The decision-making logic of SMEs is in constant flux

Careful planning or improvisation? According to Pertti Wathen's doctoral dissertation, the dominant decision-making logics in small and medium-sized enterprises are not opposites, but intertwined and in constant motion.

Pertti Wathen's doctoral dissertation in international business examines the strategic decision-making logics of SMEs in the context of their innovation, internationalisation and partnership challenges. These logics are traditional causal decision-making, which emphasises goal setting and planning, and more improvisational, effectual decision-making.

– Causation and effectuation are not opposites, but two independent logics that coexist in different forms. The results of this study show that these two logics are intertwined in practice and their use is in constant flux, says Wathen, who will publicly defend his dissertation at the University of Vaasa on Friday 15 September.

The study also challenges previous suggestions in the research literature that there would be a gradual shift from more improvisational and experimental effectuation towards causal decision-making as firms age.

– What is important, is to recognise that flexibility in decision-making is an essential factor for the success of the company, says Wathen.

Wathen's research confirms the notion that, in practice, a company's success depends on a seemingly inexhaustible number of interacting factors.

 These factors could be described as a big jigsaw puzzle, in which the decision-making logic is influenced by factors such as industry, age, size, ownership, entrepreneurial experience, environment, the business function in question and, of course, the issue to be decided.

In his doctoral research, Wathen analysed six Finnish companies in the energy technology sector. Three of them were new companies seeking rapid internationalisation with their business operations based on radical innovation. The other three were SMEs that had been operating for years. The companies were studied for about three years through interviews, workshops and observations. The main focus of the study was on the companies' innovation and internationalisation activities and their resourcing.

Public defence

The public examination of Pertti Wathen’s doctoral dissertation “Decision-making moon-bridge: SMEs’ usage of causation and effectuation perpetually in motion” will be held on Friday 15 September 2023 at 12 at the University of Vaasa, auditorium Nissi.

Participation in the defence is possible also online (Zoom, password: 044121)

Professor Nina Helander (Tampere University) will act as an opponent and Professor Arto Ojala as a custos.

Doctoral dissertation

Wathen, Pertti (2023) Decision-making moon-bridge: SMEs’ usage of causation and effectuation perpetually in motion. Acta Wasaensia 515. Doctoral dissertation. Vaasan yliopisto / University of Vaasa.

Publication pdf


Further information

Pertti Wathen, tel. +358 44 972 8256,

Pertti Wathen passed his matriculation examination at the Pori Lyceum in 1978 and graduated as a process engineer from the Porin teknillinen oppilaitos (Pori institute of technology) in 1983. He later continued his studies and graduated with a Master of Business Administration (YAMK) degree from Tampere University of Applied Sciences in 2015. He also holds an MBA from Henley Management College.

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