Renowned management scholar and thinker C K Prahalad passed away last weekend. The untimely death of any active scholar is always shocking—particularly so in the case of CK as he was just 68 and still full of energy and ideas (at the time of his death he was working on a new HBS Press book on innovative management practices from emerging markets).
CK was one of my role models—an innovative and visionary thinker with the ability to communicate with (and more importantly influence) both practicing managers and the academic community world-wide. His ideas were fertile enough for others to conduct research for years (his work on core competence and strategic intent generated distinct research streams in strategic management; his work on the Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid launched a separate field of practice and inquiry).
As my friend and mentor VG (Prof. Vijay Govindarajan of Tuck School) so eloquently noted in a recent article in the Economic Times: “There are two types of academics. Vast majority of academics try to catch fish in a well understood pond. There are very few academics who point us in the direction of a new pond where we can go and start the process of catching fish all over again—this is CK’s forte. He has opened up so many new research paths. One of the hallmarks of CK is that he never published two articles on the same topic—his style is to create a new line of inquiry, leave the space for ‘mere mortals’ and move on to the next.”
I am particularly indebted to CK for encouraging me to conduct research in the area of customer co-innovation and value co-creation. It was an article that he co-wrote on this topic in 2000 in Information Week that got me interested in this area. Over the next ten years or so, as I continued my work on customer co-creation, I kept in touch with him (and his continuously evolving ideas on this topic).
The last time I met CK was in 2008 at a conference at Wharton—I was presenting my work on network-centric innovation and CK was the keynote speaker. As usual, his keynote was insightful yet intuitive, thought-provoking yet simple, and passionate yet humorous. After his speech (and despite his obviously busy schedule), he took some time to talk with me, commended me on my recent book, and encouraged me to delve deeper into the area of collaborative innovation. I came away both humbled and highly energized.
There is no doubt that CK’s books and ideas will continue to
influence all of us for years to come. But much more than his ideas, it is his
passion for innovative thinking, his steadfast focus on practical relevance,
and most importantly, his fearlessness to pursue big ideas that will continue
to inspire me.