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Winning the Right Game – a book review

By Mark P. McDonald | October 11, 2021 | 0 Comments

StrategyBook ReviewCorporate Strategy Formulation

Conventional wisdom holds that winners win because of their leaders and their organization and those that do not win are something less.  If only that were true, then success would entail understanding and following the leaders.  In Ron Adner’s Winning the Right Game he points out that winning is not only up to the leader and company, but also it’s the ecosystem they create and operate in. This makes Adner’s book fresh and unique and the book highly recommended for managers and executives looking to understand the fundamentals of competition in the real world going forward.

Winning the Right Game is two books in one, in my opinion.  Both books are valuable to enhance your understanding of modern business and organizational dynamics.

The First Part

The first part concentrates on looking at a company from the perspective of its value proposition, value architecture and value elements.   The first three chapters introduce some simple and powerful tools to think through a company from the value dimension.  Adner’s work is not a rehash of value streams or core capabilities etc.  Rather this part concentrates on understanding the simple organizing principle for companies and ecosystems – the value proposition.

Adner defines value proposition as ‘the benefit that an end consumer is supposed to receive from your efforts/’ Page 11. Akin to Christensen’s idea of the jobs to be done.  The value proposition and the activities a company brings together to create it (the value architecture) are powerful ideas that bring a fresh perspective to thinking about the basis of an organization or ecosystem.

The Second Part

The rest of the book concentrates on the idea of an ecosystem, how they work, what makes them work well and what it means to lead in an ecosystem context.  This second half is where the real meat of the book and insight is.  Chapters 5 – 6 alone are worth the cost of the book and your time.

Adner points out that ecosystems are not just chains of company, customer, and supplier relationships, but configurations of capabilities that span multiple boundaries.  Ecosystems are formed and driven by ideas around alignment rather than execution.  Companies need to have different strategies and game plans depending on the nature of their ecosystems and their value propositions.  They require different styles of leadership and leaders.  Those are the issues discussed in this second part with a perspective that is refreshingly pragmatic, easily understood and actionable.


Highly Recommended, particularly for leaders and executives seeking to see the post-digital world for what it is rather than trying to fit old ideas into new context.  Winning the Right Game as a title is a little misleading, this book is about ecosystems, their origins, the principles associated with good ones and clear examples of failures.

I started reading the eBook version and quickly found that I was trying to go back and forth between different parts of the book to tie things together.  I switched the print version and found it much easier to create notes, cross reference and identify ideas that I would like to explore further and use in practice.  So, if you have a choice I would go with the print version.

I would also recommend reading the last chapter “Strategic clarity is collective” first.  It will seem strange, but the context provided in the final chapter enhances you understanding of the full book


  • Clear ideas and language, particularly in the second part.  The book’s ideas appear simple on the surface, things you know, but as you read more Adner’s examples and explanation bring out the core differences between the past and our present-future.
  • Great Case studies. Every major idea is illustrated with one or more case studies that shed new light and insight on what happened and how things moved forward.  The case studies are both positive and negative, providing a real and frank learning opportunity for the reader.
  • Broad examples. Many think ecosystems are for high tech companies, but Adner shows the impact of advanced ecosystems on non-tech companies which makes the book applicable to just about every kind of business.
  • Thoughtful insight, particularly in Chapters 5 The Ego-Systems Trap and 6 Mindset matter: establishing leadership is different from exercising leadership.  Deep advice and insight clearly presented.


  • The two parts of the book could be more tightly connected.  After learning about the application of value architectures and element sin the first part, I thought they would be used in the second part.  They are to some extent, but a tighter integration would have brought them together better.
  • The book drops several ideas like value architecture, value elements, ecosystem carryover, ecosystem races, alignment vs execution etc. that could benefit from some additional treatment.  Not so much that you are lost, but some additional discussion and integration would have been great.

Chapter List

Winning the wrong game means losing

  1. Ecosystem defense is collective
  2. Ecosystem offense: from adding competition to changing competition
  3. Timing ecosystem disruption: too early can be worse than too late
  4. The Ego-system trap
  5. Mindsets: establishing leadership is different from exercising leadership
  6. Strategic clarity is collective




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