The 5 Elements of the Strategic Choice Cascade

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Playing To Win" by AG Lafley. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the strategic choice cascade from Playing to Win? How can you apply the strategic choice cascade?

The strategic choice cascade sets out five key questions that companies must answer before they can effectively make the right strategic choices. The answers to these questions will help companies develop winning strategies. You can only apply the cascade effectively when you make each strategic choice with the goal of winning and not simply competing.

Read on to learn more about the key elements of the strategic choice cascade.

The Strategic Choice Cascade

In Playing to Win, authors A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin outline the strategic choice cascade concept that involves making winning choices in an action plan for success in business. They developed the strategic choice cascade while working together as the CEO of and a consultant at Proctor and Gamble (P&G) between 2000 and 2009. 

The strategic choice cascade answers five questions:

  1. What is your business’s purpose, or “winning aspiration”?
  2. What are your target markets?
  3. How do you succeed in those markets? 
  4. What capabilities does your company need in order to “win”?
  5. How should you manage your company in order to “win”?

Each question in the strategic choice cascade tumbles down towards the next, while also helping to refine the answers to the previous questions. 

In large companies, many individual choices and larger cascades function at once and in conversation with one another. For example, one specific brand strategy may connect with a larger sector strategy, which connects with a company-wide strategy. Each cascade locks together to form a larger group of cascades that determine the overall success of the company. 

All employees, from the CEO to a retail salesperson, have to make strategic choices. Consider how a retail employee makes cascade choices:

  • The retail employee decides she wants to have the best numbers in her region (the answer to question 1, her “winning aspiration”). 
  • She recognizes what a needy customer looks like and finds customers she wants to speak to (the answer to question 2, the target market). 
  • She develops different approaches or ways of talking to different kinds of people—she learns sales strategies, such as being direct and then backing off and allowing the customer to choose (the answer to question 3, her success strategy). 
  • She creates her own strategies for success, including the tone she uses to talk to potential customers (the answer to question 4, the necessary capabilities). 
  • She creates systems, like various scripts or guides, that can help her customers (the answer to question 5, the necessary management systems). 

Clearly, these choices are different from the more obvious “strategic choices” of a CEO. However, they are choices nonetheless. This retail employee is playing to win. This is an essential part of the strategic choice cascade. You should make every choice with the express purpose of not just competing, but winning. Winning will look different for different segments of the company—on the company level, it may include becoming the number one player in the market; on an individual level, it may mean having the best sales numbers in a region. 

This summary will detail how companies can win at each level along the cascade. First, we’ll explore each step of the cascade in detail. Then, we’ll look at how to develop a system of decision-making that increases your company’s chances of finding the best solutions. 

(Shortform note: For more on how to create a good strategy, read our summary of Good Strategy Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt.)

The 5 Elements of the Strategic Choice Cascade

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of AG Lafley's "Playing To Win" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Playing To Win summary:

  • Why the cascade strategy will help you become victorious in your chosen field of play
  • Why you should make every choice with the purpose of not just competing, but winning
  • How to develop a system of decision-making for your company

Joseph Adebisi

Joseph has had a lifelong obsession with reading and acquiring new knowledge. He reads and writes for a living, and reads some more when he is supposedly taking a break from work. The first literature he read as a kid were Shakespeare's plays. Not surprisingly, he barely understood any of it. His favorite fiction authors are Tom Clancy, Ted Bell, and John Grisham. His preferred non-fiction genres are history, philosophy, business & economics, and instructional guides.

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