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Remembering C.K. Prahalad

CK Andravi

Of the thousands of people we meet in life, only a few become part of our lives in meaningful ways. I'm sure we all remember a favorite teacher or coach, a college professor, first love, or grandparent whose advice we cherish. For me, C.K. Prahalad, who died April 16, was such a person.

Like many people, I had been moved by his books, Competing for the Future, and The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, as well as his philosophy: that global poverty could be eradicated, and fortunes could be made if corporations would recognize that they can do well by doing good.

In his professional life he was an author, a professor, and an adviser to business and governments. But there was something so much more to him than that. His capacity to understand the world's individual needs and translate them into an ability to lead businesses and heads of state was truly rare.

I met C.K. in person relatively recently. His brilliant daughter Deepa and I had been exploring the idea of collaborating on a book. Between us, we mapped out the guidelines: transparency, clarity, and honesty were bedrock principles. I showed her how my firm, RKS, had used insights from Abraham Maslow and Joseph Campbell to develop a unique way of approaching design.

That partnership led C.K. and his wife, Gayatri, a gifted child psychologist, to visit our firm. We walked them through our process, and he listened attentively, as if he hadn't heard design babble a thousand different ways before. But when we started to show him our actual products—the KOR water bottle, RKS guitars, and Vestalife speakers—things got exciting.

"If the tools you've developed lead you to these, then you must truly have something," he said. "But you need to synthesize and develop these processes into something that is explainable, repeatable, and scalable."

We went through everything, detail by detail, insight by insight, and discussed how each one connects people with their inner most needs and feelings. The six hours we spent together sped by, as we covered so much territory on emotion, needs, and approaches to transforming what we had into something that was no longer an internal process but one that we could share with the world. My firm and I have never been the same since.

I was privileged to see C.K. in both his role as business guru to the world and as a constant and loving father, and devoted husband. So, while he changed my life and my company's forever, I am so thankful to have gotten to know someone I could love and respect as a uniquely great person, and whom I could admire for the gift of his ideas that were given to everyone. C.K. has passed on at a time when the world needs him in so many ways. It will be up to the rest of us to carry forward with his ways of living, teaching and making the world a better place for all.Thank you C.K. for showing the path. You will be dearly missed.

Editors' note: Sawhney's and Deepa Prahalad's book, Predictable Magic, Unleash the Power of Design Strategy to Transform Your Business, will be published by Wharton School Publishing in July.

Read more of Ravi Sawhney's Design Reach blog
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Ravi Sawhney is the founder and CEO of RKS, a global leader in strategy, innovation, and design. RKS has helped generate more than 150 patents and over 90 design awards on behalf of its clients, which include HP, Intel, LG, Medtronic, Seiko, Sprint, and Zyliss. Sawhney invented the popular Psycho-Aesthetics® design strategy, which Harvard adopted as a Business School Case Study and is the subject of Predictable Magic, the forthcoming book co-authored by Sawhney and Deepa Prahalad and published by Wharton School Publishing. Sawhney is an IDSA Fellow and Executive Director of IDSA's Catalyst case study program.

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  • Linda Tischler

    George -- I also feel the need to jump in here. I edited Ravi's piece. The original version mentioned that C.K. had been important to how Ravi re-conceptualized his business. I asked him to expand on that so people would know what C.K. was responding to. While we normally ask our bloggers not to use the site to promote their own businesses, in this case I felt it was legitimate because it showed Prahalad's actual effect on a business. Any issues with Ravi's piece on that count should be directed to me.

  • Ravi Sawhney

    Dear Geroge,

    I respect your position and would rather not debate my piece with you but, your response deserves a clarification so as not to further distort things.

    Of course I was pulled between simply writing about what a great person C.K. was or adding in an authentic and real story of how he changed my and my firm’s world.

    I and others don’t feel its self promotional because without the complete story, it simply read as being thin and superficial; I first wrote it that way, I know.

    However, I was prepared for criticism on anything I wrote. But, I still chose to write from the heart with a real life’s story and tribute to a person I came to love and respect.

    I’ll leave it at that.


  • George Eberstadt

    Ravi, I believe you had an important, close relationship with Prahalad. You do that relationship a disservice when you mix eulogy and self promotion.

    I showed her how my firm, RKS, had used insights from Abraham Maslow and Joseph Campbell to develop a unique way of approaching design.

    But when we started to show him our actual products--the KOR water bottle, RKS guitars, and Vestalife speakers--things got exciting. "If the tools you've developed lead you to these, then you must truly have something," he said.

    Is that really necessary?