In this empirical study, the focus is on the risks involved with implementing practices of Early Supplier Involvement (ESI) from the perspective of suppliers, which has not been given its due attention. For suppliers, making sense of ESI implies dealing with the following chicken-and-egg problem: the capabilities to be offered depend on the way the business is defined and vice versa. In this paper, a model is presented to describe how suppliers have made sense of this chicken-and-egg problem. This model was used for an empirical exploration of the risks involved with ESI-strategies and draws significantly on theoretical and methodological insights of the social systems theory of the late German sociologist Niklas Luhmann. Until now, social systems theory has not gained much attention within organization studies. As such, this study also aims to illustrate some of the potential of social systems theory.
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