Transformative Rare Events: Leveraging Digital Affordance Actualisation

Stefan Henningsson*, William J. Kettinger, Zhang Cheng, Nageswaran Vaidyanathan

*Corresponding author for this work

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This paper conceptualises the COVID-19 pandemic as a “rare event.” Rare events channel managerial attention to magnified issues and foster resource mobilisation and learning. We draw on a case study of a US consumer lender to develop a model explaining how organisations actualise digital affordances as part of their rare event response and, in doing so, leverage the transformative experience towards establishing a “new normal.” The model and its instantiation contribute conceptual understanding and advice for how IS managers may effectively address rare events and, in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic, including the aftermath of its lockdown and the transition to the new business status quo. The model emphasises the importance of understanding the evolution of digital affordances as possessing teleological paths where affordances are developed in steps corresponding to where an organisation focuses its managerial attention, with indirect consequences of possibilities to attend to other objectives enabled by digital technologies. Overall, the model contributes to theory by explaining the role of rare events in the evolution of affordances, including some that can be transformative and introducing the rare events literature into the IS discipline.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Information Systems
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)137-156
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Published online: 5. Januar 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Rare event
  • Affordance
  • Attention
  • Case study

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