Yves Doz A Conversation with Yves Doz

This interview was conducted by Joan Enric Ricart, the Chair of the Awards and Honors Committee.

Yves Doz is the winner of the 2011 CK Prahalad Distinguished Scholar-Practitioner Award.


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Prof. Doz, you are the first winner of the new CK Prahalad Distinguished Scholar-Practitioner Award shaped around the type of work that CK did for many years. What would you highlight as CK's legacy in the field of strategy?

CK Prahalad's legacy is immense, perhaps more so among corporate leaders than among academics. Indeed, as the SMS Award in his name recognizes, CK had an unequalled ability to bridge the gap between executives' experience and the findings from academic research, his own and also that of others. He was able to reframe corporate leaders' experience and actions in conceptual languages, and to bring conceptual and theoretical thinking to concrete managerial challenges. And CK did his homework-he was not just giving speeches or moderating executive retreats like many academics do, he was delving deeply, intellectually and emotionally, into the specific challenges facing individual corporate leaders. He was able to mobilize a rich theoretical array, drawing on philosophy, physical sciences, history and political science, where appropriate to address management and leadership challenges.

Conceptually, his work was rigorous, and managerially it was practical. His ability to conceptually articulate managerial dilemmas and processes and to distil research findings into simple but often profound implications for leadership action made him unique. As Ray Vernon used to tell his PhD students at Harvard: "Do not forget the hallmark of a good theory is to be obvious once stated, but also not one you would have easily thought out on your own". That was CK Prahalad! CK's ground-breaking concepts, articulated in a very effective way, deeply challenged traditional academics and consultants, making it difficult for both professions to fully acknowledge the importance of his contribution, except perhaps grudgingly. It was in executive circles that his contributions and influence were fully embraced. So much of CK's work has been so influential that it has graduated to the realms of ‘conventional wisdom'. Many key concepts in multinational management, strategic management and development economics were born out of CK's work, including integration-responsiveness, dominant logic, strategic intent, core competencies and "bottom-of-the-pyramid". As was well put in The Economist's obituary upon his death, he revolutionized management thinking not once but three times! This is an enormous heritage.

CK also left a significant and inspiring research process legacy with his practice of inductive, grounded and thoughtful theorizing. He practiced good field-based inductive research and few of us do this well. To anthropologists his approach may look like "casual C-suite ethnography" and to economists, as needless hair splitting. Yet, to understand executives in action, and conceptualize and improve their practices this field based, phenomena-driven field-informed theorizing is essential.

All of CK's work was driven by a few simple principles, for instance how to get more for less, or, as he used to casually tell his devoted MBA students, "more bang for the buck". The principle of resource economy and leverage is simple, but CK, together with Gary Hamel, turned it into a comprehensive model of how to compete.

CK liked to talk about "next practices". What "next practices" do you see as emerging in the near future? How do they link to your work? Are there aspects of CK's work that you think are not sufficiently recognized in their significance by the field?

On "next practices", CK tried to be a precursor. His involvement with the PRAJA venture in San Diego showed his concern with bringing sophisticated user-friendly advanced IT tools into strategic management. The venture ultimately failed in good part because it was ahead of its time, both in technologies and markets. However, the value of the founding insight remains: Human and artificial intelligence will come to be combined and blended seamlessly in a few years. Management and organization will change fundamentally. Serving the "bottom of the pyramid" profitably was another next practice promoted by CK, despite the limits of some of the examples he used to illustrate his argument.

As for my own work, only in the research on "metanational" innovation, published in 2001 (From Global to Metanational, co-authored with Jose Santos and Peter Williamson, and published by HBS Press) can I claim to have discovered and promoted a "next" practice: geographically distributed innovation processes, or "metanational innovations" as my co-researchers, José Santos and Peter Williamson and I, called them. Since then, the practice of globally distributed metanational innovation has spread, although some companies and management authors remain caught in simpler practices and models (so-called "reverse innovation", for instance). My forthcoming book, ("Managing Global Innovation", to be published by HBR Press in the Fall), co-authored with Keeley Wilson, deals with the concrete and operational aspects of enabling metanational innovation.

You have elaborated on some of CK's main contributions. How did his work influence your focus? In the context of his work, what do you think are your main contributions? What are the most relevant ones?

