Strategy emergence as wayfinding
Strategy researchers increasingly recognize that in many organizations strategic coherence can emerge inadvertently from local coping actions and decisions taken “on the hoof”. However, how this actually happens in practice has not been sufficiently examined and explained. We draw from the “practice turn” in social theory to show how strategy can emerge through a process of wayfinding involving local adaptive actions taken guided by an internalized habitus or modus operandi. Small iterative changes made oftentimes at operational levels can generate positive unintended consequences that ultimately contribute towards the emergence of a coherent and viable strategy. We empirically investigate the case of a high-end gourmet restaurant in the extremely structured field of haute cuisine, examining everyday practices, actions and ongoing improvisations made in relation to the individuals concerned, their professionally socialized selves, the unique set of organizational circumstances they face, and the institutional and environmental demands placed on them. We show how strategy as a consistent pattern of actions can emerge from this synergistic interweaving of local coping actions and their unintended consequences. We thus contribute to strategy research by proposing a model of strategy emergence as wayfinding that considers the actors’ social embeddedness, their internalized habitus and how that predisposes them to respond by itinerantly interweaving seemingly small coping actions to unexpectedly produce a coherent strategy.
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