Posts Tagged ‘C.K. Prahalad’

In memory of C.K. Prahalad

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

One of the most influential business thinkers in this world passed away last Friday.  C. K. Prahalad was both a leading business thinker advising many corporate CEOs, and a humanist whose teachings have influenced the way many political leaders around the world think about economic development.

I had met C.K. in the late ’80s, when he and Gary Hamel were developing their strategic intent and core competence concepts, for what became their best-selling book Competing for the Future. Gary Hamel was a brilliant platform artist who loved downloading wisdom at the speed of sound, but did not care much for consulting on specific business issues. C.K. was the opposite: a low-key, but passionate teacher who wanted to know what problem you were trying to solve. He had an intimidating presence for the (relatively) young professional type that I was, yet would display infinite patience with me because he sensed I was trying to learn from him. He’d started his career with Union Carbide in India – long before the Bhopal incident – and we’d occasionally talk about strategic issues at Carbide or the chemical industry. He was deeply involved with the Centurion turnaround program at Phillips. He invited me to participate in what seemed like an initiation: two grueling “valley of death” workshops during lonely weekends in Eindhoven, Netherlands. To this date, the intensity of engagement displayed and demanded by C.K. at these workshops has remained my model for how to transform a large organization.

We saw each other on and off for fifteen years after that, and got formally reengaged through a conference he gave at the University of Michigan about five years ago. At that workshop, he introduced me to his Michigan colleague Venkat Ramaswamy, who’d just written a book with him entitled The Future of Competition. At that workshop, C.K. introduced the concept of co-creation covered in the book, as well as a particular application of co-creation for emerging markets – the so-called “bottom of the pyramid” strategy. His passion for India as an emerging business power was a source of extraordinary inspiration, and I could listen to him talk about it for hours.

One of my greatest memories of C.K. in the recent era was running into him in a hotel line in Mexico City, only to discover we were speaking at the same conference about the same topic of co-creation, yet did not know it! After a lovely meal – C.K. was a connoisseur of fine things, something our Mexican sommelier learned at his peril – he decided he’d leave me to explain the basics of co-creation, and would “improvise on some new stuff” instead. Of course, the improvised new stuff brought the house down. C.K. was always off to a new idea and left to the rest of us to water the seeds left behind him.

Venkat Ramaswamy has since become my friend, partner and co-author for the book we have written together and which will be published later this year, titled The Power of Co-Creation. C.K.’s greatest gift to me has been to introduce me to Venkat. We both consider ourselves modest disciples of C.K., since he gave us both the passion for co-creation. The loss of C.K. is even greater for Venkat since C.K. had also been his academic mentor in addition to being an inspiration through his ideas. The flame of co-creation has now been passed. Our job will be to make co-creation live, for the memory of C.K. Prahalad, if nothing else.