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12: Cognitive Foundations (Daniella Laureiro- Martínez)

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

By Daniella Laureiro-Martínez - ETH Zurich

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Required readings

Fiol, C. M., Lyles, M. A. (1985). Organizational learning. Academy of management review, 10(4), 803-813.


Levitt, B., March, J. G. (1995). Chester I. Barnard and the Intelligence of Learning. In: Williamson,

O. E. (Ed.). Organization theory: from Chester Barnard to the present and beyond. (available here)


Shapira, Z. (2020). Psychological foundations of group and organizational learning. In: The Oxford Handbook of Group and Organizational Learning, 21.


Discussion questions

The futuristic one: Barbara Levitt and Jim March discussed learning in “more complicated worlds” in their 1995 chapter. How are novel forms of “augmented” cognition changing how individuals and organizations learn nowadays? What learning sub-processes might be most affected?


The “let’s break the silos” one: When studying cognition, we have often relied on machine metaphors (e.g., organizations process information, managers are computing devices) and/or anthropocentric metaphors (e.g., the brain/heart of the organization, the organizational memory). “Newer” attempts to model cognition (often based in social cognitive neuroscience) rely on more micro and process-oriented approaches that try to capture individual cognition and behavior in context and over time. In these models, controlled and automatic processes are equally important for learning. Controlled processes are typically linguistic, slow operating and fast learners. Automatic processes are typically sensory, fast operating and slow learners. Bearing in mind that these models have been developed to explain individual behavior, what areas of organizational learning could benefit the most of being revisited using as a lens these “newer” models of cognition? What areas less?


The methods one: Recent developments in analyzing textual data are promoting a large growth in research that uses measures based on language to capture cognition (e.g., studies using emails, letters, press articles, social media data, etc. to proxy cognition). In this way, cognition is implicitly conceived as a symbolic process. What are some boundaries of language for capturing cognition? What organizational learning areas seem better suited to be studied via language? What methods seem better suited as complements to methods based on language analytics and symbolic approaches?


Bonus: There are several concepts that we use to describe phenomena at the organizational level that were originally born from models of individual learning and individual cognition. What are the implicit assumptions of using the same concepts at the organizational and the individual level? What are possible advantages and disadvantages of using the same concepts? What could be the implications for our understanding of how organizations learn?


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