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Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works [Kindle Edition]

A.G. Lafley , Roger L. Martin
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (201 customer reviews)

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Book Description

This is A.G. Lafley’s guidebook. Shouldn’t it be yours as well?

Winning CEO A.G. Lafley is now back at the helm of consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. If you want to know the strategy he’ll use to restore P&G to its former dominance—read this book.

Playing to Win, a noted Wall Street Journal and Washington Post bestseller, outlines the strategic approach Lafley, in close partnership with strategic adviser Roger Martin, used to double P&G’s sales, quadruple its profits, and increase its market value by more than $100 billion when Lafley was first CEO (he led the company from 2000 to 2009). The book shows leaders in any type of organization how to guide everyday actions with larger strategic goals built around the clear, essential elements that determine business success—where to play and how to win.

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: (1) What is our winning aspiration? (2) Where will we play? (3) How will we win? (4) What capabilities must we have in place to win? and (5) What management systems are required to support our choices? The result is a playbook for winning.

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.

Playing to Win outlines a proven method that has worked for some of today’s most celebrated brands and products. Let this book serve as your new guide to winning, as well.

Editorial Reviews


“Winner – Thinkers50 Best Book Award 2012 and 2013.” — Thinkers50 (

Playing to Win is a rare tale from the front lines of business and from two of its smartest minds.” — Washington Post

“[Playing to Win]: How Strategy Really Works may be the best business and strategy book I’ve read since Michael Porter. There is plenty of practical advice, including the fact that business people often confuse a vision for a strategy. Instead, the authors claim “winning through distinctive choices is the always-and-forever job of every strategist.” — Jonathan Becher, SAP via

Lafley and Martin have artfully combined two virtues that don't often mix: rigor and brevity. Winning strategy doesn't come from inspirational happy-talk; it comes from deeply substantive hard thinking, and they tell us how it's done, with many examples. The book is short, crisp, a pleasure to read. — Fortune

“I doubt there are two more intelligent business minds out there than Lafley and Martin. Playing to Win meets the high expectations raised by those two names, and is the best business book I’ve read so far this year.” — Jack Covert, 800 CEO READ

“clear and effective” — (Wall Street Journal)

“Read their book. They, in turn, are sure to inspire you.” —

"I hate CEO books...[but]...this book totally rocks. It's a beautiful manual...a triumph. — Tom Keene, Bloomberg TV

“This is a fascinating tale, featuring a cast of familiar brands, including Pampers, Tide and Olay, each of which went through a transformation under Mr. Lafley’s eye.” — The Economist

“this new offering by former Procter & Gamble CEO Lafley (coauthor of The Game-Changer) and Martin (dean of the Rotman School of Management and author of Fixing the Game) is a clear standout…This collection of insights and captivating examples about strategy is a must-read for leaders at any level in the for-profit or not-for-profit world.” — Publishers Weekly

“Strategy lessons, 101… a manual for strategy practitioners.” — Financial Times

“The many stories from one of the biggest consumer goods firms in the world, with its many successes (and some failures too) along with the framework of the strategy to win, make this an interesting read.” —

“a highly readable book that provides the reader with a very good understanding of the process and the real building blocks of value creation.” — Ottawa Business Journal

Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works—written by an impressive duo: former Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley and Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto Roger Martin—is not just an insiders’ tale of the workings of a successful global corporation. It’s the story of how you can do what top brands do: Create and execute stellar strategy well. Lots of books are published about business strategy, many of them either badly written or not relevant to associations, or both. This one is an exception.” — Associations Now (ASAE: American Society of Association Executives)

“interesting and thought-provoking work on business strategy” — Business World

“The best practitioner-focused strategy book I have ever read, and all the more useful for the fact it is concise, well-structured and compelling, with almost no jargon.” — Strategic Management Bureau

“Unlike many management texts, which read as if written for CEOs of multi-billion-dollar businesses, these tales from the fast-moving consumer goods front are useful for acquiring, extending or defending market share at any size of company.” — The Deal: The Australian Business Magazine

“I wish this book had been available to me earlier – it would have been invaluable during my tenure at Britannia!” — Sunil K. Alagh (Ex-CEO, Britannia Industries Ltd.) in Outlook Business

“You’re unlikely to find a more comprehensive guide to what strategy actually means and how to use it to your company’s advantage.” — HR Magazine

“As a mere student of life and an avid readers of business literature that is grounded in the practical and realistic realms, I found this (book) is a must read.” — Jonathan Yach (CEO, PropCare Mall Management) in Business World (India)

“The book offers many inside stories about how P&G tackled strategy in various arenas, including examples of when it failed. That gives an even more practical flavour to this practical look at strategy, from two savvy strategy practitioners.” — The Globe & Mail

