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Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works

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A Wall Street Journal and Washington Post Bestseller A playbook for creating your company's winning strategy. 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 need it, and how to get it done. And they use one of the most successful corporate turnarounds of the past century, which they achieved together, to prove their point.

A.G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble, in close partnership with strategic adviser Roger Martin, doubled P&G’s sales, quadrupled its profits, and increased its market value by more than $100 billion in just ten years. Now, drawn from their years of experience at P&G and the Rotman School of Management, where Martin is dean, this book shows how leaders in organizations of all sizes can guide everyday actions with larger strategic goals built around the clear, essential elements that determine business success— where to play and how to win .

The result is a playbook for winning. Lafley and Martin have created a set of five essential strategic choices that, when addressed in an integrated way, will move you ahead of your competitors. They are:

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

The stories of how P&G repeatedly won by applying this method to iconic brands such as Olay, Bounty, Gillette, Swiffer, and Febreze clearly illustrate how deciding on a strategic approach—and then making the right choices to support it—makes the difference between just playing the game and actually winning.

272 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2013

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A.G. Lafley

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 398 reviews
Profile Image for Synexe.
20 reviews6 followers
August 28, 2013

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.


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!


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.


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.
Profile Image for Tõnu Vahtra.
550 reviews81 followers
January 12, 2019
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).

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.”

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?”

Profile Image for Jay Oza.
38 reviews3 followers
April 2, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Sebastian Gebski.
981 reviews893 followers
March 8, 2021
Very hyped, in my case it didn't meet the expectations though.

1. Well, it's a book about P&G, so there's a lot of FMCG specifics. And internal praising, incl. company's culture, but all this praising seems very shallow - there's not much content (cases, anecdotes, field-level practices) to back it up.

2. It's also a book about strategy, but Lafley's message is very simple here - 'Where to play' + 'How to win' and that's what 80% of the book is about. Yes, these are the key aspects and Lafley have used them successfully, but mainly because of expertise and judgement he had - IMHO he failed to capture these 'low-level' tools (how to shape them, what was the root cause of their effectiveness) for the reader - it's a basic manifestation of Dunning-Krueger effect.

3. Whether the business book is interesting depends not only on the described business, but also the storytelling capabilities, presented mental models, good flow and a driven train of thought. In this case all those elements were ... average. The book felt less and less engaging in time.

4. At last but not least - Lafley represents the fraction of 'traditional' corporate executives. His options on some topics (e.g. efficiency, outsourcing, etc.) may be different to modern businesses of higher velocity and smaller inertia. Be warned.

2-2.2 stars.
Profile Image for Masatoshi Nishimura.
315 reviews14 followers
January 4, 2020
It's a good complemetary book to Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter. While that book focused on a heavy in-depth analysis of different companies across industries, this book talks from the executioner's point of view. I liked he wrote a lot of pitfalls and common misconceptions by managers. It also had a bit more contemporary examples such as Apple and Google.

Overall, I think the author could have done way more. Many examples given in focus were solely as geography or affluence felt like no-brainer and business 101 for a university undergrad. I wish he would have dived in deeper. I also wasn't fond of his promotional tone towards P&G. Even though it is former P&G CEO who writes it, the lessons derived is too generic and not critical enough to apply. It will sit far behind in the bookshelf compared to Shoe Dog.
Profile Image for Andy.
1,447 reviews480 followers
July 13, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Alain Burrese.
Author 19 books45 followers
May 12, 2013
“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.
Profile Image for Patrick.
292 reviews26 followers
April 9, 2021
I haven't read a ton of books on strategy, but this is my favorite so far. Lafley and Martin provide a common-sense framework to step through when considering your own strategy and provide compelling examples from Proctor and Gamble to illustrate. The simple question in the penultimate chapter "what would have to be true for this strategy to work" will change the way I approach my job.
Profile Image for Gerard Chiva.
65 reviews9 followers
July 3, 2019
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.
112 reviews4 followers
October 12, 2022
Great book! Very practical advice and lots of examples on strategy. A bit too few references to research for my taste, but valuable nonetheless and still deserving of five stars.
175 reviews6 followers
August 12, 2016
‘Strategy is not complex. But it is hard.’ With these words Martin sets out a design view of strategy based on a cascade of five inter-related choices: What is our winning aspiration? Where will we play? How will we win? What capabilities must be in place? What Management systems are required? Martin uses the application of this framework at P&G to illustrate this framework.
The cascade of choice framework that Martin outlines provides a process for choosing between possibilities for where to play (WTP) and how to win (HTW). First, frame a choice. Second, explore possibilities to broaden the set of mutually exclusive possibilities. Third, for each possibility, ask, what would have to be true for this to be a great idea. Fourth, determine which of the conditions is the least likely to hold true. Fifth, design tests against those crucial barriers to choice. Six, conduct tests. Finally, based on those tests, select the best strategic choice possibility.

