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Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works
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Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  5,171 ratings  ·  298 reviews
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 need it, and how
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 5th 2013 by Harvard Business Review Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Jun 11, 2013 rated it liked it

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
Tõnu Vahtra
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 t ...more
Jay Oza
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Masatoshi Nishimura
Jan 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: business
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-
Alain Burrese
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“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, winn
Gerard Chiva
Jul 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Lone Wong
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business, strategy
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
Mila Goodman
Sep 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: biz-books, speed-read
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 ;).
Apr 01, 2019 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Jim Smitherman
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Awesome book. The reverse engineering question: what would have to be true...? Is an eye opener for this consultant.
gabriel morales
Not terrible
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business
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.
Ken Weiner
Dec 15, 2019 rated it liked it
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.
Emil Svartström
Feb 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Good and usable framework and tools in this book. Even though P&G as an example company is a bit far from my industry...
Grace Hsia
Jun 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Martin Smrek
Jan 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: strategy
Great material for strategic planning hidden under a load of mind-numbing stories about laundry detergents, garbage bags and toothpaste. It starts horribly dull but gradually gets more interesting. In the end the book leaves you with a ready-to-go toolset for building your strategy from a scratch.
Mar 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a general audience book on corporate strategy written by A.G. Lafley, who was CEO at P&G until 2010, in conjunction with Roger Martin, who was CEO at the Monitor Consulting firm until he became Dean of the Rotman Business School at the University of Toronto.

The book presents a general framework for making strategic decisions at the level of the product, business, group, or multi-business (or corporate) actor. The logic is one of applied economics, in which the objectives of actors are li
Paul W
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: business
‘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 pla
Gene Babon
Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: strategy
Leaders lead, and a good place to start leading is in strategy development for your business.
A.G. Lafley lead 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
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the strategic model that Hewlett Packard chose to use for the transformation of the company and one of the reason why I decided to read the book. In my opinion the model is quite solid, specially for the first 4 questions: 1) what is our winning aspiration?, 2) where will we play?, 3) how will we win? and 4) what capabilities must be in place? . However , for the last question 5) what management systems are required? The book doesn't cover the topics deeply; it mentions the importance of ...more
May 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
A book that was getting better and better towards the end. It starts off with the basics and keeps that pace for about half the book. I was not reading as deeply for most of it though I was enjoying the concise stories about P&G brnads from different strategic angles.

Toward the end though it started picking up pace, providing deeper analysis and a refreshing look at the process of drafting strategy. What was turning out the be a barely three star book turned into a 4 star book solely on the last
Oct 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is justifiably famous for a strategy cascade that looks like this:

strategy cascade

The key observation of the book of the book is that to answer each of these questions ("What is our winning aspiratioon?," etc.) you have to make choices. That's hard. The first six chapters set this out with case studies from Proctor & Gamble, and especially with regard to the repositioning of the old Oil of Olay into Olay, which was re-situated as a "masstige" product. The book mentions in passing the sell-off of major
Mar 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Detailed descriptions of P&G's strategic planning processes, including a compelling summary of signs that your strategy is poor vs strong. Many recognizable pitfalls described here in a clear way. Especially enjoyed the practice at P&G of "assertive inquiry," which dictates that leaders take clear positions with conviction but always also ask the question "what am I missing?" when in group discussions. It's a simple practice to move culture away from pure advocacy and defensiveness to an environ ...more
Vikram Kalkura
May 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Playing to win is a book to become a winner. The ceo of P & G tells about the strategy he uses to make it a billion dollar company. Great to here about he got competitive products like Gillette and liquid Tide and made them a winner in its class. Great examples on how he made olay a winner for all class. Lafley and Martin did write this incredibly great and they are the best in the business in how to implement the strategy for better. Small business and upcoming ventures can benefit from this bo ...more
David Marlow
Jul 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Playing to win explains the introduction to Proctor & Gamble, a robust strategic creation. Real good book to bring clarity to your strategy and being able to communicate this across.

I guess it's ok as a book but found this was far too focused on a couple of case studies. The principles and diagrams were awesome. Drawback I felt you could get away with just reading the summary at the end of each chapter and looking for the diagrams.
Apr 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Enjoyed this book and it is interesting to read about strategy at one company. I'm curious if you could apply these principles to a professional services company verses a major selling of products. All in all, a good read and compelling as to change a huge global corporation to change course, grow stinger and more relevant while still relying one a hundred plus year of company culture. ...more
Oct 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
This strategy book was resourceful as it outlined to-the-point ideas and concepts. Many reviews on Goodreads say that they can't connect the concepts to other businesses: they're wrong and didn't reflect long and hard. No matter what your background is, this book will teach you a great deal of strategy fundamentals. ...more
Elina Ishchenko
Jan 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Good, simple and inspiring book on strategy: it explains what strategy is and isn't, how to develop, sharp and bring effective strategy to life in any organization. The approach/ all tools are heavily illustrated with relevant and real P&G case studies. ...more
Mike Adeleke
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
You must always learn from the greats and there are few companies greater than P&G. Learning from their CEO made me feel like I was able to sneak into the back Harvard Business School class. This is one of those books necessary to periodically read if you want to build a great organization.
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Reading Guide 2 10 Oct 18, 2013 07:31PM  

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13 likes · 0 comments
“The heart of strategy is the answer to two fundamental questions: where will you play, and how will you win there?” 8 likes
“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.”
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