Book: Playing to Win

playing-to-win.jpgA theme for me in 2017 was “Strategy: more / better”. It was something I really wanted to work on – both on the dimension of getting better at types of strategic work, and also better at carving out time for that work. A book that came up in (as I recall, referenced in some of the reading from the AltMBA but not in the reading list) was Playing to Win (Amazon).

This has been the most helpful resource for me in terms of 1) what strategy is and 2) how to approach it. My role at work has been pretty focused on execution, but reading this helped clarify some of the work that I’ve seen others do which is more strategic. Both in terms of why it’s valuable, and how these things fit together.

The book focuses a lot on Proctor and Gamble, which worried me a bit when I read the blurb but was actually great – the examples were connected and built on each other, and had a depth that it would be harder (and more time consuming) to create if they all came from different places. I think it probably helped that P&G is a bit of a behind the scenes brand, and so whilst I recognized the products they talked about, I didn’t know most of them were P&G brands. I think this book is really worth reading, and I really recommend it.

Two ideas that I’ll pull out.

  • Where to play and how to win. Where to play is the market being operated in, like “masstige product sold in regular drug stores” or “high end brand with counters at department stores”. How to win is about competing in that segment. Whilst the language put me off a bit at first (so aggressive!) it made more and more sense over time.
  • The process for deciding on a strategy was really interesting. First this started out with what sounded like a regular brainstorming exercise, then it got super interesting. Firstly came the idea of asking “what would need to be true for this to be a great strategy?”, then from the necessary of those questions (ones if it were not true would eliminate that option from the running) work through from the conditions most likely not to be true and have the biggest skeptic run the test. If at any point the test fails, that strategy is ruled out.

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