillsâ€ need to be more explicit
about what these imply for the competencies that
students are expected to demonstrate as a result of
the course. Multiple learning objectives are likely to
be more achievable when they are consistent with
one another and, ideally, complementary. Hence,
the value of subsuming learning objectives within
an overall education purposeâ€”such as the one that
we proposed: Enhancing studentsâ€™ abilities to make
and execute strategic decisions.
Limiting Conceptual Content
The need to limit the conceptual content of strategic
management core courses also arises because of the
primacy we give to the application over the acquisition of conceptual knowledge.We have established
that concepts and theories of strategic management
offer penetrating insights into the causes of strategic
issues, as well as providing organizing frameworks
for comprehending complex situations and assisting
higher cognitive processes such as synthesis and
creativity. Yet, given that strategy theories and concepts are insufficient to formulate and implement
strategy, it is essential that the core strategy course
allows space for students to acquire the procedural
and metacognitive knowledge needed to complement conceptual knowledge.
Selecting which theories, concepts, and analytical
framework to include within the core course requires
costâ€“benefit calculations. Theories, concepts, and
frameworks that have a wide domain of applicability
and inform fundamental aspects of strategic choice
confer greater benefits than those relevant to particular contexts. Hence, if the primary goal of strategy is
posited to be enhancing the long-term profitability of
the business, the relevant tools are those that permit
the identification of the primary drivers of profit:
competitive advantage and industry attractiveness.
If the greatest challenge of strategic analysis is
addressing complexity, then frameworks that permit
multiple causal factors to be categorized and their
interrelationships mapped are particularly valuable.
Concepts such as business models and business
ecosystems, and frameworks such as complexity
models and activity systems support such analysis
while reinforcing creativity through assisting the
identification of strategic options.
Emphasis on Application
We have shown that the key skills of judgment, insight, intuition, and creativity are associated with
procedural, metacognitive, and affective knowledge.
But how is this knowledge is acquired? For the most
partâ€”and especially for procedural knowledgeâ€”it
is acquired by doing. Through applying the conceptual tools of strategy to real or realistic situations,
students gain expertise in analytic procedures: distinguishing the critical from the superficial aspects
of a situation, choosing which analytical tools to
deploy, identifying fundamental causes, and drawing upon prior experiences through analogous
Such applications allow students to develop metacognitive knowledge: awareness of their own cognitive processesâ€”including the biases that distort
perception and limit the imagination. Yet, here
again, as teachers, we need to be realistic in our
aspirations. When teaching strategy, we do not
332 Academy of Management Learning & Education September
encounter the tabula rasa of our studentsâ€™ minds.
The tools, concepts, and insights we seek to convey
are superimposed upon our studentsâ€™ existing cognitive framesâ€”their structures of interpretation and
meaningâ€”in ways we cannot predict or fully comprehend. Thus, rather than furnishing our students
with an entirely new cognitive framework for analyzing strategic situations and selecting courses of
action, we are adapting and augmenting a preexisting one. Hence, we teachers need to acknowledge
that because each student begins the course with
a different cognitive frame and knowledge base and
processes new knowledge in a different way, at the
end of the course each student will still have a different cognitive frame. Our aspiration should be that
the revised frame is more sophisticated, better informed, and less biased than its predecessor.
Equally, the strategic management core course
offers a social environment where the development
of procedural and metacognitive knowledge is enriched by affective learning. In the classroom and
through group-work we should mirror the processes
of knowledge integration that characterize strategic
decision-making in real-world organizations. The
strategic planning systems of most organizations are
social processes in which strategies are formulated
through communication, debate, disagreement, and
consensus among multiple organizational members.
The basic principle is that the knowledge and perception of multiple individuals is superior to those
of a single individual.
Different types of application are conducive to the
development of different combinations of skills. The
majority of core courses in strategy utilize case analysis where studentsâ€™ preclass case analysis provides
the basis for in-class discussion. The case method
provides opportunities for students to encounter the
complexity of strategic situation, requiring them to
grapple with uncertainties over which are the critical
issues to address, which concepts and frameworks are
most appropriate for their diagnosis, and which strategic options offer the most promising way forward.
