The Role of Visuals in Strategic Decision-Making Explored in Recent Research

Management consultants and professors have been increasingly utilizing visuals in strategic decision-making processes, as highlighted by recent research conducted by Felipe Csaszar, Nicole Hinrichs, and Mana Heshmati. Published in the Strategic Management Journal, the study delves into the impact of visuals on decision quality and cognitive functions essential for solving strategy problems. The research reveals that visuals play a crucial role in enhancing working memory, long-term memory, pattern recognition, and knowledge transfer and transformation, ultimately aiding in the development of high-quality strategies. Csaszar emphasizes that visuals are not mere decorations but powerful thinking tools that can enhance cognitive capabilities.

The study also points out that visuals with greater usability and malleability are more likely to assist experienced managers in identifying superior solutions. Usability, dependent on pre-attentive processing and Gestalt principles, allows for quick pattern detection and ambiguity resolution in visuals. Malleability, on the other hand, refers to the extent to which visuals can be altered by users. The researchers suggest that embracing visuals in strategic decision-making can lead to better outcomes, while also facilitating understanding and retention of strategy concepts when teaching.

While traditional tools like paper, pen, and whiteboards are currently prevalent in the use of visuals in strategy, the researchers note the potential for new technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality to revolutionize this process. AI’s data analysis capabilities can generate insights integrated into visuals, enhancing efficiency and informativeness. Virtual reality, on the other hand, may offer immersive and interactive visuals for enhanced collaboration and data conveyance.

However, the study also highlights potential risks associated with visuals in strategy, such as complicating decision-making by oversimplifying complex issues or obscuring essential details. Csaszar emphasizes the need for a nuanced understanding of how visuals shape decision processes, particularly in high-stakes strategic scenarios. The research underscores the importance of leveraging visuals effectively while being mindful of their potential drawbacks.