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Bounded awareness and tacit knowledge: revisiting Challenger disaster

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PurposeThis paper's aim is to highlight the relationship between individual tacit knowledge and bounded awareness in managerial decision making. Design/methodology/approachThe paper reviews pertinent literature on bounded awareness, individual tacit knowledge and decision making as well as that on the NASA Challenger disaster of 1986. The authors then build logical arguments towards three distinct propositions. FindingsThe distinct three propositions are: managers' dependence upon their existing tacit knowledge interacts with the bounds on their awareness in a cycle of positive reinforcement; different decision makers in the organization can experience differing bounds on their awareness towards the same piece of information; and the tension between experiences of success and failure influences the development of bounded awareness in individuals. Research limitations/implicationsThis study reflects on only a single case of decision-making failure in its analyses. A variegated sample of different failures in multiple contexts might lead to finer insights. Practical implicationsThese realizations bring to the fore a paradoxical property of dependence on tacit knowledge that it can be beneficial but can sometimes be harmful. This has implications for the field of knowledge management, wherein tacit knowledge is often a central construct. Originality/valueTo the best of the authors' knowledge, the relationship between bounded awareness and tacit knowledge has not been explicitly discussed before. The propositions can open useful new avenues for future researchers on the antecedents of, and remedies for, bounds on managerial awareness during decision making.

Keywords: Bounded awareness; Decision making; Knowledge management; Knowledge transfer; Managerial decision making; Path dependence; Self-referential; Tacit knowledge

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 19, 2012

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