The Process Affordances of Strategy Toolmaking when Addressing Wicked Problems

Gary Burke, Carola Wolf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies have examined how managers use strategy tools, but we know much less about how managers create strategy tools de novo. We undertook an ethnographic study of a business facing a wicked problem and investigated the sociomaterial practice of collective toolmaking. We identify how strategy toolmaking oscillates between different problem domains and reveal how this manifests process affordances, which are ‘unintended’ by-products of the toolmaking process. Counterintuitively, by intentionally making a strategic tool, actors unintentionally create a sociomaterial springboard for 'spin-off strategizing' and ‘the discovery of latent ambiguities’, generating strategic value beyond the tool produced. These insights illuminate how the practice of collective toolmaking can stimulate wayfinding, indirectly helping managers to respond to wicked problems, characterized by high degrees of complexity, ambiguity, and indeterminacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-388
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Management Studies
Issue number2
Early online date14 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Management Studies published by Society for the Advancement of Management Studies and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Funding: ESRC


  • affordances
  • strategy process
  • strategy toolmaking
  • strategy tools
  • strategy tools-in-use
  • strategy-as-practice
  • wayfinding


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