Where to Play?

I am reading Lafley and Martin’s (L&M) book “Playing to Win” and finding it to be pretty useful. We tend to think of “winning” and “gamification” as attitude builders. We gamify to produce more engagement, right? That is what Csikszentmihalyi argued.

Well L&M take a more cerebral approach. They argue that playing to win is all about making the best possible strategic choices. It is about being smart, not just pounding your chest and having at the other team. The three major choices are (1) what is winning in this context? (2) where to play? and (3) how to win? There are additional choices to be faced with what resources and management work best. But in sum, that is it. This envelope sketch does not do the book justice, but it gives some basic orientation for what will follow here.

Today I bumped into an interesting application of the “where to play” idea in a post about Tesla. Tesla, as we all know by now, is in the electric car business, right? That is the general category.

So what is winning for Tesla? My guess is that Tesla wants to be the world leader in electric transport vehicle development. In other words, Tesla doesn’t just want to sell one type of electric car. It wants to push the limits of what it can design over time in order to make the market for electric transport grow at the expense of internal combustion driven cars. If that is so, I don’t expect Tesla to get into hybrids or any other fuel source. I do expect them to come out with new models and car upgrades as quickly as possible.

But where will Tesla focus its resources in that business? Where within that category will it play to win? Tesla can’t do everything better than everyone else. But it must do something better. That is a “where to play” choice. John McDuling argues that the focus is actually on winning in battery technology development. Why? The choice is that batteries are the weakest link in persuading purchasers to go electric and that Tesla can improve batteries faster than anyone else.

BTW, this is not the end of the strategic story. We still need to ask and answer how Tesla will win in battery technology (in terms of cost and/or product differentiation), what resources it needs to bring to the problem and how to manage those resources.

But you get the point —- L&M present a model of “cascading” decision making that gamifies business strategy. One proceeds from “what is winning” to “where to play” to “how to win” to “what resources”and “what management”. The choices in these areas are interconnected. So if you are looking at a given choice, you can find your way beyond the matter at hand to more “meta” strategic issues.

Nice model!

FOLLOW UP – The above analysis is not only relevant in understanding what Tesla will try to accomplish. It also is useful for other folks who happen to be in the battery business. They will have to adapt to the new reality that Tesla has thrown down the gauntlet. This requires new strategic thinking on their part. Do they fight Tesla to the death? Do they try to partner with Tesla? Do they exit? And this sends a message to folks who are interested in battery research. There is a serious player out there who may be interested in that research. They will face strategic choices as well.


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