But there are a number of challenges.
While the framework can be used to articulate a strategy ex post, the challenge is to be able to use it to identify a competitive advantage ex ante. Martin’s claims on the strength of the cascade of choice framework is compromised by the lack of any substantive examples of it being applied at companies other than P&G. And its application ex ante at P&G is weak.
Martin’s co-author Lafely’s vignettes seem to highlight the challenge of making WTP/HTW choices ex-ante. The WTP choices presented as examples for P&G are vague and general (home care, personal care, emerging markets) with no clarity on how such broad choices would differentiate from competitors. Martin and Lafley seem to be unaware that another of P&G’s WTP choices, Win in North America, is not really a choice at all for a US based entity!
Martin states that P&G needed to translate their HTW choices into capabilities required to deliver and compete effectively (p113). He also argues that capabilities need to be distinctive (p118). But the capabilities P&G selected (understanding consumers, innovating) are vague and general – certainly not distinctive. And they are almost exactly the same as P&G’s HTW choices (consumer focused, innovative design). This tautological analysis provides no real insight for readers considering how the framework could apply in their organisation, and thereby reinforces the limitations of Martin’s methodology.
Other HTW choices by P&G include ‘reducing inventory’ and ‘Be the choice of consumers’. These also represent basic management actions, providing no strategic insight or differentiation.
The last cascade is based on managing what matters. Using P&G as an example, their objective was to improve the lives of families. But not a single goal is aligned to this objective. And there are no customer aligned measures. By stretching the P&G case study Martin underscores, unintentionally, the key flaws in the cascade of choice framework.

Martin’s approach is founded in Michael Porter’s design view of strategy. When challenged, Martin was dismissive of the emergent view of strategy advocated by Mintzberg. However as we move into a competitive environment characterised by digital disruption, exponential organisations and agile execution, a design approach to strategy is less and less applicable.
Whilst interesting, readers would benefit from also reading Exponential Organisations, to see an alternative view of organisational strategy for the economy we are about to enter.
Overall this book promises to be profound, but ends up being ordinary.

Profile Image for Gene Babon.
186 reviews78 followers
September 18, 2022
Leaders lead, and a good place to start leading is in strategy development for your business.
A.G. Lafley led Proctor & Gamble for nearly a decade helping to double sales and quadruple profits. After retiring, he recently stepped back into the leadership role. He has teamed with such notables as Clayton Christensen in innovation, Tim Brown in design and others. Here, he partners with Roger Martin (of Michael Porter's Monitor Group) to discuss P&G's approach to strategy.

That is the minor downside to this book—its enterprise focus and its P&G product-only orientation. That said, we can all learn a lot about strategy from the leader of a company that has survived, grown and prospered since its founding in 1837.
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.
Lafley and Martin outline a five-layer strategy framework:

~ What is your winning aspiration?
~ Where will you play?
~ How will you win?
~ What capabilities must be in place?
~ What management systems are required?

These five choices make up the strategic choice cascade that filters throughout the organization from top to bottom.

