I frequently hear people use the term “playbook” when discussing methodologies for building businesses in a rational, replicable, and scalable way. It’s hard to argue with the concept of establishing consistent best practices and optimizing critical success factors; and some investors have leveraged and honed this strategy to deliver absolutely phenomenal returns over many years. I certainly wouldn’t question these results or the benefits of such a scientific approach. Where I get leery is when people describe this kind of a sophisticated blueprint as “having a playbook” or intimating that business-building can somehow be distilled into a straight formula. And I’m definitely not a fan of the notion that a “playbook” alone is the key to assured business success. I acknowledge that the term “playbook” may just be loose shorthand, so perhaps I should chill-out and not take it so literally. But the metaphor of a standalone “playbook” carries a number of counterproductive implications that I consider are worth flagging. These include:
Lew Moorman of Scaleworks said it better still with this 2018 quote: “There’s no playbook on how to build a business. But there is a set of disciplines that can be taught in terms of experimentation. Looking at the data, there are just some patterns.” I really respect what Scaleworks does; and I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment. These “disciplines” feel adaptable, applicable, actionable, and agile…bringing a critically valuable dynamism to the straight X’s and O’s of a static playbook.
In my mind, just a few of those teachable disciplines include:
While it certainly has a major part to play, a playbook alone cannot be expected to instill these types of disciplines in an organization. Rather, a playbook is but one part of a larger ecosystem that fosters these kinds of disciplines. It goes hand in hand with with engagement models, values that shape organizational behavior and decision-making, strategies to align initiatives, and frameworks / artifacts / systems / processes to facilitate execution. I hope to further examine and unpack all of the above in many future posts.