Organizational Decision Making Under Uncertainty Shocks

41 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2018

See all articles by Luis Ballesteros

Luis Ballesteros

George Washington University

Howard Kunreuther

University of Pennsylvania - Operations, Information and Decisions Department; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: August 2018


In line with the fallacy of riskification of uncertainty by which decision makers believe that the effects of unpredictable phenomena can be captured accurately by probability distributions, organizational scholars commonly treat the organizational inefficiency in dealing with uncertainty shocks—exogenous hazards whose welfare effects spread across industries and markets, such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and financial crises—as a problem of risk management. This is problematic because the consequences of uncertainty shocks outstrip the predictability capacity for the average manager and entail a greater complexity of internal and external factors. Moreover, their uniqueness makes translating experience into learning far more difficult. We seek to address this inadequate approach with a theoretical framework that captures the multidimensional complexity of organizations preparing for, coping with, and recovering from exogenous uncertain disruption. We bring together the literatures on cognitive psychology that suggest that biases and heuristics drive behavior under uncertainty, a Neo-Carnegie perspective that indicates that organizational structure and strategy regulate these behavioral factors, and institutional theory that points to stakeholder and institutional dynamics affecting economic incentives to invest in prevention and business continuity. Taken together, this article offers the foundation for a behaviorally plausible, decision-centered perspective on organizational decision-making under uncertainty.

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Suggested Citation

Ballesteros, Luis and Kunreuther, Howard C., Organizational Decision Making Under Uncertainty Shocks (August 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w24924. Available at SSRN:

Luis Ballesteros (Contact Author)

George Washington University ( email )

2121 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Howard C. Kunreuther

University of Pennsylvania - Operations, Information and Decisions Department ( email )

3730 Walnut Street
558 & 559 Jon M. Huntsman Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104-5340
United States
212-854-0423 (Phone)
215-573-2130 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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