First, one has to go back to the years of intellectual ferment. CK preceded me by one year in the Harvard doctoral program in the mid-1970s. Both of us were influenced by Joe Bower's insightful work on resource allocation and the intellectual stimulation he provided. We were also all influenced by the political organizational sociology of Michel Crozier and by the Carnegie school of behavioural decision making. Others, like Chris Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal, followed us in the same research area of multinational management, with a rather similar theoretical apparatus.

I owe a lot to CK Prahalad. Perhaps even more to the man himself and the friend he (and his family) became, than to his work. The quality of effort and ethical standards he set, for himself and for others, had a huge effect on me. More visibly, my work often followed on from his. My early work explored situations, such as government control over markets, where the simple integration-responsiveness framework of multinational management broke down and relative power, (using a term CK coined), could not be considered as a strategic choice, but as a negotiated outcome of interactions with host governments. Rather than an "either or" proposition between integration and responsiveness it thus became a "both and" one, despite the resulting management contradictions and conflicts. That led me to focus on decision making under contradictory priorities reflected in conflicting contexts, a constant of my subsequent work. Without CK's encouragement I might not have taken up that research challenge.

The work on strategic alliance resulted from a lot of interactions with CK and Gary Hamel on the strategic use of learning alliances. In the early 1980s, CK already saw learning alliances as a way to leverage resources further, when very few researchers paid much attention to learning alliances yet (Joe Badaracco at Harvard, Bruce Kogut at Wharton, and Gary Hamel, then a PhD student in Michigan, were the few notable exceptions). Strategic alliances also often provide conflicting contexts, insofar as each partner remains an autonomous strategic decision making center, and, implicitly or explicitly, constantly tracks and reassesses the value created by, and the value captured from the alliance.

The search for revealing outliers and learning from unusual global firms that allowed me and my co-researchers to develop the metanational innovation framework, also followed from CK's emerging curiosity about why multinational companies seldom availed themselves of the innovation potential offered by emerging markets. There again the contradiction between the advantages of co-location in innovation and knowledge creation, and the growing need to access distributed pockets of knowledge around the world motivated my work.

CK was an enormous source of inspiration for me in yet a third way: He was humble and self-confident. I know this sounds like an oxymoron, and I am also aware that younger scholars who sometimes saw in CK a pontificating management "guru" without knowing him closely may doubt his humility. A few years ago, he regretfully told me he found it increasingly difficult to teach MBAs at Michigan: rather than challenge him, they accepted his words as gospel, a toxic side effect of fame. Yet, CK was humble and had an immense respect for managers and students, provided they were willing to think and to reflect on their practices, and engage into an insightful dialogue with him. He was also a humble learner. Intellectual curiosity and the search for insights drove him. Just a few weeks before his death, we were talking about writing a book together on the history of multinational companies, once retirement would give us the time and the freedom of mind for new intellectual enquiries. In addition he was self-confident; he was convinced it was possible to shed light on and make some sense of all managerial situations. Perhaps, this was partly the result of having had the privilege of an education at Harvard during the golden years of management research. It was certainly also the result of his upbringing in India, and of having married, in deep love, his wonderful wife, Gayatri.

So, as you can see, his influence on me was very deep and had various facets. I will always be grateful for having met CK early in my professional life, and have benefited from his friendship over decades.

What are your recommendations for scholars in the field of strategy? Any particular position on the type of research, the selection of topics, or the process of research?

It's hard to answer such a question. So I'm not even going to try to answer it in substance. What strikes me, though, and again looking at CK's experience, and at my own, is that one does good research only when one is passionate about the research. So I am appalled when I sometimes hear junior colleagues in academic gatherings make comments like: "I know it's a bit boring, but I need to milk that database and crank out two more papers!" What a waste of intelligence! So, my only suggestion is, "work on what you really care for". Then, research design, methodologies, etc. follow. My sense is that today the strategic management field is in need of multi-method and theoretically integrative research. Cranking down numbers on one side, and doing research cases or ethnographies on the other is not enough. One needs to use multiple methods in a thoughtful and mutually illuminating way. That's what I am now trying to do with my work on strategic agility.



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