Cognitive Frames of Reference and Strategic Thinking
ARMY WAR COLL CARLISLE BARRACKS PA
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Using Stratified Systems Theory and the research on expertise as a conceptual framework, this study explored the differences in the structure and content of the cognitive frames of reference that mid-level and strategic-level leaders used when engaged in strategic thinking. During a one hour interview, subjects ten mid-level leaders, five regional experts, and five strategic-level leaders thought aloud about the most significant strategic issues facing the U. S. military in the future and how the defense establishment should prepare to face the issues. A diagraming technique was used to depict the frames of reference from the interview transcripts, resulting in 189 diagrams. Frame-of- reference diagrams were analyzed for structure and content. The results revealed discernible differences in the frames of mid-level and strategic-level leaders. Compared to the frames of reference of mid-level leaders, strategic-level leaders frames of reference were more interconnected, sophisticated, and action oriented. Strategic-level leaders were also more likely to anticipate second- and third-order effects because their frames of reference contained complex casual networks. Strategic-level leaders oriented on the organizations external environment to a greater extent than did mid-level leaders. Findings are discussed in terms of the implications for strategic leader education and development.