Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Teaching "Cause and Effect" in Business Schools: A Pathway to Improved Strategic Thinking Skills

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Teaching "Cause and Effect" in Business Schools: A Pathway to Improved Strategic Thinking Skills

Article excerpt


Organization leaders face a seemingly ceaseless acceleration in the pace of change. Complexity, technological innovation, and global competition place increasing demands upon leaders to be strategically reactive to events (Ireland & Hitt, 1997). To be successful, rising leaders must combine schooling with significant work experience in order to execute appropriate strategic decision-making in such an environment. In a sense, leaders need to develop within their memory an "internal database" of applicable knowledge that is the composite of book learning, followed by the addition of relevant observation and work experience. Requiring many years of "apprenticeship," the development of such an internal database can be lengthy. Given the long time frame required, it would valuable if this knowledge gain could be meaningfully accelerated such that individuals reach a state of leadership preparedness earlier. Is it possible for future leaders to begin the attainment of the experiential and observational learning necessary for complex strategic decision-making while still in school? The purpose of this paper is to propose that such acceleration is possible and suggest a pathway for this to occur.

Course delivery methods in business programs have evolved over the last several decades beyond readings, lectures, and written assignments. More contemporized andragogical practices include group projects, case studies, internships, evidence-based discourse, and computer simulations. While each of these methods have advantages and provide useful learning opportunities, they do not fully train students to observe global events in order to understand the likely sequencing of the organizational actions that truly inform strategic business thinking.

Effective leadership requires many skills including the ability to think strategically. Strategic thinking develops over time through the application of knowledge gained experientially. Students cannot directly experience the application of their classroom learning. Simulations come close, but still are not real-world. Even internships are limited in scope. Thus, the development of strategic thinking might only be advanced in the classroom if students commence the creation and synthesis of knowledge into intelligent decision-making through specific assignments designed to enhance this skill.


The ability of leaders to successfully execute strategic thinking is perhaps their most important responsibility. Without such a capability, it is unlikely an organization can obtain any level of effective performance in the long-run (Davids, 1995). Boal & Hooijberg (2001), referencing the concept of absorptive capacity from Cohen & Levinthal (1990), state that a key component of strategic thinking is the creation of absorptive capacity or the ability to recognize relevant new information and patterns in order to synthesize that information toward useful results. Others have applied similar perspectives of strategic thinking. Abraham (2005) suggests that strategic thinking is a cognitive approach that attempts to discover new and unconventional ways of competing. According to Sanders (1998), strategic thinking consists of insight about the present and foresight about the future. Fink & Schlake (2000) assert that it is helpful to view strategic thinking in terms of scenario building. They propose "future-open thinking" since predicting future developments is exceedingly intricate. Consequently, it is critical for organizations to accept that there is no one predictable future and be prepared for a multitude of possibilities.

In human affairs-political, social, economic, or business-it is pointless to try to predict the future, let alone attempt to look ahead 75 years. But it is possible-and fruitful-to identify major events that have already happened, irrevocably, and that will have predictable effects in the next decade or two. It is possible, in other words, to identify and prepare for the future that has already happened. …

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