Case discussion allows students to listen to others
articulating their ideas and recommendations and
gain insight into their own cognitive frames and biases. Although all cases simplify and structure the real
situations they describe, the extent of such simplification and structuring varies; typically, the cases we
select for more mature students in graduate and executive programs involve greater levels of complexity
and ambiguity than more â€œpackagedâ€ cases we offer
undergraduates. The greater the level of complexity and ambiguity, the greater the potential for
developing judgment, insight, and synthesis. We are
encouraged by increasing diversity in the case material used by instructors. Video cases and current
media reports allow students to confront ambiguity
and uncertainty in strategic situations while economizing on the preparation time required by traditional
The learning that occurs through case studies also
depends heavily upon the ways in which students
engage with the cases. The use of cases to illustrate
theory in action will enhance understanding of
concepts and theories and allow appreciation of
procedures for their application, but will do little
nurture judgment, insight, or creativity. In general,
the more an instructor can get out of the way and give
space for the class to initiateâ€”and disagree overâ€”
recommendations and lines of argument, the greater
the development of upper level cognitive and affective skills, although possibly at the cost of less
systematic acquisition of conceptual knowledge.
Introducing role play into case discussion can be
especially effective in developing communication
and social skills and encouraging students to recognize and adapt their cognitive frames.
â€œLiveâ€ cases, where students engage directly with
a company to analyze a current strategic issue, and
team projects allow even closer proximation reality.
Jarzabkowski and Whittington, (2008: 285) recommend consulting projects where student teams can
engage in and reflect upon the reality of â€œdoing strategy.â€ However, the set-up costs and levels of instructor
engagement that these forms of experiential learning
demand deter their more widespread adoption.
In contrast, computer-based business simulations typically involve less ambiguityâ€”because the
structure of the simulation is already set. There is
always a danger that the challenge becomes one
working out the algorithms of the program rather
than addressing a realisticâ€”if stylizedâ€”business
situation. The strength of computer-based simulations is their effectiveness in developing systems
thinking and insight into the complementarity of
strategic decision variables. Like other forms of
team-workâ€”consulting projects, group exercises,
and group presentationsâ€”business simulations offer
group environments that can be highly effective contexts for metacognitive and affective learning.
Managing the Social and Emotional Dynamics
of the Learning Experience
The range of learning objectives together with the
fact that several of them are cultivated through
2018 Grant and Baden-Fuller 333
learning-by-doing has critical implications for managing the learning process. We have observed that
developing cognitive and behavioral skills requires
students to engage in reflective and critical thinking.
We have also noted that developing analytical skills
requires adapting and reformulating existing cognitive frames. Recent evidence from neuroscience
shows that cognitive capabilities are critically dependent on emotional developmentâ€”in particular,
â€œthe critical role of emotion in bringing previously
acquired knowledge to inform real world making
in social contextsâ€ (Immordino-Yang & Damasio,
At a practical level, the basic requirement is for
students to be emotionally, as well as cognitively,
engaged in their learning. Although such engagement
is a precondition for effective learning in almost any
educational context (NASBE, 2015), we argue that
because so much of strategic management learning is
implicit and is dependent upon instructorâ€“student
and studentâ€“student interactions, such engagement
is especially important for strategy courses. Hence,
a key responsibility for the instructorâ€”and one that is
essentially unchanged since the bygone days of
business policy teachingâ€”is establishing a secure
social and emotional environment in the class
within which individuals can express their views;
a challenging environment in which students are expected to participate, to contest one anotherâ€™s analyses and opinions, and to defend their views; and
a collaborative environment in which the individual
contributions are integrated to form a cohesive, multifaceted understanding.
Managing engagement is one of the most challenging tasks for strategic management teachers, as it
requires establishing expectations, reinforcing these
expectations through incentives, and establishing
behavioral norms. Grading for class participation
establishes incentives for class preparation and class
involvement, while cold-calling can be highly effective both in encouraging case preparation and
in helping less vocal students to engage in class
discussion. The more instructors can exploit the
knowledge and experience base of individual students, the more class members will feel that they and
their class contributions are valued. This, of course,
requires that instructors know more about their class
members than just their names. In addition, for those
students who for personality or cultural reasons have
difficulty in class discussion, individual counseling
from the instructor can be highly beneficial both for
them personally and for the overall class dynamic.
The effectiveness with which strategic management competences are developed is likely to require
a learning environment not always comfortable for
students. All human beings are averse to uncertainty. Studentsâ€”whether undergraduate or MBAâ€”
experience anxiety when presented with situations
where the problems are ill-defined and solutions
elusive. Yet, these types of situations are typical of
those faced by managers, and to simplify such situations into highly structured problem scenarios or
program them in a way that makes them amenable
to decision rules denies students the opportunity to
develop higher level strategic management skills.
We instructors must be wary of giving our students
what they want. Highly effective teachers of strategic
management tend to be those that can create a supportive classroom environment with the civility and
trust that encourages students to express themselves,
but also with the unpredictability and challenge that
are triggers to metacognitive and affective learning.
