Better decisions when crisis hits

Thorvald Hærem

Associate Professor Thorvald Hærem is awarded for the 'This year’s innovation in psychology”. He has developed a model to understand what happens when several people work together to solve complex problems.

Imagine that you are on an oil platform in the North Sea. The platform will be vulnerable to attack by terrorists. Together with your colleagues, it is your job to protect the platform against terrorists who take action.

This is a scenario used in both research and teaching at BI.

•    Is it possible to prepare for organising, leading and making decisions in such a situation?
•    Can experiments help us to make better decisions under uncertainty?

Solve complex problems
Associate Professor Thorvald Hærem of BI has developed a model to understand what happens when several people with different tasks work together to solve complex problems by coordinating their actions.

He has also developed an experimental laboratory that makes it possible to study the psychology of such complex decision behaviors - eg. In reaction to terrorist acts against an oil installation in the North Sea.

This year's innovation in psychology
Hærem is awarded for the 'This year's innovation in 2016" for his research on the solution of complex problems. The purpose of the award is to celebrate innovations in psychology and highlight the people and communities who stand for them. The award ceremony was organised by the Norwegian Society for Psychological Science.

- This is more than an acknowledgment. It is the dissemination of knowledge and research inspiration in the same prize. It is important for us that the research is useful outside of our own environment at BI, states Thorvald Hærem.

This is the third time the award is handed out. Winners may come from any field of psychology.

Knowledge with practical application
Four PhD students are currently working in the Hærem's lab experiment. Bjorn Bakken previously completed a doctoral project in the research laboratory at BI.

- We work with, among other areas, understanding how teams can best handle emergencies, e.g. in connection with terrorist activities, says the BI researcher.

According to Hærem, research in Norway has so far been most concerned with how to prevent crises from arising, and what one can do to mitigate the consequences afterwards.

- What we are researching is how to handle the situation while it unfolds.

Prepared for the unexpected
In cooperation with the Armed Forces, Hærem and colleagues developed the course "Organisation for the unexpected", which is about coordination, communication and decision-making under uncertainty.

- In this course, we examine models of organisation, management and decision-making at individual, team and organisational level.

The army and police are not alone in that they should be able to handle unexpected events.

- The unexpected happens everywhere all the time. How can one decide, lead and organise for flexibility? This is a key question.


Hærem, T., Pentland, B. T. & Miller, K. D. (2014). Task complexity: Extending a core concept. Academy of Management Review, 40(3), 446–460. doi: 10.5465/amr.2013.0350.

Pentland, B. T. & Hærem, T. (2015). Organizational routines as patterns of action: Implications for organizational behavior. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 2, 465–487. doi: 10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-032414-111412.

Published 26. January 2016

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