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Playing to Win by AG Lafley — a book review

By Mark P. McDonald | April 15, 2013 | 0 Comments

StrategyStrategic planningBook Review

Playing to Win is highly recommended as perhaps the first and one of the few books you should ever read about business strategy.  Penned by the former CEO of P&G (AG Lafley) and the Dean of the Rothman Business School (Roger Martin) this book takes the esoteric and jargon based world of strategy and drives down to its essential questions, challenges and success factors.  AG spoke at last year’s Symposium CIO Lunch in Orlando and this book is recommended.

Highly recommended for any business leader, manager or student who wants to get an in depth look at the realities of strategy from one of the more important and dynamic companies in the world.

  • Chapter 1 Strategy = Choice – a fundamental principle that is lost on most people who create strategies that are really plans.
  • Chapter 2 What is winning? – perhaps the toughest choice to make particularly in a company facing significant change.
  • Chapter 3 Where to play – deals with the markets you enter, their nature, needs and dynamics
  • Chapter 4 How to win – looks at value propositions and sources of advantage
  • Chapter 5 Playing to your strengths – the operational nature and needs of the business, what it does well, needs to do well and what can be done by others.
  • Chapter 6 Managing what matters – the systems, approaches, memes necessary to engage and guide the organization at every level.
  • Chapter 7 Thinking through strategy – a imagination and reapplication of Porter’s 4 forces model
  • Chapter 8 Shortening your odds – inverting the strategy process to create greater choice and capacity for change
  • Conclusion The endless pursuit of winning

Overall the book is a good mix of business practice and experience with academic insight and rigor.


The book filled with examples, discussions and stories regarding the choices and challenges Lafley faced at P&G.  The situations are particularly well positioned in the context of the strategy process and approach – a real plus for readers asking how might this apply to me.

Effective use of consumer products as an industry and market we all understand and participate in.  Some may find the B2C examples a little limiting for their company but I would suggest that you need to consider that every business is becoming more B2C.

Complete and comprehensive, the book does not skip steps, gloss over frameworks or fail to cover items in the process and approach.

Brief and informative.  At fewer than 250 pages, Playing to Win is the epitome of what a business book should be – just long enough to be valuable, but short enough to be accessible.  This could and other strategy books are, giant tomes that bog down.  This is a read ready for busy people.


The P&G culture pervades the book that may give you a false sense that this only works for P&G.  This is a context and to some extent a bias that you will need to consciously read through to get at the essence of the things that are happening, the decisions being made, the actions taken, etc.

There is not a lot of explicit discussion around technology and IT although technology pervades the choice space and core capabilities.  CIOs should read this book to better understand business strategy and with they fit in rather than use it as a justification for technology being part of the business strategy.

Covers some familiar ground, particularly in the context of common terms and ideas.  Experienced business people and students of strategy will find this repetitions but this should not get in your way.

Concentrating on strategy formulation and not strategy execution, so some wanting to ask ‘what now’ may find the book a little limiting.  This is a strategy formulation book and a great one.  Other books about change management, deployment, execution, implementation, investment etc. are out there and this book’s focus is really appropriate for the subject area.  Otherwise this would be a 500-page book that no one would read.

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