Books and Me: Playing to Win – How Strategy Really Works

Book Title: Playing to Win – How Strategy Really Works

Author: A. G. Lafley and Roger L. MartinPlaying-to-win book cover

While there are number of books that proclaim to be on strategy, they are not! So when I came across one more title that spoke of the subject close to my heart, I decided to try it (eternal optimist). But to my surprise and happiness, the book was one interesting read on the practice of strategy. There are many aspects about the book that make it an exciting read:

  • A book by an advisor-practitioner duo (both individually celebrated in their own realm)
  • Great Packaging (Lovely title, cool cover, beautifully bound)
  • An easy over arching framework to keep at the back of the mind
  • Their common inspiration to the late Peter Drucker (who is also my inspiration)
  • Personal anecdotes sprinkled all over the book
  • Short personal experiences and suggestions from both a professor-advisor and a successful practitioner
  • A short but well written piece on the micro economic foundations of strategy
  • Written by professional friends after a long association

I am sure every reader will have his / her own list of unique points that make the book interesting, but for me the above are what come to mind. The one limitation (not really if you have experience to relate to) is that most of the primary references are from the authors work together at P&G.

The book rests on the premise – ‘Strategy is choice’, one that I firmly believe in; which is also the title of the first chapter. Can you imagine the pleasure, a strategy professional would experience even on reading that title? I did and it led me to spend an inordinate amount of time reading the book, making extensive notes. The only question on my mind as I went through the five choices cascade of the authors was if it would be applicable to early stage enterprises and small businesses. Since my work tends to be a lot with the above two groups I am always looking for ways in which this group can benefit from strategy. Both these groups (early stage enterprises & small businesses) almost never use strategy as a tool for growth at all. But the integrated cascade of choices, a set of five choices that organizations have to make for building a good strategy seem to be a useful and easy tool to apply. Here are the five choices to be made as part of strategy making:

  • What is our winning aspiration?
  • Where will we play?
  • How will we win?
  • What capabilities must we have in place?
  • What management systems are required to support our choices?

While the questions themselves seem too simple, they are deep and require a detailed, honest and bold set of answers with extreme commitment.  Without these, what seems easy could become excuses to skip developing strategy. There are beautiful reasons that you may give or hear within your firm that either results in no strategy or a worrisome strategy – but the authors have captured it succinctly as six strategy traps; just check to see if you are not caught by one of them!

While the five choices form the crux of strategy, the big question of how to go about creating strategy in an organized manner is addressed using the four dimensions (industry analysis, customer value analysis, relative position, competition) spread across a simple strategy logic flow which comprises of seven questions. By using this strategy logic flow as the basis and re-iterating through it a few times, one is bound to gain clarity on the big choices that organizations wanting to win, have to make. If you are playing to win then this is your cookbook for success in creating winning choices. If you make winning choices, you have created winning strategies!

Overall a great book on strategy that I have read in recent times and one with great practitioner insights, which many strategy books lack.


3 thoughts on “Books and Me: Playing to Win – How Strategy Really Works

  1. How apt that you should post this, Raj. I teach the Strategic Communication Certificate Program at The University of Texas at Austin’s Professional Development Center. Last week I offered the Toolbox (foundation) course in the program and stressed that whereas many view strategy as a form of planning, at its heart it is all about making and communicating choices — as you say these authors have expressed.

    I’ve shared this blog post with my students (from a range of government, non-profit, major corporations and small businesses) as well as posting on Twitter and LinkedIn. Thank you so much for bringing my attention to this book…I am about to place my order for a copy.

    1. Thanks Dr Liz! Glad to know that you found the post relevant to your student group. I hope they like it too. Strategy as a subject deserves more attention in its pure form. I am sure you will like the book when you read it. Happy Reading! I am also keenly interested in learning more about strategy and its application in early stage and small businesses. A small part of my research & consulting work in that space will be ready in book form (draft) in a month. I will be happy if you can do a quick review and give your comments. It will be a great source of encouragement to the book and to me!

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