The Essential Advantage

Paul Leinwand Principal, Strategy& US

The Essential Advantage: How to Win with a Capabilities-Driven Strategy

Discover your company's essential advantage.

The conventional wisdom about strategy may be leading your company astray. In The Essential Advantage: How to Win with a Capabilities-Driven Strategy, we maintain that success in any market accrues to firms with a coherence premium — a tight match between their strategic direction and the capabilities that make them unique.

Achieving coherence requires a sharpness of focus that few companies have mastered. This book helps you identify your firm's distinctive blend of strategic direction and differentiated capabilities that give you the "right to win" in your chosen markets.

“The Essential Advantage” should be “essential” reading. Leinwand’s and Mainardi’s unique approach of assessing internal strengths first—then one’s product or services portfolio—is a fresh way forward that should be part of every CEO’s and business leader’s playbook.”

Eric SpiegelPresident & CEO, Siemens Corporation

“A refreshingly new approach. Water naturally flows downhill—and companies naturally slide into an incoherent strategy. This book teaches how to pump water uphill by orchestrating three elements for coherence: the way to play, distinctive capabilities, and the portfolio.”

R. GopalakrishnanExecutive Director, Tata Sons

“Long-term success must stem from the marriage of carefully considered, unique capabilities and appropriate market opportunities. Leinwand and Mainardi show that the proper role for business strategy is to find the most promising new products and markets that can be served with distinction by the core capabilities that endure and evolve over time.”

Gary LovemanCEO and President, Harrah's Entertainment, Inc.

“For at least thirty years people have been trying to figure out how to build corporate strategy around a company's capabilities. Leinwand and Mainardi offer an elegant solution, one that demonstrates the power of having all the pieces fit together into a coherent, focused way forward. Their real-world examples are persuasive, the steps they recommend at once imaginative and sensible.”

Walter KiechelAuthor, The Lords of Strategy

“Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi have captured a concept that is relevant for all of us in business today: Just because a company can doesn’t mean it should. Their book’s key insight—the idea of coherence—is of particular importance as companies face pressure to increase their comparable sales year over year and begin to turn outside of their core business to build revenue.”

Michael RobertsFormer President and Chief Operating Officer, McDonald's Corporation

“Here, at last, is a book that helps a CEO sort through the many conflicting demands on him. Strategic opportunities and distracting temptation often look a lot alike. The framework that intrinsically links capabilities to strategy is clear; it makes sense; it’s practical; and, I know from experience, it works.”

Saud Al DaweeshGroup CEO, Saudi Telecom

“Companies have many strategic options, especially in fast-growing markets and industries. The Essential Advantage is a powerful reminder that capabilities should play the central role in sorting through them. Strategy should start with understanding what your company does really well—and using that knowledge to generate a corporate direction where you can be confident of winning."

Ahmad Abdulkarim JulfarGroup Chief Operating Officer, Etisalat Group

“The Essential Advantage picks up where most business books end. Rather than presenting an abstract treatise on capabilities-based strategy, the authors provide deep insights into what a capability is, the value of coherence among activities, and most importantly how executives can earn the right to win in their markets.”

Don SullProfessor of Management Practice, London Business School

“This is a powerful book about strategy as choice. It demonstrates that coherence—treating your internal practices and your external business environment as interrelated and mutually focused—leads to competitive advantage. This path is not always easy to follow, but it will resonate at any company that is serious about its future.”

Ram CharanCo-author, The Game Changer (with A.G. Lafley) and author, Boards That Deliver

“The Essential Advantage sizzles. It is instantly useful in determining your organization’s capabilities and how to make the most of them. Leinward and Mainardi use elegant, easy-to-follow models and compelling company stories to show what works and what doesn’t in strategy. Using their exercises and terminology will give your organization a common footing and source of leverage.”

Karen OtazoPresident, Global Leadership Network, and author, The Truth About Being a Leader
The Essential Advantage

Our new book The Essential Advantage

Among other insights, the authors reveal:

  • Why you should focus on a system of only a few differentiated capabilities
  • How to identify the way to play in your market by finding the nexus of your customers and your own capabilities
  • Why you should manage your portfolio to fit your capabilities system
  • How to raise your top line by deploying your capabilities for growth
  • How to uncover surprising opportunities in M&A that conventional deal makers don't see
  • How changing the way you think about costs can help you grow stronger
  • How to rework your organizational structures and practices to become more coherent than your competitors

Few companies achieve a capabilities-driven right to win in their market. This book helps you position your firm among them.

We have developed a number of tools that allow you to apply a capabilities-driven strategy at your company

Strategy Profiler: Do you have a winning strategy?

Is your company adrift? Or restless? Or are you on the way to becoming a supercompetitor? Find out in a few minutes how well your company is positioned for success. This short survey will help you identify potential areas for improvement based on your unique starting position.

Start the Strategy Profiler

We can help you set up a Strategy Profiler tailored to your organization.

Learn more

Capabilities Assessment Tool

Is your company aligned on the few things that really matter to its success? How good is your company at those most important capabilities?

The Capabilities Assessment Tool can help you identify, build and monitor the capabilities that are at the heart of your success. We can help you customize the tool so it optimally fits your company.

Learn more

Way-to-Play Tool

What’s the best way for your company to add value to its customers? You can start thinking about your company’s way to play by looking at common, generic ways of creating value. These are what we call puretone ways to play.

The way-to-play tool allows you to experience a number of puretone ways to play and start thinking about how they might apply to your company.

Start the Way-to-Play Tool

Right-to-win Exercise

What strategy is going to give you a right to win? To develop a capabilities-driven strategy, you need to start by identifying alternative ways to play that your company could pursue. This exercise will help you determine whether a given way to play gives your company a right to win.

Start the Right-to-win Exercise

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Paul Leinwand

Paul Leinwand

Principal, Strategy& US

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