Strategic tools are indispensible for business and competitive analysis. Yet we know very little about managers' internal logic as they put these tools into practical use. We situate our study in a business school context using action learning prior to the manifestation of practice to complement our understanding of practice. Using Personal Construct Theory and Repertory Grids, our mid-range theorizing showed that, contrary to current thinking about strategic tools, managers think in dualities (often paradoxically) and have a preference for multiple-tools-in-use, tools that provide different perspectives, peripheral vision, connected thinking, simultaneously help differentiate and integrate complex issues, and guide the thinking process. These findings are important for designing better tools and the nurturing of critical managerial competencies needed for a complicated world. Our study's focus also has wider implications for scholars as we see our own material evaluated by those who will put these lessons into practice.