C. K. Prahalad Interview
| Nicolai Foss |
The late über-influential management thinker C K Prahalad would have been 70 this August. booz&co’s strategy+business magazine features an interesting interview with CK, “The Life’s Work of a Thought Leader.” It may surprise some that Prahalad was trained as a physicist, and in the beginning of his career worked as an industrial engineer. And for someone, like myself, who has criticized the absence of microfoundations for notions such as “core competence” (e.g., here), it certainly came as a surprise to find Prahalad stating that
If I had to characterize my deepest belief, I would say it’s the centrality of the individual…. Institutions are not central. Institutions are different ways of combining skills and capabilities of the moment. That, of course, is the opposite of the traditional way of thinking, starting from Max Weber and Frederick Taylor in the early 20th century. They posited that institutions were central to society, not individuals. I believe the contrary is true.
Another notable feature in the interview is Prahalad’s view of scientific progress in strategic management which does not come from the kind of cross-sectional studies that take up 93 % of the pages of the Strategic Management Journal, but, he says, from in-depth small-N research:
If you look historically at the strategy literature, starting with Alfred D. Chandler Jr.’s Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the Industrial Enterprise [MIT Press, 1962], the most powerful ideas did not come out of multiple examples. They came out of single-industry studies and single case studies. Big impactful ideas are conceptual breakthroughs, not descriptions of common patterns. You can’t define the “next practice” with lots of examples. Because, by definition, it is not yet happening.