Posts Tagged ‘Venkat Ramaswamy’

Joe Torre

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

There’s something inherently risky about living in Red Sox nation and extolling the talent of a former Yankee manager, but I really like Joe Torre. I know, I know. Bear with me here.

What I like about the guy is his practical, self-effacing way of engaging super-egos in the construction of a common ecosystem called baseball. A recent Sports Illustrated article explains how in his latest endeavor, he’s trying to get baseball umpires and players to work together. While everybody is focused on generating new rules ideas, tightening old ones, ruthlessly evaluating umpires and mercilessly punishing players, he believes umpires and players should just get to know each other better. He points to the fact that when the American and National Leagues both had their own umpires, players and umpires were able to know each other and got along better. He’s working on finding a place in training camp where they can sit together. In other words, it’s not about setting end-policies and defining hard paths to those policies. It is about the process of engaging with each other in new ways.

At first blush, his words seem to capture an old-timer’s nostalgic remembrance of a gentler baseball era (Torre is 70 years old). He sounds a bit like Rodney Dangerfield when he talks about “respect”. The article describes his skills set as “communication”, an oft-touted characteristic of older managers.

But Joe is something much more modern than that: he is the Mark Zuckerberg of baseball. He has repeatedly proven able to structure a constructive dialogue between baseball constituencies, no matter how difficult they are (remember George Steinbrenner?). He’s created winning models wherever he’s been (regrettably, the Yankees most notoriously among them). In co-creation terms, he is an engagement platform all by himself, continuously structuring new forms of interaction between warring factions, and enabling them to find new ways to create value together. His modesty and abnegation are his currency, the success of others his reward (but ultimately also his own).

As my friend and colleague Venkat Ramaswamy likes to say, he’s the opposite of the Field of Dreams. With him, it’s no longer: “if you build it, they will come.” It is: “if you build it with them, they’re already there”.

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.

I see dead people

Friday, July 31st, 2009


My friend and colleague Professor Venkat Ramaswamy loves the M. Night Shyamalan movie
The Sixth Sense and sometimes uses it as a metaphor for co-creation. The movie is perhaps best known for the eerie line reluctantly whispered by young Haley Joel Osment to Bruce Willis: “I see dead people.”

The kid played by Osment lives in a permanent state of terror because only he can see the dead, walking among the living with bashed skulls and stakes through their heart. “Please make them go away” he implores Bruce Willis, the softly probing adult to whom he finally entrusts his dark secret. Meanwhile, Toni Collette, the kid’s mother, is tortured by the memory of her relationship with her (now dead) mother, not knowing whether she really loved her.

Many managers in self-absorbed businesses, Venkat contends, view the world like those tortured adults. Because they do not know how to engage their customers, they design dead experiences and live in permanent terror of the zombie customers they feel around them, but cannot see. Meanwhile, the zombie customers are desperately trying to connect with the managers, trying to come alive and hoping to fix their bashed skulls and remove the stake in their heart (OK, the metaphor does break down at some point).

In the end, the Haley Joel Osment character discovers his role is to pass on messages from the dead, allowing Toni Collette and her mother to find peace. Through the redemption offered by his co-creation role linking the two worlds, Osment also finds solace. And if you want to know the final twist involving the Bruce Willis character, you’ll have to buy the DVD because I’ve spoiled the movie enough as it is.

Since I have shamelessly stolen the material for this blog entry from Professor Venkat Ramaswamy’s class and speaking platform routine, let me suggest that you consider him as your next party’s entertainer. There aren’t many stand-up acts out there where a 6’3”, Southern Indian university professor simultaneously impersonates a kid, his mother, his adult friend, his dead grandmother, and several characters in varying states of decomposition. You might even learn a thing or two about co-creation along the way.