Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works

Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works

Are you just playing—or playing to win?Strategy is not complex. But it is hard. It’s hard because it forces people and organizations to make specific choices about their future—something that doesn’t happen in most companies.Now two of today’s best-known business thinkers get to the heart of strategy—explaining what it’s for, how to think about it, why you n...

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Title:Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works
Author:A.G. Lafley
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Edition Language:English

Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works Reviews

  • Jay Oza

    If you want have a good conversation with business executives --- whether you are a salesman, consultant, mid level manager or even an individual contributor --- you need business acumen otherwise you will quickly lose credibility with them. The antidote to losing your credibility with C-level types is to read "Playing To Win" by A. G. Lafley and Roger Martin.

    The business executives expect you to understand them in the way they think and approach their business, which means you have to know and

    If you want have a good conversation with business executives --- whether you are a salesman, consultant, mid level manager or even an individual contributor --- you need business acumen otherwise you will quickly lose credibility with them. The antidote to losing your credibility with C-level types is to read "Playing To Win" by A. G. Lafley and Roger Martin.

    The business executives expect you to understand them in the way they think and approach their business, which means you have to know and talk strategy with them. As business executives they know that in order to win, a company needs to develop a solid strategy, execute flawlessly and deliver excellent customer experience. If they do this well, their companies will thrive and, if not, they will quickly become irrelevant.

    This book will help you understand how to have a productive conversations with business executives because you will know how important strategy is to them in gaining competitive advantage. The book dissects it from the very top, which is that strategy is all about winning and then goes deeper on why, what and how of a strategy which will not only give you gravitas when you talk to business executives but also learn how to apply it to your unique situation.

    Again, the main idea of this book is that you are in business for one thing: "You play to win the game." The authors define a business strategy simply as a set of choices a company makes to win.

    The book is based mainly on what the authors learned at Proctor & Gamble when A;G. Lafley was the CEO. Working with the leading business and management thought leaders, a strategy consisted of coordinating and integrating the following five choices:

    What is a company's winning aspiration?

    Where should the company play?

    How should the company play to win?

    What are company's core capabilities?

    What are company's management systems that has to be leveraged?

    The authors explain on how these choices were used with various examples, including Olay, innovation in outsourcing, integration of Gillette and others and various techniques used to reach a strategic decision.

    This is not a book you read, but study before, during and after so you get the most out of it and start creating your own playbook on strategy that is applicable to your specific situation.

    I highly recommend this book since it is a distillation of years of research, experience, collaboration and results where the authors clearly take you inside the corporate "war room" where they consider various options before making a decision and then walk the readers through the results of the strategic decision.

    Though picking top 10 business books is tough since there are so many good business books written, but I feel this book definitely belongs in everyone's top 10 business books list for 2013.

  • Alain Burrese

    “Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works” by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin is an interesting and informative look at how strategic business decisions are made through examples by P & G between 2000 and 2009. A.G. Lafley is the former Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble and Roger L. Martin is the Dean of Rotman School of Management. The pair are extremely knowledgeable on the topic they are writing about, business strategy.

    Several grounding concepts that I really liked, o

    “Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works” by A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Martin is an interesting and informative look at how strategic business decisions are made through examples by P & G between 2000 and 2009. A.G. Lafley is the former Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble and Roger L. Martin is the Dean of Rotman School of Management. The pair are extremely knowledgeable on the topic they are writing about, business strategy.

    Several grounding concepts that I really liked, one of which is, winning should be at the heart of any strategy, and the other being, strategy = choice. The book then delves into what winning means, and then some key components to winning strategy: Where to Play, How to Win, Playing to Your Strengths, Managing What Matters, Thinking Through Strategy, Shortening Your Odds, and finally concludes with The Endless Pursuit of Winning. Throughout the book, the focus remains on the choices made and how those choices related to P&G winning.

    The book contains many real life examples of things P&G did right, and some that the large corporation fell short on. These case studies illustrate the principles Lafley and Martin share, and made the book more interesting and enjoyable to read. The authors also do a good job of summarizing their key points in each chapter, and include extra essay lessons at the end of chapters. These “how-to-win dos and don'ts” contains some excellent gems for those that heed them and incorporate them into their own planning.

    With this said, I do feel some of the lessons are more relevant and will resonate more with larger corporations and thus, executives of larger corporations really should heed to the successes and failures of P&G presented here. Smaller businesses, and solo entrepreneurs can learn from these, and should, but will have to adapt the lessons to their smaller and different playing field. The concepts are still important, but the examples are all of this huge retail corporation.

