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I recently finished reading “Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works” by A.G. Lafley, and I must sing its praises. In the book, Lafley, the former CEO and Chairman of Procter & Gamble, breaks down the ideas and misconceptions of what strategy is and what it isn’t. The way the information is presented begs any reader to question if they are playing to win, or playing to play.

A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin's Playing to Win

The entire book is dedicated to this concept, but here’s an excerpt describing Lafley’s definition of strategy:

Strategy is a relatively young discipline. Until the middle of the last century, much of what people now think of as strategy was categorized simply as management. So it is really no wonder that many organizations struggle to define what a strategy is and how to create a useful one; there is no single, clear, and pervasive definition of strategy and even less consensus on how to build one… In short, strategy is choice. More specifically, 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.

Mixing real-world experience (he routinely visits P&G’s decision to rebrand Oil of Olay to Olay) and decades of experience theorizing, testing, tweaking and implementing various elements of strategy development, Lafley (and co-author Roger L. Martin) paint a vivid picture of why strategy is necessary, and most importantly, the book outlines exactly how anybody, in any organization, can create a strategy of their own.

Are You Playing to Win?

One of the common misconceptions (my opinion, based on personal past experience), is that strategy is only necessary for large organizations. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether one considers business development strategy, marketing strategy or any version of strategic planning, strategy is not to be overlooked. Lafley gives the example of a small farmer.

  • Will he sell only locally or to his friends and neighbors, or will he attempt to join a co-op that has a larger geographic footprint?
  • Which fruits and vegetables will he grow? Will he sell organic products or standard ones?
  • Will he sell bushels of fruit unprocessed or process apples into juice before selling them?
  • Will he sell direct to consumers, or through a warehouse middleman?
  • If he does process the fruit into juice, will he do that himself or outsource that phase of production?
  • If he is thoughtful, the farmer will consider where to play in a manner that enables him to choose geographies, segments, products, channels, and production options that work well together (e.g., selling organic veggies locally at farmer’s markets or processing fruit to sell nationally while minimizing spoilage).

In Lafley’s example, it becomes strikingly clear that businesses of every size only benefit from planning not just for current operations, but for future growth and development.

More Information

Read more about the book at Harvard Business Review

Buy “Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works” on Amazon (affiliate link)