Issues and trends in causal ambiguity research: a review and assessment

Stefan Konlechner, Véronique Ambrosini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Causal ambiguity relates to ambiguity as to how organizational actions and results, inputs and outcomes, or competencies and advantage are linked. Causal ambiguity is important because of its organizational performance implications. Over the last 25 years, research has analyzed the concept from various theoretical angles. As a result, the literature is fragmented and presents different, and sometimes contradictory, views on the concept. In this article, we systematically review the literature on causal ambiguity and develop a framework incorporating the types, antecedents, and consequences of causal ambiguity for both organizational performance and organizational learning. We disentangle the arrays of conceptualizations and operationalizations present in the literature, and we isolate distinct streams in causal ambiguity research. One stream of research concentrates on causal ambiguity as an interfirm barrier to imitation, a second relates to causal ambiguity as an intrafirm barrier to factor mobility, and a third focuses on causal ambiguity as a potential trigger for intrafirm learning. Our review also helps to consolidate research on the substitution dilemma, the causal ambiguity paradox, and the challenge of learning under causal ambiguity. Finally, we develop a coherent set of implications for management practice, and we provide an agenda for further research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2352-2386
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Management
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • behavioral theory of the firm
  • causal ambiguity
  • decision-making
  • decisions under risk/uncertainty
  • organizational learning
  • resource-based view

Cite this