    Procter & Gamble really is a huge success story. And out of anyone, these two men know as much or more than anyone about the strategic choices that helped P&G continue to thrive throughout the first decade of the 2000s. This book shares parts of that story, but more importantly, provides guidance to strategic choices that can help any business be more successful. Business leaders everywhere should learn from the examples in this book as they make the choices for their own companies that should be strategic and focused on winning.

  • Gerard Chiva

    It's probably one of the best books on strategy I've read so far. It includes examples that connect with the clear and practical methodology.

    Compared to other strategy books this is practical and it is obvious it comes from real-world experience.

    One thing I really value about this book is that it has been written by an ex-CEO of P&G and one of the strategy consultants who work with him for several years.

  • Ron Bronson

    If you were with us for the first post in the #28DaysSolo series, I mentioned one of the goals of this project is to complete a book a week. This week’s entry is the newly released book by A.G. Lafley, the former chairman and CEO of Proctor & Gamble and Roger Martin, give us this outstanding look at strategy from the trenches called Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works.

    Akin to James C. Collins Good To Great, Playing To Win is a business book you can apply to any industry. It

    If you were with us for the first post in the #28DaysSolo series, I mentioned one of the goals of this project is to complete a book a week. This week’s entry is the newly released book by A.G. Lafley, the former chairman and CEO of Proctor & Gamble and Roger Martin, give us this outstanding look at strategy from the trenches called Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works.

    Akin to James C. Collins Good To Great, Playing To Win is a business book you can apply to any industry. It’s got juicy morsels that can help with whatever project you’re up to at any time. While many of the examples in Playing To Win revolve around the dramatic changes Lafley initiated while at P&G, each chapter comes with takeaways that help you synthesize everything you’ve read.

    To that end, it’s not the kind of book I’d consider light dinner reading. But it’s well-written, chock full of strategic inspiration and breaks down what strategy is and what strategy isn’t. It does this better than any book I’ve read in a long time, and I’ve added it to the list of books I call “arsenal books” – ones I refer to and reflect on at critical junctures in my professional life.

    Even if your day-to-day responsibilities don’t deal directly with strategy, Playing To Win will give you a greater appreciation for the business world and the kinds of decisions that get made in the C-suites and offices before they reach the floor where we consume these products. While it might seem strange to consider a business book when you work in non-profit higher education, it’s my opinion that many of the lessons in the book relate well regardless of the field you work in. The more you read, the more you start to figure out how the strategic lessons in the book can apply to all sorts of things.

    If you’re interested in honing your strategic strength, I encourage you to check out Playing To Win.

  • Lone Wong

    What is a strategy?

    In this book, the author articulated the strategy is an integrated set of choices that uniquely positions the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage and superior value relative to the competition.

    Yes, a strategy it's a choice. To choose where to compete, how to compete and what to compete and how to win in this competition. It's simple and brevity to assimilate strategy thinking. A strategy is not what people used to imagine of long hours meeti

    What is a strategy?

    In this book, the author articulated the strategy is an integrated set of choices that uniquely positions the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage and superior value relative to the competition.

    Yes, a strategy it's a choice. To choose where to compete, how to compete and what to compete and how to win in this competition. It's simple and brevity to assimilate strategy thinking. A strategy is not what people used to imagine of long hours meeting, endless presentation slides, and rigorous debate in the meeting room.

    After all, business is about competitive advantage. Refer to Seth Godin " Purple Cow". Sameness isn't a strategy. It's a recipe for mediocrity. General mediocrity business speaks of short-term financial measures or a simple share of a narrowly defined market. Because they rather keep their options open, they do not like to make choices.

    In the end, building a strategy isn't about achieving perfection; it's about shortening our odds. No company can do everything well, if we try to do so, we will end up everything weak.