Explicit and Implicit Learning Processes
A major part of studentsâ€™ learning in core strategic
management courses occurs through implicit rather
than explicit learning. In applying analytical tools to
practical problems, strategic management has much
in common with medicine, law, engineering, and
other applied sciences. In all these subjects, teachers
simulate real-world problems within a classroom
context andâ€”through requiring students to meet
the difficulties of applying concepts, principles,
and theories to complex, unstructured problem
situationsâ€”nurture the additional skills to which
we have referred.
In strategic management teaching, metacognitive
skills are best addressed implicitly rather than explicitly. Although some kinds of judgment skills required for topics such as criminal law can be
developed through systematic training to recognize
and counter decision biases (Kahneman et al., 2011),
the judgment of concern to us is more complex and
is best learned implicitly. This learning can occur in
the course of applying analytical tools, because inevitably, students will need to go beyond deductive
logic to deploy additional cognitive skills, while
also being encouraged to reflect as a result of having
their judgments challenged.
Similarly with behavioral skillsâ€”particularly the
communicative and interpersonal skills required by
the social dimension of strategic management. Although some of these can be developed explicitly
through guiding students in how to give presentations,
334 Academy of Management Learning & Education September
the skills we want are those of more informal communication and rhetoric, and these are honed through
learning-by-doing. Hence, the emphasis on interactive
teaching: It is through articulating their perceptions
and analyses of strategic issues, listening to others,
responding to the interventions of other class members, and being challenged to formulate and defend
recommendations, that students develop their skills of
listening and communication. So too with team-based
interpersonal skills: Through working in groups on
assignments, projects, and presentations, students gain
practice in persuasion, accessing the knowledge and
insights of others, and consensus building.
Yet, the implicit nature of much student learning
does not mean that instructors can adopt a passive
role. At the outset, instructors need to distinguish
between those learning goals that can be achieved
through explicit, systematic learning (primarily the
acquisition of declarative knowledge concerning
strategic management) and those that involve implicit learning (principally the acquisition of cognitive and behavioral competences). The role of
implicit learning in developing â€œhigher levelâ€ cognitive faculties such as insight, judgment, and the
capacity for synthesis, requires instructors to give
careful attention to selecting which problem situations they give to students and how these situations
are presented and addressed within the classroom so
that students can be encouraged to engage in reflective and critical thinking. There may also be
opportunities to blend explicit and implicit learning.
For example, creativityâ€”a critical mental attribute
in generating solutions to strategic problemsâ€”tends
to be an innate attribute that is stimulated by interaction with others. However, the generation of
creative solutions can also be facilitated by tools and
guide exploratory search such as alternative business models (Teece, 2010) or analogical reasoning
(Gavetti & Rivkin 2005).
Adapting to Student Characteristics
We are keen to emphasize that our recommendations should not be interpreted as our recommending a uniform dominant design for the core course in
strategic management. Learning objectives may be
similar, but the priorities among them vary across
instructors and across institutions. In particular,
course design and delivery need to take account of
the knowledge attributes of students and instructors.
Among students the most important differentiators
are maturity and experience. The relative immaturity
and limited experience of undergraduates implies
that strategic management teaching should be more
conceptually grounded and feature less complex
applications than is typical for MBAs. Conversely,
seasoned executives are likely to be more adept in
addressing complex, unstructured situations and accommodating a wider range of general management
issues. Thus, in selecting applications for strategic
analysis, the balance between tractability and accessibility, on the one hand, and complexity and uncertainty, on the other, will depend largely on the
studentsâ€™ levels of experience. So too will instructorsâ€™
expectations regarding the issues to be considered by
students with different levels of maturity and experience. For example, in evaluating Amazonâ€™s 2017
decision to purchase the upscale supermarket chain,
Whole Foods, for $13 billion. An undergraduate class
might be expected to consider the wisdom of the price
paid for the company, identify basic synergies from
combining the companies, and apply the tools of
competitor analysis to view the emerging battle between Amazon and Walmart. Additional issues that
MBA students might address would include the option value of Whole Foods to Amazon, a dynamic
capabilities approach to exploring the longer run
synergies of the merger, and the challenge of integrating Whole Foods within Amazon. Finally, at
the executive level, we might expect a pondering of
deeper issues concerning Amazonâ€™s strategy, how
Amazon is able to defy conventional wisdom concerning the limits to diversification, and some of the
social and public policy issues that arise from Amazonâ€™s disruption of the retail sector.