P&G product examples constitute the substance for explaining how the strategic choice cascade is implemented. Among these examples the story of how Oil of Olay ("Oil of Old Lady") was repositioned for a younger market to "fight the seven signs of aging."

Members of your leadership team can benefit from a focused, iterative discussion answering the five strategy questions posed above. This book offers expert guidance on how to carry out these strategy discussions and execute the resulting strategic plan.
All strategy entails risk. But operating in a slow-growing, fast-changing, intensely competitive world without a strategy to guide you is far riskier.
For a related discussion, check out Understanding Michael Porter. For a counter argument, check out The End of Competitive Advantage.

Access Gene Babon's reviews of books on Business Leadership and Business Strategy at Pinterest.
Profile Image for Lone Wong.
142 reviews23 followers
July 24, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Samridhi Khurana.
97 reviews13 followers
March 12, 2020
It is an academic read with multiple frameworks augmented with some real business examples of how strategy works. However, in my opinion, it isn't of much relevance in today's world where innovation is changing the business landscapes altogether. Like most Strategy lectures, this definitely fails to take into account the survivorship bias. The "Where to Play" & "How to Play" arena that worked for P&G is not a mantra today as it clearly fails to capture the complexity in which most innovative firms operate. Nevertheless, it is a good read from a theoretical point of view to get clarity on the scope and impact of strategic choices from the lens of P&G.
Profile Image for Mila Goodman.
66 reviews
September 17, 2013
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 ;).
Profile Image for Ali Arabzadeh.
170 reviews55 followers
November 12, 2022
روایت‌های دست‌ اول از چگونگی مدیریت شرکت‌های بزرگ کم‌یاب‌تر از نمونه‌هایی هستند که به استارتاپ‌ها آن هم در مراحل آغازین‌شان می‌پردازند.
کتاب «بازی برای برد» تصویر روشنی از واقعیت بی‌رحم مناسبات واقعی بازار ترسیم می‌کند که ما یا به دلیل شبه‌مدیریت دولتی یا فانتزی‌های کارآفرینی از آن فاصله داریم.
لافلی که چندین سال مدیر ارشد هیولایی به نام پی‌اندجی بوده است در کنار مارتین که از دنیای مشاوره‌ی مدیریت و مطالعه‌ی آکادمیک کسب‌وکار آمده است، تجربه‌شان را از طراحی و اجرای استراتژی‌های متنوع در سال‌های مدیریت کمپانی‌های مختلف زیرمجموعه‌ی پی‌اندجی در این کتاب روایت کرده‌اند.
صرف فهم این بصیرت که بازی کسب‌وکار فقط و فقط ناظر به برد است، می‌تواند چگونگی تصمیم‌گیری و کنش‌ و واکنش‌های ما را تغییر دهد.
نزدیک‌ترین نمونه به «بازی برای برد» کتاب «سختی کارهای سخت» است. به گمان‌ام که آن‌جا هم با روایت بدون تعارفی از مدیریت کف بازار روبرو هستیم. اگرچه زبان اندرسن قصه‌گوتر و شاداب‌تر است.
لافلی و مارتین چارچوبی برای توسعه‌ی یک استراتژی و چگونگی پیاده‌سازی آن در سازمان ارائه می‌دهند که هم‌زمان با الگوهای جاافتاده‌تر مدیریت مثل ایده‌های دیوید و پروتر و پیش‌نهادات موخرتری مثل او‌کی‌آر و مدیریت تخت سازمان می‌تواند کنار بیاید.
من نسخه‌ی اصلی کتاب را خواندم ولی آریانا ترجمه‌اش را با عنوان «بازی برد» که چندان دقیق نیست، منتشر کرده است.
Profile Image for Dave S.
44 reviews3 followers
March 3, 2022
Published in 2013, "Playing to Win" zooms in on strategy. The gist is that strategy is about making specific choices, and these choices should address a winning aspiration, where to play & how to win. P&G being a congolmerate, the author discusses how management should form a system to unleash core capabilities across different subsidiaries