  • Tõnu Vahtra

    I was not so impressed by this book at first, it's written by a longstanding Procter&Gamble Chairman and CEO, I could not relate the examples and dynamics easily with the digital enterprise and also several examples were not standing out that much. My opinion turned before the end during the part about selecting and verifying your strategy in a way that does not exclude potential good ideas and results in a group or individual selecting the best outcome. At first all ideas should be brought

    I was not so impressed by this book at first, it's written by a longstanding Procter&Gamble Chairman and CEO, I could not relate the examples and dynamics easily with the digital enterprise and also several examples were not standing out that much. My opinion turned before the end during the part about selecting and verifying your strategy in a way that does not exclude potential good ideas and results in a group or individual selecting the best outcome. At first all ideas should be brought on the table. For each of them the conditions that should be met to realize this strategy should be listed (taking into account even the biggest critics). Hypothesis should be defined and tests set up to verify them, starting from those conditions that are least likely to be true to minimize waste of time. You cannot explain to a person why a business idea will not fly regardless of how rationally the case is built or how much facts you have to back you up. The person has to come to such realization himself through the above described logical deduction (WHAT WOULD HAVE TO BE TRUE FOR THIS TO WORK?). I have seen such approach working several times, it's not easy to set up but can be very powerful. The book is somewhat similar to Blue Ocean Strategy.

    “The heart of strategy is the answer to two fundamental questions: where will you play, and how will you win there?” “Strategy needn’t be mysterious. Conceptually, it is simple and straightforward. It requires clear and hard thinking, real creativity, courage, and personal leadership.” “Winning is what matters—and it is the ultimate criterion of a successful strategy.”

    The five questions to ask:

    1) What is your winning aspiration;

    2) Where will you play;

    3) How will you win;

    4) What capabilities must be in place;

    5) What management systems are required.

    “To make good choices, you need to make sense of the complexity of your environment. The strategy logic flow can point you to the key areas of analysis necessary to generate sustainable competitive advantage. First, look to understand the industry in which you play (or will play), its distinct segments and their relative attractiveness. Without this step, it is all too easy to assume that your map of the world is the only possible map, that the world is unchanging, and that no better possibilities exist. Next, turn to customers. What do channel and end consumers truly want, need, and value-and how do those needs fit with your current or potential offerings? To answer this question, you will have to dig deep-engaging in joint value creation with channel partners and seeking a new understanding of end consumers. After customers, the lens turns inward: what are your capabilities and costs relative to the competition? Can you be a differentiator or a cost leader? If not, you will need to rethink your choices. Finally, consider competition; what will your competitors do in the face of your actions? Throughout the thinking process, be open to recasting previous analyses in light of what you learn in a subsequent box. The basic direction of the process is from left to right, but it also has interdependencies that require a more flexible path through it.”

    Nested Choice Cascades – In larger organizations, there are multiple levels of

    strategy cascades, at the corporate-level (P&G), category level (Hair Care) and

    brand-level (Head & Shoulders).

    THE SIX STRATEGY TRAPS

    1) The do-it-all strategy: failing to make choices, and making everything a priority. Remember, strategy is choice.

    2) The Don Quixote strategy: attacking competitive "walled cities" or taking on the strongest competitor first, head-to-head. Remember, where to play is your choice. Pick somewhere you can have a choice to win.

    3) The Waterloo Strategy: starting wars on multiple fronts with multiple competitors at the same time. No company can do everything well. If you try to do so, you will do everything weakly.

    4) The something-for-everyone strategy: attempting to capture all consumer or channel or geographic or category segments at once. Remember, to create value, you have to choose to serve some constituents really well and not worry about the others.

    5) The dreams-that-never-come-true strategy: developing high-level aspirations and mission statements that never get translated into concrete where-to-play and how-to-win choices, core capabilities, and management systems. Remember that aspirations are not strategy. Strategy is the answer to all five questions in the choice cascade.

    6) The program-of-the-month strategy: settling for generic industry strategies, in which all competitors are chasing the same customers, geographies, and segments in the same way. The choice cascade and activity system that supports these choices should be distinctive. The more your choices look like those of your competitors, the less likely you will ever win.”

    THE SIX SIGNALS FOR WINNING STRATEGY

    1) An activity system that looks different from any competitor's system. It means you are tempting to deliver value in a distinctive way.

    2) Customers who absolutely adore you, and noncustomers who can't see why anybody would buy from you. This means you have been choiceful.

    3) Competitors who make a good profit doing what they are doing. It means your strategy has left where-to-play and how-to-win choices for competitors, who don't need to attack the heart of your market to survive.

    4) More resources to spend on an ongoing basis than competitors have. This means you are winning the value equation and have the biggest margin between price and costs and best capacity to add spending to take advantage of an opportunity to defend your turf.

    5) Competitors who attack one another, not you. It means that you look like the hardest target in the (broadly defined) industry to attack.

    6) Customers who look first to you for innovations, new products, and service enhancement to make their lives better. This means that your customers believe that you are uniquely positioned to create value for them.”

    You only know that you've made a real strategic choice if you can say the opposite of what that choice is and it's not stupid (think about "we are customer centric").

