Some people have unequaled reputations. The late CK Prahalad had one. He was one of the most influential management thought leaders of this generation. One of his books, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, was groundbreaking and foresaw the rise of emerging markets. He was definitely always a step ahead. Strategy + Business, the management journal of Booz Allen, has a wonderful interview with him from 2009 and one of his comments struck a chord. It reminded me of the courage I need whenever I embark on a new thought leadership initiative that raises eyebrows with some people.
Every one of my research projects started the same way: recognizing that the established theory did not explain a certain phenomenon. We had to stay constantly focused on weak signals. Each weak signal was a contradictory phenomenon that was not happening across the board. You could very easily say, “Dismiss it, this is an outlier, so we don’t have to worry about it.” But the outliers and weak signals were the places to find a different way to think about the problem.
To make a difference, you always have to start with the outlier or the unexpected. Recently I had an inkling to follow a particular trend and mentioned it to someone in the field. They said that they had thought about it and decided it was not going to go anywhere. It wouldn’t happen. At first, I readily accepted his point of view. Then I thought about the weak signal this trend was giving out and that perhaps I was indeed right. I could be wrong but it is probably worth following just in case. Anyhow, I am going to pursue this little idea and see where it takes me. After I read Prahalad’s statement, I made up my mind to mine my own ideas.