When the Glass is Half Full and Half Empty: CEO's Ambivalent Interpretations of Strategic Issues


Strategic Management Journal

July 2010, vol. 31, n°7, pp.689-710

Departments: Strategy & Business Policy

Keywords: Ambivalence, Sensemaking, Strategic issue diagnosis, Organizational mindfulness, Managerial cognition, Organizational context

Organizational scholars have highlighted the importance of interpretive ambivalence for mindfulness, creativity, and strategic change. Ambivalence occurs when an issue is seen simultaneously as positive and negative. We examine organizational factors that influence the propensity of organizational leaders to evaluate a new strategic issue ambivalently. Data come from a survey of 220 German CEOs confronted with the enlargement of the European Union. We find that CEOs of firms with a more ambidextrous strategic orientation and a moderate sense of organizational control over their environment are most likely to be ambivalent about this issue. Our findings affirm the prevalence of interpretive ambivalence at the executive level and suggest ways for organizations to promote or prevent ambivalence in strategic sensemaking