Theses Doctoral

The Systems Thinking Learning Lens: An Exploratory Study of Executives' Mental Models

Sutherland, Debbie

It has become progressively difficult for businesses to tackle unanticipated events and define the influencers that generate unintended business consequences. As such, uncertain and ambiguous situations are now the prescriptive norm for many companies. Executives are at the forefront of having to make sense of the uncertainty to seek the ideal decision pathway. The purpose of this exploratory research study was to seek what is known about learning how to develop a systems thinking mental model by exploring the perceptions and narratives of 12 global executives working in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) within complex adaptive systems (CAS) and their understanding of their thinking patterns that may have assisted in learning how to develop a systems thinking mental model to manage business ambiguity. Three research questions were developed to identify the types of experiences, perceptions, thinking patterns, and enablers—be they within the individual, organizational, or environmental context—that may have provided a strategic learning path. The research questions include: (a) What characterizes the mental models the executives hold (the distinct nature or features of their beliefs, behaviors, and principles)?; (b) What are the experiences that provide the scaffolding in developing a systems thinking mental model (experiences and events)?; and (c) What aspects of the individual, organizational, and environmental interactions enable individuals to learn how to develop a systems thinking capacity (relationships, systems, and elements)? The qualitative exploratory research study used three data collection methods: (a) semi-structured interviews, (b) focus group session, and (c) demographic questionnaire. The researcher concluded from the findings, analysis, interpretations, and synthesis that: (a) a systems thinking mental model is reflective of and responsive to different elements, situations, and influencers; (b) certain behaviors are an integral part of a systems thinking mental model; (c) informal learning experiences in ambiguous and uncertain situations may provide an ambiguous thinking learning pathway; and (d) learning through social, cultural, and operational systems is an under-utilized strategic intent.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Yorks, Lyle
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 6, 2019