Quotation of the Week: C. K. Prahalad

Executives are constrained not by resources, but by their imagination.–C.K. Prahalad, Ph.D. Distinguished University Professor of Strategy, the University  of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, died April 16, 2010 I have always thought that Prahalad was one of the most fascinating business thinkers of the 20th century, rivaling Peter Drucker in his wisdom.  Much of what Prahalad wrote about execs was applicable to all of us.  For example, the above quote is just as true when applied to all of us:  we are constrained not by our resources, but by our imagination.Prahalad was born in India and a graduate of the Indian School of Management, as well as a PhD from the Harvard School of Business.  I first heard of Prahalad in the 1980s while consulting to 3M corporation.  The execs had invited Prahalad in for a consulting engagement and they were raving about his abilities, contributions, and their experience.  The BusinessWeek obituary relates a fascinating story of a consulting experience.   When he arrived for a weekend with senior executives at Royal Philips Electronics (PHG) in the early 1990s, he told them he had just read a news report that Philips was heading into bankruptcy. “Forget what we are supposed to talk about. There is a major crisis,” Prahalad recounted in a 2006 BusinessWeek profile. “You had better figure out what you are going to do about it.” Within a few hours the executives had drawn up ideas for a radical restructuring. Then Prahalad admitted he had made up the whole thing to spur the team to think creatively. “His style could be mean, but effective,” Jan Oosterveld, a retired Philips executive, said at the time. One of the intriguing things about the man were his eclectic interests: bird migratory habits, historical maps, the spread of languages.  My friends at 3M told me he was a genius at questioning and at drawing them out.  Prahalad, like Argyris and Senge, often focused in on what he called the business exec’s dominant logic, those deeply held assumptions about the world and how it worked.  More recently, his thinking is often reflected in the work on mental models and inferential thinking.  One of the more intriguing notions Prahalad brought through his writings was his insistence that companies should engage the billions of (poor) consumers at the bottom of the pyramid.  Today, that’s almost conventional wisdom.We will miss his wisdom.
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