The Double Edge of Ambiguity in Strategic Planning

30 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2014

See all articles by Chahrazad Abdallah

Chahrazad Abdallah

University of London - Birkbeck College

Ann Langley

HEC Montreal

Date Written: March 2014


While the communications and strategy literatures have suggested that ambiguity embedded in texts such as strategic plans many enable the accommodation of divergent perspectives and contribute to building consensus and commitment, little is known about the consequences of such ambiguity for the consumption of strategy discourse or for the enactment of planned strategy. In a case study of strategic planning in a cultural organization, we identify three forms of ambiguity embedded in the strategy text, and show how these features generate different forms of consumption among organization members. We find that strategic ambiguity initially plays an enabling role as participants engage in enacting their respective interpretations of strategy. However, over time, the mobilizing effects of strategic ambiguity lead to internal contradiction and overextension. The study contributes by exploring empirically the double‚Äźedged nature of strategic ambiguity, and by identifying the underlying mechanisms by which its paradoxical consequences emerge. We show that while ambiguous strategy discourse enables strategic development and change, it may contain the seeds of its own dissolution contributing to cyclical patterns of strategy development and reorientation.

Keywords: cultural organizations, interpretive discourse analysis, strategic ambiguity, strategic planning

Suggested Citation

Abdallah, Chahrazad and Langley, Ann, The Double Edge of Ambiguity in Strategic Planning (March 2014). Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 51, Issue 2, pp. 235-264, 2014. Available at SSRN: or

Chahrazad Abdallah (Contact Author)

University of London - Birkbeck College ( email )

Malet Street
London, WC1E 7HX
United Kingdom

Ann Langley

HEC Montreal ( email )

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics