Uncertainty and Competing Goals: Advancing Behavioral Theories of Entrepreneurial Processes and Outcomes

Gómez-Mejia L., Hoskisson R., Chirico F., Kotlar J., Eddleston K.A., Berrone P., Cruz C., Baù M., Klein P.

Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal

Submission deadline: 2023/07/09

Guest Editors

sej cover

Luis R. Gómez-Mejia, Arizona State University
Robert Hoskisson, Rice University
Francesco Chirico, Macquarie University & Jönköping University
Josip Kotlar, Politecnico di Milano
Kimberly Eddleston, Northeastern University
Pascual Berrone, IESE Business School
Cristina Cruz, IE Business School
Massimo Baù, Jönköping University

Peter Klein, Baylor University (SEJ Co-editor)


Call for papers

The global COVID pandemic highlights the significant challenges entrepreneurs must address when dealing with uncertainty, rapidly changing markets, and dynamic technological advances that evolve quickly in complex and unpredictable ways. This observation resonates with many recent calls in the literature to further understand how entrepreneurs simultaneously address the profit opportunities and the unpredictability present in complex decision situations. This is exemplified by Knightian uncertainty (Alvarez & Barney, 2007; Lampter et al., 2020; Feduzi et al, 2021; Hitt et al, 2021; Rindova and Courtney, 2020; Zellweger et al, 2021), where reliable information on available options and their probabilities are not accessible a priori (Knight, 1921). Moreover, the complexity in the decision-making process is further amplified when entrepreneurs seek other goals than profitability. In this case, they might engage in “mixed gambles” involving a dual risk of gains and losses across multiple – often competing – dimensions of wealth for the decision-maker (March & Shapira, 1987; Martin et al., 2013; Wu & Markle, 2008).

In contexts where uncertainty and competing goals overlap, strategic responses would depend not only on existing knowledge, but also on entrepreneurs’ underlying attitudes toward uncertainty (Rindova & Courtney, 2020). Research applying a socio-cognitive perspective suggests a variety of cognitive and motivational factors that influence entrepreneurs’ strategic choices under uncertainty (e.g., Hodgkinson, et al, 1999; Koudstaal et al., 2016; McMullen & Shepherd, 2006; Rindova & Martin, 2018; Zuzul & Tripsas, 2020). Recent work by Rindova and Courtney (2020), for example, calls for greater attention to the underlying attitudes and values of entrepreneurs in influencing their strategic responses to uncertainty. Likewise, scholars studying family firms – the most common form of business ownership worldwide (Villalonga & Amit, 2020) – have emphasized that under duress and uncertainty, their trade-offs between economic and socio-emotional goals (Gómez-Mejía et al., 2007), drive them to pursue distinctive decisions related to diversification, innovation, growth, internationalization, corporate social responsibility, generational renewal and entrepreneurial exit (e.g., Alessandri et al., 2018; Berrone et al., 2010; Chirico et al., 2020a, b; Chrisman & Patel, 2012; Cruz & Justo, 2017; Eddleston & Mulki, 2021; Fang et al., 2021; Gómez-Mejía et al., 2014, 2018; Kotlar & Sieger, 2019; Kotlar et al., 2018). Social entrepreneurship scholars also recognize the difficult trade-offs entrepreneurs often need to make when seeking to increase their social impact amidst complex and, often, corrupt environments (e.g., Arend, 2020; Nega & Schneider, 2014).

Building on these empirical observations and research trends, we believe that more research is needed to address important theoretical gaps and nuances about how entrepreneurs cope with uncertainty, especially when they have competing goals that go beyond pure profit maximization. The issue of making decisions when multiple and competing goals are present can be fruitfully explored in various entrepreneurial contexts, such as among social entrepreneurs (Bacq & Eddleston, 2018; Short et al., 2009), enterprising families and family businesses (e.g., Chirico et al., 2020a; Cruz & Justo, 2017; Gómez-Mejía et al., 2014), and high-reliability/resilient (Lengnick-Hall, Beck, & Lengnick-Hall, 2011; Weick et al., 1999) and not-for-profit organizations (Valentinov, 2008). In all these contexts, entrepreneurs face complex decisions in an attempt to deal with multiple goal considerations pertaining to current/future, financial/non-financial, and individual/collective wealth, among others. Understanding how organizations cope with uncertainty while managing these goal trade-offs is needed to advance our understanding of the dilemmas commonly encountered by entrepreneurs and the related actions taken to succeed in complex environments.