Adaptation to student characteristics needs to take
account of not only their needs, but also their capabilities. Given that the required strategic management
course is typically positioned in the latter part of undergraduate business programs, these students tend
to have well-developed conceptual and analytical
knowledge from their prior courses. Hence, the strategic management course can offer them a rewarding
exposure to the realities of the business world and
a chance to synthesize and deploy their accumulated
conceptual knowledge. Equally, our experiences with
executive MBAs suggest students with extensive
business backgrounds can derive tremendous value
by using concepts and theoretical frameworks to interpret and give precision and refinement to their
Our underlying theme here is that we need to apply
the principles of strategic management to the design
2018 Grant and Baden-Fuller 335
and delivery of the core course in strategic management. The strategy literature emphasizes the need for
strategies to be coherent: The pieces need to fit together
(Teece, Rumelt, Dosi, & Winter, 1994; Leinwand &
Mainardi, 2010; Rumelt, 2011: 87â€“94). So, too with our
strategy teaching. We argue for coherence, first, among
learning objectives themselves, and second, between
learning objectives, course content, and modes of
teaching. Attention to these issues of consistency and
alignment does not necessarily imply radical changes
in our courses, either in content or teaching methods.
What we are arguing for is greater awareness of what
we are doing in our teaching of the core strategy course
and why we are doing it.
Beginning with the overall educational purpose of
the core strategic management course we have outlined the process of making and implementing strategy, identified the knowledge requirements of this
process, and derived implications for the design and
delivery of the course. Our recommendation is that,
although the core strategy course should be based on
theories, concepts, and analytical tools, its emphasis
should be on application. This requires conceptual
knowledge to be augmented by procedural, metacognitive, and affective knowledge. Only by learning
both the theory and the practice of strategy do students learn to appreciate the power and limits of the
fieldâ€™s knowledge. To make students better strategists,
our course design and teaching methods need to give
explicit attention to how we are helping our students
to develop judgment, insight, systems thinking, and
creativity; how they can become aware of their own
thought processes and cognitive biases, and how they
can improve their social and communicative skills
needed to engage in organizational strategy processes.
An important element of our teaching is guiding the
overall social and emotional ambiance of the class so
as to ensure individual engagement within an active
learning community that is simultaneously cooperative and challenging.
This emphasis upon such a broad array of cognitive
and social skills presents a huge challenge for teachers
of strategic management the majority of whom have
academic backgrounds and limited experience in the
practice of strategic management. However, a lack of
executive experience should not be viewed as a barrier
to effectiveness in guiding studentsâ€™ acquisition of the
skills that we have identified as essential complements
of conceptual knowledge in the development of strategic management competency. The key argument here
is that teachingâ€”even teaching skills whose basis is
not conceptual knowledgeâ€”requires different competences than performing. In relation to psychomotor
knowledge, there is a wealth of evidence showing
that performing the skill and teaching the skill draw
upon different competences: Sports champions are
rarely great coaches; great musicians are seldom the
most effective music teachers (Flegal & Anderson,
2008). Collins (2004: 125) proposes interactional
expertiseâ€”â€œthe ability to converse expertly about a
practical skill or expertise, but without being able to
practice itâ€â€”as an intermediate form of knowledge
lying â€œbetween formal propositional knowledge and
embodied skill.â€ This interactional expertise results
from â€œimmersing yourself in the linguistic culture
pertaining to a practical domain rather than the
practice itselfâ€ (ibid, 127). Such interactional expertise may also play an important role in the strategic
management expertise acquired by students. The
time available for students to acquire cognitive and
behavioral skills through experiential learning in the
core strategy course is limited; however, â€œlinguistic
socializationâ€ allows students to be conversant with
the issues relating to taking and implementing decisions in complex, ambiguous strategic situations
without extensive immersion practice.
Teachers of strategic management do not need to
become experts in making and implementing strategic decisions. The expertise they require is in teaching strategic management. This requires taking a
strategic approach to the required strategic course:
being explicit about learning objectives, recognizing
the knowledge requirements of these objectives, and
ensuring that course content and course delivery are
aligned with these knowledge requirements.
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Robert Grant is emeritus professor of management at
Bocconi University and visiting professor at City University of London. He has also taught courses in strategy
at Georgetown University, London Business School,
INSEAD, California Polytechnic, UCLA, University of
British Columbia, and University of South Africa, and is
a fellow of the Strategic Management Society. He holds
a PhD from City University of London. He is known for his
work on the resource-based and knowledge-based views
of the firm.
Charles Baden-Fuller is centenary professor of strategy,
Cass Business School, City University of London and senior fellow, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
He holds degrees from Oxford University (Balliol College),
Cornell University, and London School of Economics
(University of London). He is well known for his teaching,
consulting, and academic writings including notable contributions to the topics of business models, strategic alliances, cognition and competition, and the rejuvenation
of mature firms. He is a fellow of the Strategic Management Society, the British Academy of Management, and
the Academy of Social Sciences.
338 Academy of Management Learning & Education September
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