As a business major, I do not recall having a 'wow' moment. What I really liked about this book is 1) it gave concrete framework (it must be a great read for aspiring strategy consultants) and 2) the cases are not only relevant but also interesting & approachable

Because we are familiar with the P&G brands Olay, Bounty, Tide, SK-II, and Pampers, the case studies presented were palpable and easy to digest. I certainly appreciate the level of details Lafley shared (e.g., rationale & implications of pricing its Olay Total Effect at $18.99 instead of $15.99 and $12.99). The anecdotes around 1) building a differentiated brand promise (e.g., Olay's "Fight the seven signs of aging" differentiated itself from the alternatives that focused on wrinkles), 2) being a 'lowest-cost' player (e.g., Mars' use of more efficient production & cheaper ingredients versus Hersheys allowed it to invest excess $ to getting the best shelf spaces), and 3) getting creative with 'how to win' (e.g., P&G formed a JV with Clorox, a direct competitor, to push its Forceflex technology) all illustrate how P&G have put its strategy frameowork into practice

To me, the most relevant chapter (professionally) was the 'six signs of a winning strategy' discussed in the final chapter, a framework for assessing 'business quality':
- An activity system (are you attempting to deliver value in a unique way?)
- Customers who adore you + Non-customers who can’t see why anybody would buy from you. This means you have been choiceful (e.g., Evian)
- Competitors who make a good profit doing what they are doing. It means you left competitors with where-to-play and how-to-win choices (e.g., Workman in Japan)
- More resources to spend on an ongoing basis than competitors (e.g., Nike > ASICS, Mars > Hershey)
- Competitors who attack one another, not you. It means that you are the hardest target to attack (e.g., Apple in smartphones, Keyence in factory automation)
- Customers who look first to you for innovations, new products and service enhancement to make their lives better (e.g., Tesla, Patagonia)

As generic as it sounds, strategy is what empowers one organization to get to number one. As Lafley points out, not all management is willing to - or is able to - make specific choices. Status quo is a sign of complacency in this fast-changing world. While written ~10 years ago, "Playing to Win" has inspired many business leaders over many years (e.g., "No Filter" mentions how Kevin Systrom got inspiration). It conveys timeless wisdom to aspiring businss leaders

Other Highlights:
Olay total effect
- $18.99 was just below Clinique. High enough to get credibility. Not too high to scare the mass
- Winning aspirations: m/s leadership in N America, $1b sales (Olay), build most valuable brand in every category (PG corporate)
- Where to win: core customer base (N America, mass-premium)
- How to win: “Fight the Seven Signs of Aging” (brand promise)
- Core capabilities: deep consumer understanding, innovation, brand building, go to market ability

- Where to play (customer segment): original (cares about absorbency), extra soft (cares about soft feeling), bounty basic (price-sensitive customers)

Liquid Tide (1984-). Chose to create new liquid detergent customers rather than going against Unilver’s Wisk

How to win
2 generic ways (Porter):
- Lowest cost player does not mean lowest price (Mars reinvested $ in buying the best shelf spaces)
- Differentiated: Gain detergent for scent seekers, Febreze for soft surfaces (PG invented a better technology

You should be creative with how to win!
- Glad Forceflex (Clorox JV 2003-): PG lost to Coke and Tropicana in orange juice. If the incumbents are too strong, new tech (eg calcium absorption) may not be enough to win. Same for Glad - PG didn’t have mfg of garbage bags and Clorox and SC were strong. But their tech is strong enough to attract competition to embrace it

- Pampers EM strategy: instead of creating a low-cost Pampers that didn’t serve customers, PG created Pampers for China from scratch, with different cost and R&D in mind

Play to your strength
- Reinforcing rods that capitalized on core capabilities (PG: understanding consumers, building brands, R&D, global scale)
- Gillette M&A benefited because the reinforcing rods added value
- Failed MA: Daimler-Chrysler

