Playing To Win

By the Numbers

A Strategic Analysis of the Playing to Win/Practitioner Insights Series

Roger Martin


Source: Roger L. Martin, 2023

I thought it would be fun and informative to take a closer look at the full three years of the Playing to Win/Practitioner Insights (PTW/PI) series. It has been a journey together and I believe readers would be interested in some of the numbers involved. In addition, I wanted to look back to extract learnings from the readership feedback across the series and provide a ranking based on reader actions/reactions. Plus, it never hurts to reminisce on a fun experience — which this has been for me. If anyone is a first-time reader, all the PTW/PI’s discussed below can be found here.

How Many PTW/PIs are There?

Prior to this post, there have been 165 PTW/PI’s. You might be asking: shouldn’t it be 52 x 3 = 156? Yes and no. Indeed, that number is what I think of as the core pieces of new content. However, there have been some extras. First, I have done a retrospective at the end of each year — that is +3. And between years two and three, I did a top five countdown — +5. Finally, I did a post on May 3, 2023 to celebrate crossing the million-view mark — +1. So, 156 + 3 + 5 + 1 = 165, and this one makes 166.

Those 156 posts of new content add up to 270 thousand words, or an average of 1,730 words per post. Virtually all of them are in the target range of a six to eight-minute read, which seems to be a sweet spot for readers (four snuck over the line to nine minutes which is longer than I wanted).

Since the inspiration for the series was my 2013 book with AG Lafley, Playing to Win, I have taken to calibrating the series in terms of ‘number of Playing to Win books.’ That book was 67 thousand words, so the PTW/PI series is the equivalent of slightly over four Playing to Win books. That is like having written four whole books in just over three years since the inception of the series on Oct 5, 2020. I didn’t know I had that in me!

What is the Reach & Impact of PTW/PI?

Medium is a terrific platform when it comes to information for authors. For me, the central statistics are: 1) how many readers View the post in question; 2) how many fully Read the post, and 3) how many give it a Clap — indicating that the post was helpful/valuable to them.

Thus far, the PTW/PI series has garnered 1.4 million Views. That has translated into 500 thousand Reads. I am happy with that. It means that greater than one in three posts that were opened were subsequently fully Read — which means that a lot of readers found the subject matter engaging enough to fully read it. Those Reads translated into 72 thousand Claps — that is, greater than 1 in 7 readers found the content worth an acknowledging Clap. Thanks to readers for every View, Read, and Clap. They encourage and motivate me.

Number of followers is up to 209 thousand and counting. I started with zero as of July 23, 2020, when I put up my first article, Habits, COVID & Strategy, which was one of the ten Medium pieces that I posted before commencing the PTW/PI series. I have been on the platform for 177 weeks or 41 months, which means a net follower gain of 1,200 per week or 5,000 per month. Thank you to every follower.

I am very happy to say that within this relatively short period of time on the platform, I have risen to the top fifteen in followers overall on Medium. There isn’t an official ranking, so I rely on folks who publish lists on their own. Top Authors has me at #12. But this alternative ranking features two additional authors who aren’t on the Top Authors list and have more followers than I do, so, I am probably #14 overall.

How do the 156 Pieces Rank?

After year two, I did a ranking of the first 104 pieces and re-published the top five, each with a new introduction. For that ranking, I exclusively used number of Views, which I realized afterwards was an overly narrow ranking perspective. Reads and Claps mean a lot too — arguably more. Sometimes a View just meant an alluring title — which isn’t a bad thing if it produces an actual Read. But if a View doesn’t translate into a Read, it isn’t as important as one that does. And if the writing enticed a full Read, it is important to know whether the Read was fulfilling enough to entice a Clap.

When I decided to re-rank the whole, I got the help of colleague Darren Karn — thanks Darren! — and we played around with some ranking approaches. In the end, we decided that there wasn’t a particularly more compelling weighting than one third each across the three categories of Views, Reads, and Claps.

I found the results quite interesting. Last time, the #1 post was Stop Letting OKRs Masquerade as Strategy and it was #1 in Views by a wide margin. It is still #1 in Views, but in the new ranking, it is #4 because its Reads and Claps ranks are considerably lower.

I took a close look at the top fifteen because that amounts to the top decile of the three years of PTW/PI. Above, I list twelve of the top fifteen. I have not revealed the top three posts because I am featuring each with some commentary over the next three weeks.

