strategy+business Winter 2013 : Page 61

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 13 / S T R AT E G Y pers. (Ah, where would the study of strategy be without the rich lessons of the diaper wars? See, for example, Michael Porter’s terrific HBS case study, “The Dispos-able Diaper Industry in 1974.”) Viewed from this perspective, as a set of cases il-luminating the strategy of renewal, Playing to Win be-longs right alongside The End of Competitive Advantage and, in fact, may be more useful on how to shake up a company long set in its ways. The real-world examples also provide bite and clarity to Lafley and Martin’s five overall injunctions, which on their own can seem a bit windy, bordering on the banal. For example, the first, “Define your winning aspi-ration,” seems less like the ol’ squishy vision statement when it’s sharpened to focus on what you’re going to do for customers—the proper focus rather than prod-ucts—that others have not done. Rebranded simply as “Olay,” refor-mulated, and repackaged, P&G’s skin-care product found a nifty niche for itself at an $18.99 price point—the “Oil of” version had sold for $8 or less—able to at-tract both the “mass shopper” who thought that at that price it must really be something special and the “prestige shopper” who found it a bargain compared to compet-ing products from Clinique and Estée Lauder. The second injunction, choosing where to play, echoes McGrath’s call for relentless em-piricism in looking for arenas where you want to com-pete—geographies, industry segments, customers. Laf-ley and Martin include the bracing thought that you shouldn’t view your company’s existing choices as im-mutable. Deciding how to win, the third injunction, also presents the chance to create new choices where none currently exist. Indeed, if you can’t find a fresh ap-proach, you may want to seek another arena or get out of the game entirely. The final two injunctions, determining what capa-bilities you’re going to need to execute your strategy and what management systems are needed to support your choices, can look a lot like building a corporate capacity for continuing innovation. It’s telling that in his credits to outside advisors, Lafley mentions that he used In-nosight, a consulting firm specializing in systematizing innovation, at the same time that he used Monitor and Martin for counsel on strategy. Useful Paranoia In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to help organiza-tions with hiring. One lesson, acquired at some personal cost, is this: When references report that the candidate “doesn’t suffer fools gladly,” pedal backward furiously. The phrase is typically code for: “However talented, he or she is an ass—narcissistic, oblivious to the sensibilities of others, and, in the end, likely to explode any equa-nimity your team might possess.” Upon a superficial reading of his newest book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, one might conclude that Nassim Nicholas Taleb doesn’t suf-fer fools gladly. In fact, he’d probably be the first to tell you so—and he does, repeatedly. Taleb has no use for consultants, almost all economists, academics, large corporations, large banks, the typical central government, the “Soviet–Harvard” establish-ment (whose members believe, he says, that their lectures on how to fly enable birds to do so), Nobel Prizes and prize winners, and most forms of routinized planning. Why then include Taleb’s book among the year’s best works on strategy? For at least three rea-sons. First, it’s a slap-upside-the-head antidote to any potential hubris on the part of a strategic planner or, for that matter, anyone else who thinks he or she can confidently predict what’s going to happen. (Those smug, silver-haired priests?) As in his prior works Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in the Markets and in Life (Texere, 2001) and The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Random House, 2007), Taleb brings home just how vulnerable we are to the unexpected. Second, from Taleb’s wild, seemingly otherworldly perspective comes a lot of support for the relentlessly experimental, small-scale-at-first, buy-options-when-you-can strategy building that McGrath advocates. Taleb classifies phenomena according to their place in a “triad” of vulnerability: from the fragile (a porcelain tea-cup; the incredibly intertangled global banking system), through the robust (things that can take a few hits, such best books 2013 strategy 61

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