Companies & Industries

Thanks, C.K. Prahalad


Business writer Ron Ashkenas shares how the great management thinker helped him in one particular endeavor

Posted on Harvard Business Review: April 26, 2010 12:34 PM

Editor's note: For more on C.K. Prahalad, please visit our special section commemorating this leading management thinker.

Fifteen years ago, I coauthored a book with Dave Ulrich, Todd Jick, and Steve Kerr called The Boundaryless Organization. When the manuscript was finished, we asked C.K. Prahalad if he would be willing to review it and write a brief foreword. Although he was extremely busy with his own work at the time, and didn't know all of the authors, he graciously agreed. He then proceeded to carefully read the entire manuscript and write an eloquent essay that positioned our book as "an important contribution to the emerging thinking on preparing for competing in the future."

As a final thank you to C.K., I'd like to share excerpts from his foreword, which I re-read when I heard the news of his passing. As with many of his other writings, his provocative challenges to managers remain as relevant today as when they were first written:

In the new business environment, managers must fundamentally rethink strategy and create radically new organizational capabilities. "Both tasks require a capacity to forget as well as a capacity to learn; they require tools for honest assessment of where one is and a capacity to conceive where one ought to be…It is the appetite for this process of reexamining and reinventing that will separate the builders (leaders) from caretakers and the undertakers (managers and cautious administrators)."

Managers must develop a new managerial scorecard. "Under pressure for performance in a changing competitive environment, managers seem to gravitate toward improving the efficiency of existing organizational arrangements and implementing existing strategies…Hence the current managerial preoccupation with "implementation." However…traditional notions of efficiency, such as the quality of asset management, are not enough."

Managers must be able to get a bigger bang for their buck. "Vitality in the medium term comes not from asset reduction but from resource leverage. The brands, patents and technology, global supply base, physical infrastructure, and competencies that the collective and shared learning of the organization represents…needs to be leveraged."

Managers must transcend current administrative boundaries. "Most often, the reason managers do not move beyond asset management to resource leverage is that the latter requires new ways of managing. The essence of such leverage is learning, sharing knowledge, redeploying knowledge, and bundling physical and intellectual assets in new and creative ways. Therefore, the capacity to transcend current administrative boundaries is a critical precondition for resource leverage. That boundary spanning, or creation of 'boundaryless' behavior, is…the 'how' of strategy."

Thanks C.K. Your words and wisdom will remain, but your thinking will be missed.

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