“Sure to be a strategy classic. Book of the Month.” — Strategic Management Bureau

“Set to become a classic text on strategy.” — Decision (Ireland)

“a full vindication of P&G’s strategic nous” — Marketing Ireland

“Two of today’s best-known business thinkers get to the heart of strategy. The stories of how P&G repeatedly won by applying [Lafley and Martin's] method to iconic brands such as Olay, Bounty, and Gillette, 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.” — Expert Marketer Magazine

“a must-read book” — American Express Open Forum

“the book can be used by any business to help mesh everyday operations with long-term strategic objectives.” — Fort Worth Star Telegram

Playing to Win clearly elevates the discussion of strategy. It gets to the heart of what’s important for a business leader.” — Business Standard

“The book delivers on the title. It’s a unique and nuanced view of strategy and its implementation. Highly recommended.” — Business Traveller (

“just about everyone trying to market anything these days could profit from this careful, well-done text on how to craft a strategy.” — Marketing Daily

“an important addition to every decision-maker’s library.” — Success magazine

“Pick up the book to know how to create a triple crown: a win in China, a win in India, and a win at home; and to understand the differences and similarities between China and India.” — Business India

“This valuable book is based on the two authors’ years of experience working together and separately at P&G and Rotman School of Management. It is rich in examples and practical advice that show how organizations of all sizes can move beyond visions and plans to create judiciously plotted winning strategies.” — Developing Leaders

ADVANCE PRAISE for Playing to Win:

Daniel H. Pink, author, Drive and A Whole New Mind
“Reading Playing to Win is like having prime seats at the Super Bowl of strategy. You’ll learn the strategies consumer goods powerhouse Procter & Gamble uses to get its innovative products into millions of homes—plus tested methods for winning your own marketplace contests. If you’re a marketer or a leader, you need to read this book.”

Sir Terry Leahy, former CEO, Tesco—
“This is the best book on strategy I have ever read. Lafley and Martin get to the heart of what’s important: how to make choices in order to control events rather than allowing events to control your choices. Everyone wants to win; this book sets down with calm authority the steps you must take to turn aspiration into reality.”

Clayton M. Christensen, Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School; author, The Innovator’s Dilemma
“Lafley and Martin teach us how to develop and then how to deploy strategy. Their recommendations apply at every level—corporation, business units, products, and teams. This is a great book.”

Chip Heath, coauthor, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
“Most authors conduct research before they write a book. Lafley and Martin went out and did something. They used their simple, subtle framework—Where will we play? How will we win?—to double the value of one of the world’s greatest businesses. And now they’re showing you how to do the same. Read this book. . . before your competitors find it.”

Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO, Lego Group—
Playing to Win is a rare combination of depth of thinking and ease of use. It clearly explains what business strategy is and isn’t, and how to develop it. Lafley and Martin distill their hard-won experiences and offer insights, practical hands-on tools, and tips that will inspire and allow you to think strategically in new ways about your own business.”

Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO, General Electric—
“A great CEO and a renowned educator join forces to create a must-read for anyone thinking about strategy.”

Scott Cook, cofounder and Chairman of the Executive Committee, Intuit—
“Here is business strategy through the eyes of the man who led Procter & Gamble’s stunning turnaround and success in the 2000s and the strategist who advised and worked with him. Lush with insights that show the “what” and the “how” of two master strategists.”

James P. Hackett, President and CEO, Steelcase Inc.—
“Lafley and Martin have invested their respective careers in understanding the complexity of strategy. What has emerged in this seminal work is a simple and rich framework that can help business leaders think through strategic choices. It is an eminently helpful guide to choice making, which is the most essential part of leadership.”

Jim McNerney, President, CEO, and Chairman, Boeing—
Playing to Win is an insightful do-it-yourself guide that demystifies what it takes to craft, implement, and continuously improve effective business strategies. Using relevant, real-world examples, Lafley and Martin offer proven techniques for competing and winning in today’s challenging global business environment.”

Thomas Tull, founder and CEO, Legendary Pictures—
“I love this book; it is thought provoking and acts as a catalyst to ask questions—about ourselves and our business life course. In a day and age when information and instant communication are relentless components of business and our lifestyle, A. G. Lafley and Roger Martin suggest we take an important pause to actually question our strategic road maps and the associated plans we need in order to succeed in this marketplace.”

About the Author

A. G. Lafley is the former Chairman of the Board, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Procter & Gamble. Under Lafley’s leadership, P&G’s sales doubled, its profits quadrupled, its market value increased by more than $100 billion, and its portfolio of billion-dollar brands—like Tide, Pampers, Olay, and Gillette—grew from 10 to 24. Today, Lafley consults on business and innovation strategy, advises on CEO succession and executive leadership development, and coaches experienced, new, and potential CEOs.

