Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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How Does Business Strategy Treat Cognition?

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posted on 2021-12-08, 14:48 authored by Alan Mayo

Strategizing is a human cognitive activity. While this may suggest that business strategy would focus on human cognition, this thesis finds the opposite – that business strategy overwhelmingly treats cognition superficially, and that business strategy consequently is limited and underperforms. This thesis recommends a cognitive turn that places cognition at the centre of business strategy and thereby enables the enhanced research and execution of business strategy.   To research the question “how does business strategy treat cognition?” requires an epistemology that admits cognition. Having found no such epistemology, this thesis creates its own – Pragmatic Cognitivism. A research method that is based upon the works of Michel Foucault, and which aligns with this epistemology, is adopted to analyse two mainstream business strategy discourses and two academic business strategy discourses.   This analysis finds that business strategy, driven by Enlightenment thinking and human sciences, perceives itself to be the problem and creates a large variety of approaches to strategy and strategy solutions. The development of these approaches establishes both the discipline of strategy and the role of the strategist. The analysis concludes that business strategy often ignores cognition and, when it is considered, it is treated only as a side issue. Furthermore, strategy solutions are not cognitive solutions, tasks such as learning and designing strategy are not considered, there is no consideration of knowledge of strategy and strategy intentions, and the subconscious is rarely mentioned.   Conditions that have led to this limited treatment of cognition include a scientific approach that does not easily cater for cognition and the complexities of understanding the mind. For business strategy, this has resulted in methodological approaches, a limited scope, and underperformance. Business strategy has developed in such a way that its own context is the limiting factor – business strategy cannot perform well because its core ingredient, cognition, is left untreated.   This thesis recommends a cognitive turn in business strategy that makes cognition the centre of strategy discourses. This is not to wholly reject current discourses, but it is a fundamental shift in how business strategy is conceived, researched, and executed. By placing cognition at the centre of strategy interpretations, strategy can potentially develop higher levels of performance rather than being structurally constrained.   The necessary starting point for such a cognitive turn is epistemological – to enable cognition to be well thought. Pragmatic Cognitivism is recommended as an epistemology that enables the reinstatement of the concepts of intuition and judgment, the inclusion of the subconscious as a cognitive factor, and the consideration of group cognitive dynamics. Such a cognitive turn is not an increased drawing of theory from contemporary psychology – it is a turn to concepts initially found in pre-behavioural approaches.   This thesis seeks to understand business strategy in the present by exploring how business strategy has treated human cognition in the past.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970115 Expanding Knowledge in Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Victoria Management School


Cummings, Steven; Davenport, Sally Jane