Manage what matters
- AG Lafley created a dialogue-based communication where business teams could benefit from the cross-enterprise perspective of senior leaders
- Reframed strategy discussion. It is not an idea discussion. It is not a Q&A. It is not a budget discussion. It is about how we are going to accomplish our growth objectives in the next 3-5 years
- Created a new strategy meeting structure called OGSM (obj goals strategy and measures) - similar to OKR

Think thru strategy
- Industry Analysis: 1) Segmentation (Crest cavity vs Colgate total), 2) Attractiveness - 5 forces (paper products machines - supplier’s power is high and you only make margins at 100% utilization)
- Relative position: Olay had lower cost vs luxury brands that had expensive stores

Competitive analysis
- Launch of JOY concentrated dish detergent in Japan in 90s when Lion and Kao were heavily invested in diluted liquid forms

Ask “What would have to be true?”
220 reviews8 followers
April 2, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Mandeep Singh.
69 reviews1 follower
March 20, 2022
An amazingly structured book, focused on winning.
This book tackles the Strategy derivation from a different approach and guides the reader through its stages. It can be considered as a agile way of Strategy formation. Whole process is disintegrated into 5 questions, with each carrying different sub flows. This book would not only help the business community but also single individual on planning complex to day to day challenges in a Better way
November 20, 2017
Awesome book. The reverse engineering question: what would have to be true...? Is an eye opener for this consultant.
Profile Image for Blundell.
69 reviews13 followers
November 29, 2018
Really enjoyable book, you can see the stepping stones of strategy and what it takes to go from one to the next, I like the repetitiveness of explaining what to do as well, really drills it into you.
17 reviews1 follower
December 15, 2019
I was asked to read this book by my CEO and his Chief of Staff before attending an executive offsite to work on our company strategy. The first few chapters of the book outline a good framework for having that discussion. It starts with developing a winning aspiration and then goes into deciding where to focus and how to win. Like most business books, most of the value comes from those first few chapters that explain the main points.
111 reviews1 follower
December 30, 2021
Some books and movies make me wonder why I didn't go into marketing. I love listening to strategies and market research to get in the heads of consumers, but just like statistics and business analytics, I'm terrible at actually doing it. I love when it's presented clearly and constructively, but it's so difficult for me to piece it together myself.

I like the main idea of the book but unless I'm a CEO, in a marketing department, or an experienced consultant there's not a lot of takeaways.
8 reviews
July 25, 2022
The best read I have done on the topic of strategy. Concrete and with a methodology I'm itching to put into practice.
Profile Image for Emil Svartström.
27 reviews2 followers
February 10, 2020
Good and usable framework and tools in this book. Even though P&G as an example company is a bit far from my industry...
Profile Image for Darya.
550 reviews12 followers
August 6, 2022
Easy to read and apply practically would be a good description if this book. The ideas about strategy and the framework presented is very straightforward. The example of this framework applications on P&G business illustrated the framework application really well. I'd recommend reading the book as a refresher for strategic skills.
Profile Image for Jonathan Bernwieser.
52 reviews2 followers
October 9, 2022
This book was not for me. Very hard to read and not made for the startup ecosystem - I wouldn't recommend it to anyone working in fast changing environments.
Profile Image for Grace Hsia.
35 reviews4 followers
June 3, 2020
Thoughtful and intelligent book with excellent case studies on what worked and did not work at P&G. Imagine an HBR case study on steroids. From using Porters Five Forces to Disruptive Innovation to P&G internal frameworks, this book features a rich spread of tools for you to use when considering strategic business decisions and deciding where you can win.
The book also includes real numbers and can help you and your team think about metrics that matter and can be used to judge how well a strategy is working.
Finally, I loved the portions of the book that talked about cultural turnaround. It is very easy for a corporation to stagnate, much harder to innovate and transform workplace culture. This book offered a great look at how the leadership team changed.
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