Main Research Topic 6  Supporting Complex Thinking


Rapidly increasing complexity and an accelerating pace of structural change constitute qualitatively new challenges for which our cognitive apparatus is not well prepared. This gap between challenges and innate cognitive skills has emerged because cultural evolution has outpaced biological evolution by orders of magnitude. While this divergence is less problematic in everyday or routine decisions, for which there are established heuristics and standards, it may have fatal consequences in new and sensitive situations, e.g. strategic decisions in management and politics.


The “Supporting Complex Thinking” (SCT) effort tries to bridge this gap by

  • Identifying strengths and weaknesses of human cognition in a complex environment based on close collaboration with researchers in psychology and neurobiology
  • Developing IT-based tools, training programs and problem solving methodologies that use the strong modules of human thinking in order to support the less well adapted parts of our cognitive apparatus

Visualization is the best example for our approach: The powerful parallel processing capacities of the visual sense enable us to handle complex, multidimensional problems that seem intractable when presented verbally. However, as research has shown pitfalls are numerous and bad visualization can distort decisions even more.

We approach these issues from two directions: First, various workshops with clients in the private and public sector give us a good understanding of the critical points, at which decisions often go wrong or are unnecessarily complicated or delayed. This is the basis for improvement of our tools and also generates ideas for more theoretical research, e.g. in the psychology of decision making.

Second, we screen the scientific literature in order to adapt our tools, workshop formats and methodologies to the latest empirical findings. Recently this also led to a more intensive dialogue between research in the cognitive sciences and management studies: The outcome of this efforts is a book that analyses the implications of cognitive bottlenecks (such as working memory constraints) for decision making in organizations and provides the background and conceptual foundations of our methodologies and tools.

We also analyze current developments that are of interest to decision makers and researchers alike, e.g. decision making in turbulent times of fast structural change as in the financial crisis.