Playing To Win

How to Use Playing to Win to Make Sense of Digital Strategy

Source: Roger L. Martin, 2021

These days, the strategy subject about which I get asked most frequently is ‘digital strategy.’ How can my strategy benefit from digital transformation? How does Playing to Win apply to digital strategy? Because of the sheer volume of these related questions, I am dedicating my 32nd Playing to Win/Practitioner Insights (PTW/PI) piece to What is Digital Strategy, Anyway?

Why the Fascination?

There is endless fascination about digital strategy in the business world today, which if you are not engaging in, your company is written off as a dinosaur lumbering around in the 21st century just waiting to fall into a…


Notes from Industry, Playing To Win

The Only Way to Create the Future is to Pay Attention to the Outliers

Image Copyright: Roger L. Martin, 2021

I am utterly tired of the modern strategy focus on averages, whether means, medians, or modes. It is Achilles Heel of data analytics/Big Data/Artificial Intelligence. That is why I am dedicating my 31st Playing to Win/Practitioner Insights (PTW/PI) to encouraging strategists to go beyond obsessing about averages.

The Modern Focus on Averages

In world of strategy, all analytical guns have long been trained on means, medians, and modes. What is the most representative customer behavior? What is the biggest customer need? What is the average cost of our product? How do most people get information about our product? What is…


Playing To Win

The Two Skills Every Strategist Must Master

Copyright: Roger L. Martin

After two very macro-themed Playing to Win/Practitioner Insights (PTW/PI) pieces — about the strategy function overall and about a widely-used strategy tool — I am going micro, diving into the mind of the individual strategist with my 30th PTW/PI on the two thinking skills every strategist must master: Manipulation of Quantities & Appreciation of Qualities. For the insights that inspired this piece, I thank my friend and collaborator, Hilary Austen.

Manipulation of Quantities

Because of the origins of the practice, the prototypical strategy person is an analytical wizard/geek. Institutions tend to shape themselves in the image of a seminal figure…


Playing To Win

They Started in Separate Places but have Converged

Copyright Roger L. Martin

When I work with tech companies, I find it striking how ambivalent most are about strategy. They tend to see it as an unhelpful bureaucratic planning exercise in an industry is too fast moving for strategy. On the former, they are right to be skeptical. As I have written about in this series, most strategic planning is dominantly planning and not strategic. However, the latter is a fallacy that I have also written about in this series.


Playing To Win

SWOT is a Dreadful Way to Start a Strategy Process

Copyright Roger L. Martin

I am tired of reading SWOT analyses. My annoyance is not because of the amount of time I waste reading them — which is a lot. It is about the time some poor souls wasted putting them together. That is why I have decided to write my 28th Playing to Win Practitioner Insights post on It’s Time to Toss SWOT Analysis into the Ashbin of Strategy History.

A Bit of History

Arguably the most venerable and frequently deployed analytical tool in all of strategy is the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (aka SWOT) Analysis, which came into existence at the…


Playing To Win

Not if you Want to be Great over Time

Copyright: Roger L. Martin, 2021

The Playing to Win strategy question that I probably get most often is: why can’t we be both a cost leader and a differentiator? Given the question’s frequency, and the critical importance of the answer, I am going to provide a comprehensive answer in my 27th Playing to Win/Practitioner Insights piece on Can you be Both Cost Leader & Differentiator.

Why the Frequency of the Question?

I think I get the question as often as I do for two reasons. First is that in advising on strategy, I emphasize the need to choose and in general people don’t like to…


Playing To Win

It Can Kill You if you Don’t Pay Attention

Copyright Sidney Harris, 1987

Industries go through a particular transformation that typically isn’t obvious until after it happens. However, the transformation is deadly to most players that are there at its start. To help those players, I decided to write my 26thPlaying to Win/Practitioner Insights (PTW/PI) piece on The Shift from Pre-Competitive to Competitive.

What is Pre-Competitive?

In pre-competitive industries, many competitors typically co-exist in relatively happy state. While they compete for business, when they lose a piece of business, it isn’t a terribly big deal. Although not pleasant, losing a piece of business doesn’t alter the competitive dynamics. …


Playing To Win

It’s a Part of All the Boxes

Copyright Roger L. Martin, 2021

I am frequently asked the question: Where is the business model in the Playing to Win Strategy Choice Cascade? Shouldn’t there be a sixth box for business model? I get the question sufficiently often that I decided to do my 25thPlaying to Win/Practitioner Insights (PTW/PI) on Where’s the Business Model in Playing to Win?

The Business Model

Business model takes on a mythical aura for many. When entrepreneurs get asked about their business model, the desired response is something that will make it clear it is headed for the stars. It is going to be the Airbnb of x or…


Playing To Win

Without Balance Your Organization Won’t Persist

Copyright: Roger L. Martin, 2021

In the development of strategy, there is a hidden tension between two largely implicit forces that must be balanced productively to produce strategy that helps your organization persist. To provide guidance on that delicate balance, I decided to make the 24th Playing to Win/Practitioner Insights piece on Reliability versus Validity in Strategy.

A Fundamental Tension

When people work together to make decisions and solve problems, there is a hidden tension between two opposing forces that influence from the background. One force is reliability, which is the desire for a dependable, consistent, and replicable outcome. The Stanford-Binet IQ (SBIQ) test exemplifies…


Playing To Win

Without Strategy, You Can’t Make Discerning Choices

Copyright: Roger L. Martin, 2021

I had a conversation on effectiveness with friend Zachary First, Executive Director of the Drucker Center and based on the discussion, I thought a Playing to Win/Practitioner Insights (PTW/PI) on The Role of Strategy in Achieving Managerial Effectiveness would be in order as PTW/PI #23.

Drucker on Effectiveness

Peter Drucker was, of course, the prophet of effectiveness. His 1966 classic, The Effective Executive, is still the best book ever written on managerial effectiveness. …

Roger Martin

Professor Roger Martin is a writer, strategy advisor and in 2017 was named the #1 management thinker in world. He is also former Dean of the Rotman School.

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