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Oct 9, 2021Liked by JP Castlin

Dear JP:

Thanks for taking the time to thoughtfully critique Playing to Win. And thanks for the kind words about my attempt to provide useful amplification of the framework through my Medium blog posts – that has been a labor of love.

There is very little in your critique with which I fundamentally disagree.

I would like to add some perspective on my views of winning and WTP. I am as keen as I am about winning not because I want to beat competitors but rather, I want to convince competitors to choose to invest behind a different WTP/HTW combination. That makes Playing to Win a positive sum construct not a zero-sum construct. Does Vanguard beat Fidelity? Or does Fidelity beat Vanguard? It would be hard to argue either. But do they both encourage the other to invest heavily in a different WTP/HTW than their own? Damn right! And who benefits? Customers, employees, shareholders (though the great Jack Bogle operated Vanguard as a mutual company so its fund holders were the beneficiaries not himself), and the communities in which they operate. Does Four Seasons beat its luxury hotel chain competitors? No, it encourages them to play elsewhere in different ways.

That is why the WTP box is probably the box in my cascade on which I think that practitioners don’t spend enough hard thinking time. As key part of your goal in strategy is to figure out how to focus on a space in a way that encourages others to play elsewhere and/or differently. Of course, this isn’t a utopia where everybody bows and goes elsewhere. But if you think of your WTP as a shape – like a circle – a successful strategy is one in which the circles of others don’t overlap too much with your own. That is Apple’s success in smartphones. A bunch of Android players have highly overlapping circles. And Apple’s circle overlaps the least with anybody else – so it wins biggest. LG had to exit because its WTP and its HTW overlapped completely with others including Samsung, which, in nerd-speak, stochastically dominated LG.

On Byron Sharp, he is just one smart dude. There is very little I disagree with in his viewpoint and in fact long before I came across his work – thanks to his friend Craig Wynett now-retired from P&G – I was saying some similar things. But for sure his viewpoint is important and additive – like I say, the guy is good. Customers decide what ‘segment’ they are in. You can’t be too precious about segments. Customer actions are probabilistically distributed not deterministically distributed. That all having been said, you have to have a point of view about WTP and build a HTW/Caps/MS around that view. If you don’t, someone else will and leave you in the dust.

In my view, you can believe every intelligent thing that Sharp says and believe that you need to have a WTP/HTW.

The only thing that I have a serious quibble about in your write up is the ‘perpetually in motion’ crack. I simply do not know where this criticism – which is widespread – that having a WTP/HTW means that you think that industries have fixed, unchanging boundaries came from. No one with even modest strategy intelligence has ever imagined that. Of course, industries are continuously evolving, with shifting boundaries and new players creating spaces that overlap with previously defined spaces.

My view has always been that there are two possible reactions to this reality. One is to sit with your cash in the corporate treasury and wait until ‘things become clearer.’ The other is to make a bet based on your best guess as to what the playing field is now and how you think it is going to change (and how you might actually drive that change by your actions).

The vast majority of executives do the former – and call it ‘emergent strategy’ even though that is not what Henry Mintzberg meant by it. I do the latter – and help my clients do it. And I get them to be clear about the logic of their strategy choice – the “what would have to be true” (WWHTBT) about it – which includes WWHTBT about the industry. I encourage them to wake up every morning and, before starting whatever work they were going to do, to ask if the WWHTBT that underpins the strategy still hold true. If so, keep working. If not, start thinking how to shift your strategy to take account of the change. That is how you gain a strategy learning advantage over your competitors who sit on their hands waiting for clarity to emerge.

Anyway, JP, that is my only real quibble and I thank you for taking the time to critique my work.

Best

Roger

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Thank you kindly for your reply, Roger. Much appreciated.

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