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CK Prahalad - Disappointing

May 5, 2009

CK Prahalad - Disappointing

Sorry, but on the whole I was deeply disappointed in Prahalad's presentation. I could be wrong, and at lunch I talked with another blogger who said she really liked his talk, although not as much as Saffo's. But for my money, Prahalad struck out.

Next practices, not best practices. Amplifying weak signals. Focusing on value creation process. Changing nature of the firm. Global perspective. These are some of the issues Prahalad put up on his first couple of slides. Mega-issues, it seems to me, but not very illuminating, noteworthy, or even interesting. His perspective on innovation was hard to read from this beginning, and it didn't get any better for the whole hour.

Yes, he had some clever terms. "Velcro organizations" are needed for the future. You need to be able to mix and match groups of people, seamlessly attaching and then detaching them. Companies have to become "nodal" - providing the intellectual content, the customer relationships, and the interfaces, in order to facilitate the networks of value creators that are required to produce a customer experience.

Also, you need to be able to pick the right "anticipatory initiative." And what are the criteria for an anticipatory initiative? He produces yet another of the several lists that dominated his slides:
1. Is it big? Widely recognized?
2. Will it affect a wide range of businesses?
3. Is there opportunity to leap frog?
4. Are there established leaders, can this provide a new source of advantage?
5. Will it change the economics of the industry?
6. Is there scope for radical innovation?
7. Can this be a big opportunity for us?

More advice: Don't look forward by projecting from where you are. Imagine the future in several years, he said, and then "fold the future in" to your current situation... (This, too, is not an uncommon suggestion. It's virtually identical to Martha's and my advice in our 1993 book The One to One Future, in which our first chapter was titled "Back from the Future," and made exactly this point.)

He did have a couple of interesting ideas for how to reshape different businesses - a tire company could go into business charging fleet owners by the mile, rather than by the tire (he didn't say this, but the tire re-treading company Bandag already has a similar offering) and an automobile insurance company that charges you by your driving pattern, as monitored by the GPS system (an insurance plan just like this already exists in the UK). Prahalad says Apple's iPod is really an "experience platform," and that seems to him to be a good business model, because a personal experience can never be reduced to a commodity (and I definitely agree here).

Prahalad calls his overall perspective "N=1, R=G" - huh? This seems to me to be a fairly pointless way to over-complicate something that is essentially simple: Customers are increasingly being treated to individual experiences (N=1), and these experiences are being put together through the combined efforts of many different businesses or economic players (R=G). But rather than just saying this, Prahalad gives us an equation where none is needed.

A few months ago I bought Prahalad's new book on "innovation" and found this puzzling formula in it, but the truth is the book is no more interesting or illuminating than his talk today was, and I never was able to bring myself to finish it. I don't know, maybe CK has lost his edge. I hope not, because he's a very smart guy. But (at least in my opinion) his most recent book was a bust, and now I hear him talk about it and he can't even keep the audience's attention with issues that ought to be fascinating.

CK, the formula for your next presentation should be: Get = Real.

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