KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I am delighted to speak to Roger Martin, the former dean, now, of the Rotman School [of Management at the University of Toronto], one of Canada’s, in fact one of the world’s, top business thinkers. It is great to have him here today.
Your new book came out very recently, Playing to Win. What are some of the key messages we should take away from that book?
ROGER MARTIN – The key point of the book is that strategy can be simple, effective, and fun. Most people, when they think about strategy, say it’s important indeed, but they generally think it’s pretty complicated, they question the effectiveness, and they sure don’t say it’s fun.
The book attempts to make it simple, down to five key questions you have got to answer; effective, in that’s it’s very actionable; and fun, because making those kinds of decisions are actually enjoyable if you don’t complicate it.
KARL MOORE – So, what are the five questions?
ROGER MARTIN – So the five questions are: First, what is your winning aspiration? Two, where are you going to play? Three, how are you going to win where you have chosen to play? Four, what capabilities do you need to have in place so that you can win where you have chosen to play? And five, what are the management systems you have to have in place to build the capability to win where you have chosen to play to meet your winning aspirations?
The only thing that is at all hard about strategy is that you have got to have answers to those five [questions] that fit together and reinforce one another. So you have to think about strategy, not so much as a linear process – like, do your vision and your aspirations and lock-and-load on that, then figure out what field of play you are going to play in and lock-and-load on that, then do how to win – that ramps down the possibility as you go along and makes it very unlikely that you are going to come up with something optimal.
What is required is to think about them holistically, and toggle back and forth between them, because sometimes you may think, “Oh, this is what we would love to do,” but then there is nowhere to play how to win, to bring that to life, or you choose here is where I think we want to play, and you find that there is no way to win there. So being flexible and iterative is an important part of strategy.
KARL MOORE – One of the debates in strategy is, is it the CEO by himself or herself sitting in a room thinking deep thoughts? When you look at the five questions, how does this process work, and who is involved in making the strategy and putting it together?
ROGER MARTIN – Yeah, that is a key question, Karl. My view is that in some sense, the best way to think about it is that those five choices need to be made at every level of the organization.
So I don’t believe that there is a useful distinction to be made between strategy and execution. Essentially, when the CEO makes those choices, he or she is saying to the presidents of the business units, “Okay, this is what we would like to accomplish in the corporation. Now, you have got to figure out exactly what you are going to do with the widget division, plastics division…” or whatever. When they have made that choice, the individual product line heads are going to have to make that choice.
In fact, my argument is that the fundamental question of where to play and how to win, which is the heart of strategy, cascades all the way down to the individual. Every individual, in their job, has a “where to play and how to win,” choice to make.
You make that – they may call you a “professor” but within that box of “professor” there are many possible things you can do and focus on. You focus on some of those things, and not others, so that you have created a way to win in those particular places. So strategy operates at every level of the organization.
Follow us on Twitter: