Guest post: Book review – “Playing to win”

Thanks to reader N. for submitting this !!!

In this book-review I would like to recommend you the book: “Playing to Win” which is written by Lafley and Martin. The content of this book focuses on the transformation of Procter&Gamble (P&G) between 2000 and 2009, and discusses the approach to strategy that led to this transformation, leading to a doubling of sales, a quadrupling of profits, and an increased share price of more than 80 percent during that decade. And focus especially on how strategy really works. Most of the time it doesn’t and reasons vary. However, Lafley and Martin identify these familiar troublemakers, when leaders tend to approach strategy in one of the following ineffective ways:

(1) they define strategy as a vision,
(2) they define strategy as a plan,
(3) they deny that long-term (or even medium-term) strategy is possible,
(4) they define strategy as the optimization of the status quo, or
(5) they define strategy as following best practices.

Lafley and Martin suggest that a strategy “is a coordinated and integrated set of five choices: a winning aspiration, where to play, how to win, core capabilities, and management systems.” The authors argue that what really matters is winning, and that the play book discussed in this book, which provides five choices, a framework, and a process, is what is needed to win.

In subsequent chapters, the authors present the “strategic logic flow” framework, designed to direct thinking to the key analyses that inform any strategy, and the “reverse engineering” methodology, designed to make sense of conflicting strategic options. In the former, there are four dimensions to be considered: (1) the industry, (2) customers, (3) relative position, and (4) competition. In the latter, which contrasts with traditional approaches to generating buy-in, there exist seven steps that involve exploring different ways forward and a wider variety of possible strategic choices.

If strategy is a set of choices, how the author write it “that uniquely positions the given enterprise so as to create sustainable advantage and superior value relative to the competition,” and I believe it is, then quality of judgment is imperative, not only when making a specific choice but throughout a continuous and cohesive decision-making process.

As a conclusion of their book, A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin acknowledge, “All strategy entails risk. But operating in a slow-growing, fast-changing, intensely competitive world without a strategy to guide you is far riskier. Leaders lead, and a good place to start leading is in strategy development for your business. But they state also, and I think that this is most importantly, “no strategy lasts forever”. So one of the best takeaways from what the author writes in that book is that “strategy is a highly dynamic area, full of fads and fashions that come and go”, and that “copying ideas that ‘work’ for others is unlikely to be a winning strategy”, because “success can only be based on being different from (existing or potential) competitors”.

In addition, I appreciated the “Dos and Don’ts” sections at the end of each chapter, which clearly summarize the material from a practical context, as well as the strategic lessons learned side bars following these sections at the end of most of the chapters. At some level, I find the book a little bit to repetitive.

I don’t think that a brief review such as mine, can possibly do full justice to the scope of material that A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin provide in this volume at as they did in it in their book. Also, I hope that those who read this review will be better prepared to determine whether or not they wish to read the book. I truly can recommend this book because you will have at least some idea of how an enriched and enlightened understanding of what strategy really is and the book perfectly fits to “Competition Demystified” from Bruce Greenwald.

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