    Choosing where to play is also choosing where not to play.

    Two generic ways of winning - cost leadership and differentiation.

    Capabilities should not be taken as given – you should not look to win with the capabilities that you have – instead work backwards from your aspirations and where-to-play + have-to-win choices to determine the capabilities that you need. Only then can you see what you need to start doing, keep doing and stop doing in order to win

    Don’t stop at capabilities – ask what management (Recruitment, Brand Management, Research etc) systems are needed to foster those capabilities.

    Assertive inquiry

    –Advocate your own position, then invite responses. Try saying, “This is how I see the situation and why. How do you see it?”

    –Paraphrase the other person’s view and ask for their take. “It sounds to me like your argument is this. Is that what you're saying?”

    –Explain a gap in understanding. “It sounds like you think this acquisition is a bad idea. Could you tell me how you came to that conclusion?”

  • Andy

    This was better than most business books, because it gave specific examples (with the stories behind everyday products) to back up the thesis. Other reviews here summarize the contents well.

  • Synexe

    THE MAIN IDEA

    Strategy is about choices. It’s about knowing what to do and what not to do and when. Being able to make these choices well and execute them effectively over time is the hallmark of great companies.

    INTERESTING TIDBIT

    The authors are a high-powered duo with A.G. Lafley being the former Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Roger Martin being the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Interestingly enough though, A.G. Lafley

    THE MAIN IDEA

    Strategy is about choices. It’s about knowing what to do and what not to do and when. Being able to make these choices well and execute them effectively over time is the hallmark of great companies.

    INTERESTING TIDBIT

    The authors are a high-powered duo with A.G. Lafley being the former Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Roger Martin being the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Interestingly enough though, A.G. Lafley has been brought in during May 2013 to head up P&G again in the wake of faltering performances under the leadership of the CEO who replaced him. Can he re-engineer things again to ‘win’ or was it under his leadership that the seeds for the current crisis were sown? As we said, it’s definitely interesting!

    WHAT YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW

    Strategy is about making choices so the authors provide you with a framework based on five inter-related questions, the answers to which will help you craft your organization’s strategy. The five questions are:

    1) What is your winning aspiration;

    2) Where will you play;

    3) How will you win;

    4) What capabilities must be in place; and

    5) What management systems are required.

    THE GENERAL OVERVIEW

    This book provides a framework and outline to help organizations become more strategic and, as the title suggests, help them ‘play to win’. Based largely on the experiences of the two authors as they helped Procter & Gamble grow and flourish from the mid-1990s till 2009 the book is both a great resource for leaders and an interesting source of examples of how the practices promoted in the book were actually used in real-life examples to help in Procter & Gamble’s success over this period.

    Written in a generally accessible style, both authors have impeccable credentials in terms of strategy and strategic thinking. If there is a complaint to be made it is that while the authors reiterate throughout the book that their framework and method is able to be successfully used by all types of organizations from start-ups to not-for-profits to global conglomerates they actually do very little in terms of demonstrating that. The Procter & Gamble examples are great, and very interesting, but it would have been good to have a little bit more looking at how other types of organizations might be able to use the framework.

    All in all it’s a really good book. We’re definitely going to use aspects of what they talk about in their framework for our own strategic planning and in the work we do with our clients. A useful resource for a wide-range of organizations and leaders in those organizations.

  • Mila Goodman

    Wish this was available when I worked with P&G as a client. A must read for anyone who does work with them and a reminiscent journey for those who have. I wish there were more one pagers and charts to summarize and frame up the key parts but appreciated the pounding repetition so that by the end, I remembered what is most important ... hire an outside strategy consultant ;).

  • RC1140

    This was very much a 3.5 star book when looking back , much of what was presented was clear and had quite clear case studies showing how and why these ideas were picked. Strategy seems to be made into this thing that everyone needs to know and can solve all your problems, but when put in the context of playing to win, it suddenly becomes so much more applicable. There is actually a fair amount that is discussed in this book around building new markets and leading companies out of others which I

    This was very much a 3.5 star book when looking back , much of what was presented was clear and had quite clear case studies showing how and why these ideas were picked. Strategy seems to be made into this thing that everyone needs to know and can solve all your problems, but when put in the context of playing to win, it suddenly becomes so much more applicable. There is actually a fair amount that is discussed in this book around building new markets and leading companies out of others which I think more people need to get exposure to. But in the end as was demonstrated in the book , if everyone is not thinking you will need get a company to win.

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