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October 28, 1996

Winning

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Luck is not predictable advantage.

A. G. Lafley, CEO of Procter & Gamble, gives businesspeople this simple but crucial piece of advice: “Play to win, rather than simply to compete.”24 Your strategy might be interesting and engrossing for its own sake. But never forget that its purpose is to achieve something substantial for your organization.
You might be intending to start a business, land a new account, increase market share, acquire “mind share,” double your donor base, or something else. But whatever your goal is, keep it before you and go after it with all the healthy competitiveness hidden inside you. Deploy your strategy to win.
Obvious?
Well, it is. But do you know what? I’ve noticed something disturbing in many leaders. They think they are playing to win, but they aren’t. They’re really hoping in luck. Unconsciously, they think becoming successful depends on being fortunate, perhaps with a product introduction that strikes the public’s fancy at just the right moment, a marketing campaign that happens to go viral, or something else.
Of course, there is an element of luck in business, since some factors are out of our control. So if you win once, that may be luck. Learning to capitalize on the good luck that comes your way can be a useful part of your operating procedure.25 But remember, luck isn’t something you can rely on. It isn’t a competitive advantage in itself. Having a great plan or strategy and working it with all your might—that’s a competitive advantage.
I’ve never been on a flight where the pilot filed luck as part of the flight plan. Instead, the pilot relies on his training, equipment, and systems. He navigates the weather, balancing fuel and weight. He keeps in constant communication with those who can help him and sticks to the flight plan. He’s got a strategy to “win”—to get the plane to the arrival airport—and he’s relying on that strategy instead of on luck. And I, for one, am very glad about that.
I remember years ago spending an afternoon with John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach who led the UCLA basketball team to ten championships in twelve years. He said, “The importance of repetition until automaticity cannot be overstated.” In sports as in business, you repeat your skills again and again to hone your ability and produce a record of sustained winning. You don’t trust in luck. You advance your strategy. Sure, there is always an element of luck involved in certain sporting events. But good coaches don’t plan on it.
A smart, comprehensive strategy, pursued nimbly yet resolutely, will create a pattern of success even in the fluid 3.0 world in which we live. Lafley said, “Maybe not right away, but eventually companies without winning strategies die. A great invention or product idea can create a company, build value, and win in the marketplace for a while. But to last, the company behind the idea must…sustain lasting competitive advantage.”26
As much as possible, leave nothing to chance. Get your best strategy into place and execute it like an athlete for whom second place is never good enough. And if luck happens to lend a hand—so much the better!

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