The aim of this Special issue is to encourage scholars to advance new theoretical and empirical insights about entrepreneurial decision-making processes and outcomes in complex environments under conditions of uncertainty and competing goals. Accordingly, a wide repertoire of behavioral theories should be considered to further develop and enrich current understanding of entrepreneurial processes and outcomes. For instance, the mixed gamble concept has recently emerged as a powerful lens to explicate complex decisions in contexts that are hard to make sense of and decide upon (e.g., Bromiley, 2009, 2010; Gómez-Mejía et al., 2014; Hoskisson et al., 2017; Nalick et al., 2020). Also, the concept of Knightian uncertainty has been used to address situations in which neither outcomes nor their probabilities can be estimated ex ante (Arikan et al., 2020; Alvarez and Barney, 2007; Knight, 1921). Real options theory is another theoretical tool for helping managers and entrepreneurs deal with decision-making under uncertainty to enhance strategic flexibility (McGrath, 1997; McGrath & MacMillan, 2000; Bowman & Moskowitz, 2001). There has also been research dealing with how biases might distort the rationality of the real options decision approach (Coff & Laverty, 2001; Miller & Shapira, 2003; Adner & Levanthal, 2004). Additionally, scholars rooted in the tradition of the behavioral theory of the firms have started to examine how interrelated and conflicting goals are prioritized and resolved (Gaba & Greve, 2019). Unfortunately, however, these concepts and related models of uncertainty and competing goals have not received adequate attention in the entrepreneurship literature. Moreover, we encourage scholars to use cognitive mental models, such as the “small world representation” (SWR)’ concept that is gaining traction in the behavioral strategy and entrepreneurship literatures (e.g., Feduzi et al, 2021: Csaszar & Levinthal, 2016; Packard et al., 2017).


Specifically, we outline three broad research directions for furthering our understanding of uncertainly and competing goals in entrepreneurial decision-making:

  • Apply behavioral theories to explain what drives entrepreneurs’ decisions when facing difficult trade-offs between multiple competing goals (e.g., financial/non-financial, individual/collective/social, current/prospective wealth) in highly uncertain contexts.
  • Explore how the social, relational, and affective characteristics of entrepreneurs shape their evaluation and framing of potential gains and losses, as well as uncertainty and risk, in complex and evolving environments.
  • Explore the dynamics of entrepreneurial decision-making to explain how perceptions of uncertainly and trade-offs between multiple goals are shaped by the temporal evolution of the entrepreneurs’ social and business contexts.

In addition to these three main research directions, many other research questions can be envisaged and would be welcome as submissions to the Special Issue, including questions such as:

  • What are the theoretical and empirical boundaries of existing models of decision-making in entrepreneurship research under uncertainty?
  • To what extent do the concepts of Knightian uncertainty, mixed gambles, and other concepts related to uncertainly and competing goals in decision-making apply across different types of entrepreneurial decisions?
  • What are the micro-foundations that explain the entrepreneurs’ cognitive and emotional evaluation of uncertainty and competing goals?
  • What are the implications of uncertainly and competing goals for entrepreneurial processes, outcomes and performance, both in the short and long-run?
  • When facing uncertainty and duress, how do the diverse goals of different entrepreneurs, such lone founders, social entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs, family entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial families, shape their (un)ethical behaviors?
  • Given that social entrepreneurs must balance social and financial goals to achieve their mission (Bacq & Eddleston, 2018), how do environmental changes and uncertainty affect their entrepreneurial strategies over time?
  • How do entrepreneurs manage their strategic decisions under uncertainty while being effective in opportunity-seeking (i.e., entrepreneurship) and advantage seeking (i.e., strategic management) behaviors” to achieve superior firm performance (Ireland et al., 2003: 963; see also Chirico, Sirmon, Sciascia, & Mazzola, 2011; Lumpkin, Steier & Wright, 2011)?


The deadline for submission is July 9, 2023. Please indicate that the manuscript is for consideration in the uncertainty and competing goals special issue when submitting your manuscript online.

Contributors should follow the directions contained in the SEJ manuscript submission guidelines. All papers will be reviewed according to the standard policies of the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal. It is anticipated that the special issue will be published in June 2025.

Further Information

For questions regarding the content of this special issue, please contact the guest editors:

For questions about submitting to the special issue contact Senior Publications & Content Strategy Manager, Ryan Reeh, rreeh@strategicmanagement.net

Read the call for paper