How Do You Play to Win?

Playing to Win

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From the title of the book itself, you know what this is all about.

It’s about playing with the intention to win, because why not?

Playing to Win authors Dean Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley discuss the strategies to bring in the win.

What is a strategy anyway? Commonly used word, but what is it really? What is it in business?


Strategy is about choosing particular decisions to win the target market. According to Michael Porter, expert in business strategy – it is having a competitive advantage over the other players in the market.

You have an edge because you chose a different way of doing things and giving the market something valuable.

However, some managers don’t even get what a strategy is and how important it is in winning. And most likely these are their wrong notions on strategy:

  • Understanding strategy as similar to a plan.
  • Understanding strategy as similar to a vision of the organization.
  • Understanding strategy as sticking to the best practices.
  • Understanding strategy as making do or maximizing status quo.
  • Understanding strategy that it’s not for long term.

Sadly, defining strategy this way will make you an inefficient leader. However, this is not a hopeless situation. Things can still turn around. With “Play to Win” strategy can be broken down into 5 choices:

  • a winning aspiration
  • where to play
  • how to win
  • core capabilities
  • management systems

We will discuss them in more detail but first:

  1. Go through the 5 choices. This is essential so you will find out what strategy will work for you.
  2. Do remember that you have to go through the strategies over and over again. This way, revisions can improve the overall strategy.
  3. Perfection doesn’t exist. You will have strategies that work and improving them along the way.

Winning Aspirations

State your goals. Your choice is to win it, what’s your winning goal? What’s your wining aspiration?

Your statement isn’t just about being able to join the market, it should be about winning it. This goal is what will keep the company going, it will be the base of all strategies.

Keep in mind though that your goal should still be customer-centric though. Make sure also to relate your aspirations to the core of your organization. 

Where to Play

After your aspirations, you’ve got to know where to play. It is tempting to serve and take all the market but that is just impossible. You can’t give everything to everyone.

Where you decide to play also decides how you play the game. So, what should you consider?

  • Geography – What countries, locations will your target be?
  • Product – What will you offer to your target customers?
  • Customer segments – Who are your specific targets? What will your price range be?
  • Distribution channel – How will you offer your products/services to your target market?
  • Vertical stage of production – What part will you be in the value chain?

You have to make a choice. Even though your products and services seems to suit anybody and anywhere, you have to make hard choices. You have to formulate a strategy, you have to narrow down.

How to Win

This is the part where you must perform better than your competitors. This means your product or services has more value to the target market. Generally, this can be done by competing by cost and by being different.

  • Being Low-cost

Using low-cost strategies means offering the same products as the competition but you are selling it with a lower cost.

Being low-cost is just not limited to selling the lowest cost but it can be investing the cost savings on strategies that will give your products or services an edge.

However, with this strategy – there is only one winner. The one with the lowest costs wins.

  • Being Different

Differentiation strategy means offering your product with added value with the same cost your competitors are selling it. Being different means there can be more competitors offering the same product with different edges.

You can go for both strategies, being low-cost and being different. However, this is not effective in the long run.

The competition will always think of ways to strategize their product better so you must focus on one of those strategies to get ahead of the competition.

When it comes to a point that you need to choose, think where you play the game as they affect each other. They make or break your strategic core.

Core Capabilities

Next, what core capabilities will you need to win? Your core capabilities are key in the actualization of where you will play and how you will win the game. This is the point where you use your resources for the choice you have made.

Deciding what your core capabilities should be means deciding on the path to take us well. All your activities will depend on the core capabilities you have.

Examine what capabilities you have now and take a hard look on its state. Be honest on your actual capabilities.

There’s a difference between wanting to have a core capability that will help you in your strategy and having that core capability and exceling in it.

Also, be prepared on how your competition will react to your action. Make sure that you are reactive, prepared and ready to defend your choices to them.

Management Systems

And of course, one must not forget about the system that must be put together to strengthen the core capabilities.

Like in Procter and Gamble, their core competency is brand building. They have built a framework on this to allow the new hires to adapt quickly to the system and for the upper management to have a guide.

Of course, this has been refined several times over the years to suit the company’s growth.

What you’re doing is like doing an instructional manual or a playbook for the core capabilities and the activities around it. You are creating a process, a roadmap towards success.

When you have everything in place, you will be working towards your goal, and at some point you have to check how you are doing. What’s your progress?

You have to take note of your expectations from your strategic choices and how you are faring against it. This way you can measure your progress.

And that’s how you play to win. Going through the five choices is crucial to build the strategy that will work your way towards the goal.




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