Walter Kiechel III on C.K. Prahalad and Strategy as Boundaryless Aspiration

09-07-22 Walter KeichelHere is a brief excerpt from a blog posted by Walter Kiechel III at his website. Although dated several years ago, its insights remaining compelling relevant. To read the entire article and check out other resources, please click here.

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C.K. Prahalad manifestly qualified as a High Lord of Strategy, Second Generation. News of his death saddened me, and set me to reflecting on the themes running through his work over four decades.

This isn’t as easy an exercise as it is with many other management thinkers, including some great ones. Does it strike you, as it does me, that many a business author writes the same book over and over? Not Prahalad. As he told Adi Ignatius, he liked to move on to the next project, leaving it to a collaborator or someone else to further develop their latest idea.

And his range of subjects was wide. Until I read his C.V. on the University of Michigan site, I’d forgotten that his first two books, back in 1974, were on healthcare management.

Others have, I’m sure, done a more thorough study of his work. But as a student of his contributions to strategy, I keep hearing a few recurrent notes in his writing. The dominant theme is what I’d call “boundaryless aspiration,” or, more precisely, a summons to think beyond conventional boundaries, geographical or intellectual. (Funny, the klutzy title of this post was running around in my head even before I read the blog by Ron Askenas recalling how Prahalad had graciously written the introduction to The Boundaryless Organization.)

In 1987, Prahalad and co-author Yves Doz published The Multinational Mission, which explored how to keep the imperatives of global competitiveness in mind while at the same time taking into account how local governments and conditions modify those imperatives. No “global vs. local, choose one” here. The book also aimed to get past the hoary distinction between strategy formulation and implementation, in part by keeping a prescient focus on corporate capabilities.

The famous call to arms Prahalad and Gary Hamel would proclaim in the late 1980s, first under the banner “strategic intent,” then “core competencies,” was, among other things, an occasionally acid assault on previous notions of strategy as numbers- and models-bound, timorous, and altogether uninspiring. What you needed, they maintained, was an “animating dream,” along the lines of “encircle your largest competitor” or “dominate the world market for your product.” Don’t just struggle to achieve competitive advantage; invent the future of your industry, arming yourself with “bundles of skills and technologies” — those core competencies — that will make you a world-beater.

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To read the entire article, please click here.

Walter Kiechel III is author of The Lords of Strategy.

Kiechel received JD and MBA degrees from Harvard, and is a member of the New York bar. He got his undergraduate education at Harvard as well, where he was awarded an AB degree with honors and elected to Phi Beta Kappa. From 1968 to 1973, he served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, spending most of the time on sea duty aboard destroyers, an adventure he still relishes.

To read my review of The Lords of Strategy, please click here.

To read my interview of Kiechel, please click here.

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