Companies need to stay ahead - or else face being left behind

The ideas behind Competing for the Future, published over 20 years ago, are still relevant in today's fast-paced business world.

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 27 Nov 2015

Gurus are not always responsible for what others do with their ideas. So we should not criticise the late CK Prahalad or Gary Hamel for what some in the HR profession have done with what they now call ‘competency-based management’. This has turned into a rigid and at times illegitimate descendant of the far more interesting idea of ‘core competencies’, which was first discussed in this book.

Core competencies, properly described, will most likely be company-specific skills and insights that are hard for others to copy, and which will give your business an advantage heading into the future. They will also be developed continuously.

The impetus for this book was in part the realisation that business process re-engineering, popular as a management concept at the start of the 1990s, was in fact oversold, and often involved merely catching up with what other competitors were doing.

‘Any company that is a bystander on the road to the future will watch its structure, values, and skills become progressively less attuned to industry realities,’ Hamel and Prahalad wrote.

The authors were thinking about the future over 20 years ago and their long-term view is still valid today.

Competing for the Future by Gary Hamel and CK Prahalad is published by Harvard Business School Press, 1994

Stefan Stern is visiting professor at Cass Business School. Follow him on Twitter: @StefanStern

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