Decision-Making under Uncertainty: Using Case Studies for Teaching Strategy in Complex Environments
Decision-makers today respond to a security environment characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Decisions cut across a wide range of social, political and cultural domestic and global issues and demand cognitive flexibility, adaptability and the ability to make decisions “on the fly.” While the U.S. military excels in preparing its soldiers and officers for the operational demands and tactical requirements of a wide array of increasingly complex contingency missions, a number of observers have pointed to the need for teaching strategy more effectively as part of professional military education. The purpose of this article is to analyze some of the cognitive frames that inform strategic decision-making, discuss the importance of heuristic shortcuts as cognitive decision-guides, and compare the rational actor decision model that has traditionally informed linear strategic decision-making in the military with a sense-making framework more suitable to complex strategic environments. Specifically, I illustrate how the case study method can be employed effectively to teach strategic thinking using the sense-making framework in civilian and military educational settings.