Quite unlike many other management gurus, CK was not a one concept wonder. Every five to seven years he would come out with a blockbuster idea that would change the way people looked at business globally. Be it around core competency and strategic intent, value co-creation with customers, business opportunity at the bottom of the pyramid or his latest thoughts on the new age of innovation where he set out the arithmetic that defined the future of business as N=1 & R=G!
What also stood out about CK was that he was a man who would hardly leave his ideas at conceptual level for the management practitioners to follow up. Instead, he would himself aggressively campaign and canvas for them and seek ways of translating concepts into action on the ground.
That said, I must mention that this piece is not so much about CK the man and what he was, but more about what his next blockbuster idea would’ve been and about which action agenda was engaging his mindspace.
Last year, while writing an update on ITC e-Choupal for the fifth anniversary edition of his book ‘Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’, I concluded my piece articulating the vision of eChoupal using a metaphor from physics ‘black holes for a green world’. CK, as many would know was himself a physics student and was quite intrigued; we had a long conversation on the subject. My idea was to pursue a pull based model (symbolised by black holes) to achieve sustainable development (symbolised by green world) as against the current approach of “pushing” sustainability that’s obviously unsustainable. It was then that he shared his thoughts on how the challenge of sustainability was engaging his attention, and how it could be the new frontier of innovation. He was looking at creating a fusion in a manner that there was no conflict between the developed and emerging nations or business, Government and civil society organisations. Further, synthesising this domain with the BoP space, he was also visualising market mechanisms where poor people produced some kind of positive climate change instruments and trading them with rich nations thereby creating new sources of income for the poor. Alas, we have now missed out on the next blockbuster idea from CK!
On a different plane, CK was in the middle of cascading an action plan on India@75 to see India as a developed nation by 2022. If there was one programme to which he was giving his heart and soul in recent times, this was it! Interestingly our paths crossed on this front too! Around this time he was also guiding the field work of a team of Michigan students to write a case on ‘the making of ITC eChoupal 3.0’. CK quickly picked up that personalised crop management advisory envisaged under eChoupal 3.0 was aligned with the core theme of ‘the new age of innovation’ i.e. servicing one farmer at a time (N=1) taking the unique circumstances of each one into consideration, and by leveraging the capabilities of multiple firms and resources (R=G) as against the traditional method of one generic solution serving a mass of farmers. He immediately wanted this approach to be an important component of the agri agenda in ‘India@75’ programme. He suggested that we develop a detailed working paper together along these lines, whereafter he wanted to meet the Prime Minister to propose this as a solution to rejuvenate Indian agriculture. I was to download his thoughts during one of his forthcoming visits to India before I worked on this. Any which way, India@75 was what he was keenly looking forward to as his pet action project. India would find it hard to replace CK in this journey.
It is at once stimulating and saddening to imagine the next steps of the master of next practices. May his soul rest in peace…
- Published in Business Today issue dated May 16 2010 (page 84) with the title“What CK would have done next”
- I wasn’t sure if this piece belonged to Third Eye or Random Reflections! Cross posting in both…