C.K. Prahalad and The Meaning of Life

The passing of leadership and innovation guru C.K. Prahalad leaves us wondering; "how can I broaden my company's impact on the world?"

C.K. Prahalad is one of those few global business luminaries who demonstrated a sincere willingness to support my new business initiatives. He lived and breathed innovation. Last month, he generously agreed to an interview for this blog.  Sadly, this interview will never happen due to his sudden passing.  Yet his influence will affect millions in the long-term.

Photo of C.K. Prahalad and Marshall Goldsmith, March 17 2010

C.K. Phahalad and Marshall Goldsmith, March 2010 (photo courtesy of Anil Kripalani)

C.K. has impacted my professional work in three areas. I trust these may apply to other business developers and executives as well:

1) Innovation is not something to pursue when "the time is right." Perfect is the enemy of done. Don't postpone exploring new offerings, new markets and new relationships until the recovery is a sure thing. Customers can defect overnight. Inspiration can leave as quickly as it emerges. Volcanic ash clouds, earthquakes, and other natural disasters can suddenly destroy a perfectly planned business venture. 

Don't wait for the ideal conditions to forge ahead. C.K. surely didn't. A week before his passing, he was working on a Harvard Business Review article with his daughter, Deepa, from his hospital bed in La Jolla, California.

2) Giving freely of your time with select professional networks offers countless benefits. C.K. was passionate about leveraging entrepreneurship and capitalism to eradicate poverty. He expressed this commitment by contributing his talent and time to TiE, one of the world's largest entrepreneur organizations.  According to Anil Kripalani, President of TiE San Diego, "We were blessed to have the benefit of CK's intellect and passion…to help the collective cause. He was the author of 'The House of TiE', and the chief mentor, visionary, and believer in the power of entrepreneurship...he just happened to be a world renowned management icon, in great demand by captains of industry and governments. He will be greatly missed."

3) Look in unexpected places for new opportunity. Case in point: Wal-Mart's launch of the Sustainability Initiative is causing its vendors to forever re-think how they do business. They have boldly committed to reducing carbon emissions by millions of metric tons by 2015. Can that lofty vision be an innovation unto itself?  Absolutely. Vendors representing over 100,000 products on Wal-Mart's shelves will be forced to assess every carbon footstep they take--and they will be forced to collaborate with the oddest of bedfellows in the process. 

Much like Wal-Mart's suppliers, C.K. discovered market opportunities in the oddest of places: among the billions of the very poor. He discusses them at length in his bestselling book, "The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid:  Eradicating Poverty Through Profits." This expansive way of thinking about growth strategy helped global consumer-goods companies like Godrej and Hindustan Lever to launch sachets of shampoo and hair conditioner as individual portions.

C.K. truly challenged me to think bigger. I am now committed to helping more global companies develop innovative, sustainable business strategies. He helped me realize that my own client frame of reference has room for expansion.

The meaning of life is simple. Commit yourself to leaving the world a better place than when you arrived. Start by thinking beyond your own personal borders and limitations.  C.K. Prahalad embodied this philosophy through global thinking, lifelong learning, and cooperation. I am grateful for his infinite contributions and boundless innovations.

Lisa Nirell is the Chief Energy Officer of EnergizeGrowth LLC and author of "EnergizeGrowth NOW:  The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company."  For the past 27 years, she has helped B2B companies align their business strategies with their marketing strategies, resulting in over $83M in new business revenues, better clients, and higher valuations.  Her clients have included IBM, Microsoft, Wells Fargo Advisors, ThomsonReuters, and hundreds of entrepreneurs across 9 countries. 

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4 Comments

  • Michael Bremer

    Lisa,
    Just ran across your note. I agree CK Prahalad will be missed. He was one of the inspirations behinds our new book, "Escape the Improvement Trap." We refer to several of his thoughts in our chapter on Customer Value. The book is a story about why most organizations fail to improve, their competitive position, even though they get better after implementing lean/sigma programs, and what to do about it. While the perspective that Prahalad took in most of his writings differed, I felt that we were very much aligned in principle.
    Best wishes,
    Michael Bremer

  • Lisa Nirell

    Christine, Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. My limited time with C.K. really inspired my body of work and propelled me to focus on innovation.

    Warm regards,
    Lisa