Introduction

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A remarkable revolution is underway in the organization sciences: A new generation of

scholars is enthusiastically bringing the role of the human mind back into the study of

organizations. Unlike the deterministic views of man expounded by Skinner or of

organizations promulgated by the early contingency theorists such as Lawrence and

Lorsch, this new breed of scholars takes inspiration from the works of Barnard, Simon

and Weick, and pays serious attention to human cognitive processes. Their cognitive

agenda is enabled by the availability of new research tools that have made possible the

study of thought using “normal science” approaches. Indeed, these new tools have

reached a level of maturity as witnessed by their increasingly frequent use in papers

published in major management journals (Narayanan & Kemmerer, 2001).

One of these tools that has great potential for advancing research in managerial cognition

is causal mapping. Causal maps represent thought as a network of causal relations,

representing concepts through nodes and causality though links between nodes. They

invoke the notion of causation, and users of the tool observe that causal analysis is

built into our natural language, while side-stepping the philosophical challenges

associated with the notion of causality. In recent years, this tool has been considered

one of the most effective ways of representing thought (Mohammed, Klimoski &

Rentsch, 2001).

This book is devoted exclusively to causal mapping. The primary objective of this chapter

is to provide an historical overview of the use of causal mapping, and its migration from

political science to organization theory, and more recently into research efforts in IT. This

migration has brought in its wake a diversity of perspectives and approaches, and

therefore, a secondary objective of this chapter is to sketch this diversity, so that readers

can appreciate the subtle differences among the various users of the tool. Thus, this

chapter is meant for those interested in an appreciation of the technique beyond its

immediate application.

This chapter unfolds in two major sections. In the first section, I detail the migration of

the causal mapping technique over five stages, identifying the milestones in its evolution,

and the seminal works that punctuate this evolution. In the second, I summarize the

diversity of approaches among users of causal mapping and, indeed, the discerning

reader will notice this diversity in the contributions of this edited book.