I’m not quite sure how to say this. If your business isn’t as successful as you’d like it to be; if it isn’t growing, if it isn’t profitable, if you’re not a household name. It’s probably your strategy, stupid.

Pardon my rudeness (and old political reference), but it was the only way I could think of to get your attention enough to read the rest of my review of the new book, Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley (@AGLafleyFan) and Roger Martin (@RogerLMarketin).

The authors are behind some of the best brand thinking and corporation growing in the world

A.G. Lafley is the former Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of Proctor and Gamble. Through his strategic partnership with his co author, Roger Martin, Dean of Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, he’s doubled P&G sales, quadrupled profits and increased market value by over $100 billion dollars, making P&G among the most valuable companies in the world.

They’ve pulled their brains and experiences together to write this book which (I think) is a brilliant combination of soft, qualitative and current strategic thinking and hard business-based strategy.

After all these years no one really gets? what strategy is

You’d think with all that’s written and talked about strategy, we would get it and understand it and not get confused. But we do and Lafley and Martin are here to straighten us out. Businesses are still confusing strategy with basic visioning, business planning and goal setting. That’s not it at all.

Playing to Win dives into what the authors feel are the only two components of strategy that count; winning and choosing. The goal of the book is to drive you and your business from simply playing to winning. One of my favorite examples is one they use about hospitals. What’s the difference between your local hospital and the Mayo Clinic? Your local hospital is focused on providing services and the Mayo Clinic is focused on transforming the world of medicine; to be at the vanguard for medical research and to win. See the difference?

From the beginning of the book you will start to see yourself in their examples. While I normally eschew books that are focused on gigantic companies that bear little resemblance to any small businesses real issues, Playing to Win offered plenty of valid strategic advice that is relevant to even the smallest of businesses.

Doing is great thinking is more profitable

The authors didn’t say that it’s what I got out of this book. While doing? is an important success factor for any business, the authors put the focus on doing what works and wins over simple action. They note five things that businesses that strive for strategy do wrong. Do you see yourself in any of these?

  1. Define strategy as a vision. Visions and missions aren?t enough. They tell you where you’re going, but they fall flat on the actions it will take to get there.
  2. Defining strategy is a plan: While detailed plans are heavy on the doing, they aren?t focused on those actions that support a competitive advantage.
  3. Deny that long term strategy is possible: Not true. The speed at which the world is changing doesn’t impact strategy the way you think it does.
  4. Defining strategy as optimizing the status quo: Nope. That won?t work. It will help, but strategy is all about transforming the status quo.
  5. Define strategy as following best practices:? See points 1,2,3 and 4. This will certainly improve your performance, but it isn’t strategy.

Now that you’re sufficiently frustrated, here are the six signs of a winning strategy:

  1. Your activity system looks different from any other competitors.
  2. Customers absolutely adore you.
  3. Competitors make a good profit (I know, scary?right?)? You’ll want to read all about how this works.
  4. You have more resources to spend than competitors.
  5. Customers look to YOU FIRST for innovation, new products and services.

Great stuff for small businesses looking to break out of the pack

I loved reading Playing to Win because it supported an opinion that I’ve long held about what makes a successful brand and business strategy. I believe that the most successful companies have a clearly observed (not just stated) emotional commitment to something. This corporate calling is what drives loyal customers who consistently choose them at any price.

What you’re going to love about Playing to Win, is its no-nonsense, unfluffy-touchy-feely approach to building a thriving, growing, profitable company. This is a fabulous read for business owners of any sized company from solopreneur to multi-national corporation.