Roger L. Martin is Dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and an adviser to CEOs on strategy, design, innovation, and integrative thinking. In 2011, Roger was named by Thinkers50 as the sixth top management thinker in the world. This is his eighth book; he also contributes regularly to Harvard Business Review, the Financial Times, and the Washington Post, among others.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The content of this book focuses on the transformation of Procter & Gamble (P&G) between 2000 and 2009, and discusses the approach to strategy that led to this transformation, leading to a doubling of sales, a quadrupling of profits, and an increased share price of more than 80 percent during that decade. The authors discuss that although many good strategic choices were made, the company also had its share of disappointments and failures. And most importantly, "no strategy lasts forever".

In my recent review of "Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation (Second Edition)", by Kees van der Heijden, I mentioned that one of the best takeaways from what the author writes in that book is that "strategy is a highly dynamic area, full of fads and fashions that come and go", and that "copying ideas that 'work' for others is unlikely to be a winning strategy", because "success can only be based on being different from (existing or potential) competitors". The retrospective that Lafley and Martin provide in Appendix A would agree with these conclusions.

As explained by the authors, "strategies need continual improvement and updating", because as the authors have found, "competitors have copied P&G's strategies - on innovation, on branding, and the like - to an extent that renders P&G's resultant strategy less distinctive and decisive", and this is the challenge moving forward. In reflecting on its 175-year-plus history, the authors remark that "winning through distinctive choices is the always-and-forever job of every strategist", and if management continues to search for unique where-to-play and how-to-win choices that set the company apart, they should be able to further the success of the company.
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43 of 51 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a pretentious PowerPoint presentation May 15, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I'm not implying the strategy information is incorrect. I am saying it has a narrow epicenter of interest and those outside Proctor & Gamble and the Rotman School of Management are going to have a rough time staying interested.

In fairness, the book's title should be "P&G: A Look at Corporate Greatness."

I'm interested in winner-take-all strategies but I'm not captivated by overwrought anecdotes about "the P&G diaper business in emerging markets..."

Playing to Win reads like a pretentious PowerPoint presentation. This excerpt from page 125 illustrates my point:

"Why was the Gillette acquisition so successful for P&G? The answer is reinforcing rods; the P&G reinforcing rods drove powerfully through Gillette's activity system, especially in its crown jewel, the male shaving business. Strength in all five core capabilities enabled P&G to add value to the core Gillette business. By bringing Gillette into the P&G portfolio, P&G was able to add real value by sharing and transferring those capabilities."

That's five "P&Gs" and zero executions of "show don't tell."

You can still use it for a drinking game. Take a sip every time you read an acronym.

Use Amazon's preview function and pull up pages 40 and 41. Trust me, you'll be under the table before you reach page 43.

Rating: Two stars

DISCLOSURE: This review is courtesy of the Amazon Vine program, which provides products at no cost in exchange for my independent and unbiased feedback. My objective is to test and review products fairly, providing you with helpful information that improves your shopping experience.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful
I am pleased that A.G. Lafley has co-authored another book, with Roger Martin, after previously co-authoring The Game Changer with Ram Charan. Whereas in the first the focus is on how to drive revenue and profit growth with innovation, the focus in this book is on how strategy really works. Most of the time it doesn't and reasons vary. However, Lafley and Martin identify these familiar troublemakers:

1. Defining strategy as a vision
2. Defining strategy as a plan
3. Denying that the long-term (or even the medium-term) strategy is possible
4. Defining strategy as the optimization of the status quo.
5. Defining strategy as following best practices

Rather, Lafley and Martin suggest that a strategy "is a coordinated and integrated set of five choices: a winning aspiration, where to play, how to win, core capabilities, and management systems." In this context, I am reminded of two recently published books. In Judgment Calls, Tom Davenport and Brooke Manville offer "an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance": [begin italics] organizational judgment [end italics]. That is, "the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader's direct control." In Martin's brilliant book, The Opposable Mind, he calls this "integrative thinking." Winning the game (whatever its nature and extent) would thus require a strategy that is both inclusive and collaborative.

In Paul Schoemaker's latest book, Brilliant Mistakes, he observes: "The key question companies need to address is not `[begin italics] Should [end italics] we make mistakes?' but rather `[begin italics] Which [end italics] mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?
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5.0 out of 5 stars I will never choose anyone over you. You all were very fair. You...
wIll order again ..... It was great
Published 8 days ago by jOSIE
5.0 out of 5 stars Simple yet effective framework
The book distills five steps which must be followed in order to craft a strategy: where to play and how to win. Read more
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best book for strategy I ever have read
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4.0 out of 5 stars Playing to win
A good read instead. I am impressed on how the writers simplified the approach to do strategy.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good Reading
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