Wise Words on Winning from Lafley & Martin

Winning is a word that we tend to use most with respect to sporting contests. But market “competition” produces some similar scenarios and so firms talk about “winning” there too. Too often, in my humble view, it is used just to motivate people. “Let’s go out and win!” Or it is used as self-congratulation for producing nice quarterly figures. While this kind of talk may be motivating, it ignores that winning is primarily a longer term strategic idea.

In other words, we “go out and win” when we have a strategic sense of what winning actually is. We cannot win at everything and so the strategic idea behind winning is to make appropriate choices. Lafley & Martin emphasize this point in their book, “Playing to Win” and I think it is a wise one. Strategy in general, and “playing to win” is largely about making good choices.

The first choice is to ask and answer the question “what is winning?” in the context where you will act. To quick points about this question.

This is not the same as asking, “what is your vision”. Having a vision is part of formulating the question about winning, but visions don’t themselves translate into action.

And we should not change our winning aspirations often. From the book

Aspirations can be refined and revised over time. however, aspirations shouldn’t change day to day; they exist to consistently align activities within the firm, so should be designed to last for some time. A definition of winning provides a context for the rest of the strategic decisions. in all cases, choices should fit within and support the firm’s aspirations.

This may sound a bit dry, but to the point: the answer to this critical question sets the stage for the game you will play. You get a huge advantage when you can choose this and follow through. And when you do not make the choice, but merely jump into action?  Better wear a helmet.


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