Interestingly, the top fifteen posts are split evenly between the three years — which is nice, I think. It means that the series isn’t losing steam! And if you think about it, there is a bit of balance. First-year stories had a lower number of followers at the time of their posting, but they have had a much longer time to accumulate Views/Reads/Claps. Third-year stories have exactly the opposite dynamic — i.e., a higher number of followers at time of publication, but less time to accumulate Views/Reads/Claps.

Looking at the results, I can identify five content categories among the fifteen top-performing posts, as shown above.

The top category, with six of the top fifteen, is what I would describe as Practical Strategy Advice. These pieces provide tools and techniques for thinking through the strategy process. The category includes What Makes for a Great Strategist?, What is Strategic Thinking?, The Role of Management Systems in Strategy, What Would Have to be True?, Who Should Do Strategy? and Asking Great Strategy Questions. Each provides a conceptual framework and/or tools for helping readers with creating strategy.

The second category, with four of the top fifteen, is Reframing Strategy. These make an argument that some aspect of strategy needs to be fundamentally reframed from what it is today. The category includes What Strategy Questions are you Asking?, The Lost Art of Strategy, Why Planning over Strategy? and the second ranked piece. These pieces strive to fundamentally change the reader’s view on strategy, or some aspect of it.

The third category, with three of the top fifteen, is arguably a more extreme form of the second category, a Provocation. In these posts, I deliberately take a provocative stance to attempt to demolish what I think of as a damaging theory on strategy. This category includes the aforementioned Stop Letting OKRs Masquerade as Strategy, It’s Time to Admit that Marketing & Strategy are One Discipline, and the third ranked piece.

The fourth category, with one of the top fifteen, can be called Compare & Contrast. In these posts, all during Year III, I try to create the best link I can between Playing to Win and another important body of work (a book or an idea). Business Model Generation & Playing to Win is the one example of this category in the top fifteen. But since I have done only five in this category of posts among Year III’s 52 posts, one in the top list is good performance.

The final of five categories also has one representative in the top fifteen. But for now, it will be a mystery category (sorry if that is annoying). I will talk more about it when I reveal, on January 8, 2024, the #1 post over the three years of PTW/PI.

What Have I Learned?

Maybe the most striking learning is that I have a lot of tacit knowledge and need help to get it out. When asked questions in client meetings or in a classroom, there is always knowledge I can access in the recesses of my brain based on both my experience consulting to executives for over four decades and my attempts to make sense of what I have seen. But unless I have some excuse and mechanism for getting those thoughts on paper, the knowledge would be transferred only to whatever person or small group I am interacting with at the time and/or stay somewhere in the back of my brain forever.

If someone would have asked me in October 2020 to name the 156 topics that I would address in the first three years of the PTW/PI series, I would have never been able to come up with that number of topics. I might have been able to name 50 or so. But helpful client and reader questions have spurred me to drag things out the dark corners of my brain, and the PTW/PI series provides a vehicle for getting them down on paper. Then they are accessible to me and anyone else for whom the thoughts are valuable, and happily it turns out that there are lots of those folks.

This is a big gift to me from the PTW/PI series. It has dragged four books out of my head in three years. I look forward to working on the next ‘book.’

The other big learning is that, in retrospect, the categories make sense. Readers are hungry for Practical Strategy Advice, and I will continue to try to provide as much of it as I can. I will also keep on working on Reframing Strategy when I think it is important to do so — and frankly it is important in the modern world of strategy. I will continue to frame Provocations when I see something utterly broken in the world of strategy. It won’t be often, but I won’t shy away from tackling issues even if they are very unpopular! And I will look for opportunities to respond to reader requests to Compare & Contrast with other bodies of work — and I have a couple in mind. Since the past is no sure predictor of the future, I will also experiment with new categories, as I did successfully in Year III with Compare & Contrast category and the mystery category.

Where From Here?

I am going to keep writing. The reader response has provided the necessary encouragement — thanks folks — and I am more convinced than ever that PTW/PI is the appropriate mechanism. Six to eight-minute prose pieces seem to work for readers.

Next up is the three-week countdown of the #3, #2, and #1 posts. And when I reveal and discuss #1, I will talk about what I see as its unique category.

Thanks again and see you next week for the #3 of 156 pieces.



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.