Monday, April 19, 2010

CK Prahalad’s insights on research process and relevance

By Dr. Suhaib Riaz

As a naïve PhD student, I asked CK Prahalad a simple question at the Booz Allen Hamilton Strategy+Business Eminent Scholar Award ceremony held in his honor a few years ago: “As a young researcher, I’m very curious about how you arrive at your research questions - could you please describe the process for us?”

As many academics told me after the event, this was the question on everyone’s mind for years – where did core competence, bottom of the pyramid, co-creation, and so many other ground-breaking ideas come from? Prahalad smiled at the question, and enjoyed describing his process to us (his response, paraphrased in brief here, went something like this): The key is that I don’t confine myself to my own academic discipline – I read and stay aware of much more beyond the management field. I am equally curious about science, technology, history, the big bang theory and the immediate problems of millions of people, and I think and wonder about such things all the time. This curiosity leads me to ask questions that I would otherwise miss...

He elaborated on this during a chat after the event and offered me the following advice in his kind and casual style: We are a privileged lot as academics and have little to lose in terms of making a living – why not take a few risks? Why not work on Plan A that has a stronger chance of providing something of relevance, instead of focusing on Plan B that has little chance of that but seems to provide more comfort in terms of academic stability.

Perhaps the biggest problem for researchers in fields such as Strategic Management is which audiences to focus upon. In response to my query on this issue and how best to bridge the divide between academia and practice, he provided an interesting insight: Remember that if your research work is relevant and draws the attention of practicing managers and others in the real world, sooner or later the academics will start giving you attention as well and will start listening to you!

And he certainly lived his life by what he said. It was perhaps necessary to mention this brief encounter at Strategy & You, as the inspiration for this idea came from Prahalad’s words, and we hope to stay true to his vision as best as we can.

We're looking to post more remembrances on CK Prahalad - send us recollections of your encounters with Prahalad, based on in-person experiences or simply through his work.

Suhaib Riaz @SaY


Anonymous said...

Thanks Suhaib for this... yes, as academics we do not have to worry about livelihood. So, we should aim higher and take risks. Afterall, if we wanted to just have stability and security, there was no need for us to be in this noble profession. There are many jobs where you get paid much more just to do what you have been told.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is a great post.

There are only very few people like Mr. Prahalad (RIP). People who had the opportunity to meet him are very lucky to have met a man who has contributed so much to this field.

When I was young student back in High School and learned about "Core Competencies" it didn't even cross my mind that this broad concept even came from somewhere.

I feel that students and professionals have the potential to attain that level of Mr. Prahalad however the main ingredient is to have the drive and passion which Mr. Prahalad had. Through this I believe this field will come to the fore front of the business world.

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