About: Gary Hamel, C.K. Prahalad: "Competing For The Future"; Harvard Business School Press; Boston, Massachusetts 1994

Essay 2003 15 Pages

Business economics - Business Management, Corporate Governance


Table of Contents

1. Summary of the book
1.1. Getting Off the Treadmill
1.2. How Competition for the Future is Different
1.3. Learning to Forget
1.4. Competing for Industry Foresight
1.5. Crafting Strategic Architecture
1.6. Strategy as Stretch
1.7. Strategy as Leverage
1.8. Competing to Shape the Future
1.9. Building Gateways to the Future
1.10. Embedding the Core Competence Perspective
1.11. Securing the Future
1.12. Thinking Differently

2. Opinion about the book

3. Personal example of the books idea

1. Summary of the book

The book “Competing for the Future” by Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad deals mainly with issues what companies respective managers have to do today if they want create the markets of the future and/or revolutionise their industries. The authors describe their book as a guide for managers who are willing to focus on the long-term and not only short-term success of the corporation a guide to imagine the future and afterwards to create it. Like the authors state in the end of the book, it is not only about making a difference to managers but also about making a difference to customers as well as employees. The book is divided into 12 chapters, which I am succeeding going to summarise.

1.1. Getting Off the Treadmill

Hamel and Prahalad start with an explanatory statement why restructuring and reengineering are not sufficient if a company wants to keep one step ahead of the steadily declining margins and profits of yesterday’s business. The main reason is in their opinion the accelerating pace of industry change especially regarding technological, demographic and regulatory issues. The increasing pace of industry change led to discrepancies between the pace of change in the industry environment and the pace of change within the companies themselves concerning structure, values and skills. Hamel and Prahalad argue, that as reasons for restructuring are often lacks in efficiency and productivity mentioned, which are often measured in ratios like Return On Investment. The author’s state, that restructuring is basically driven by the reduction of the denominator of the ratio, wherefore only a red pencil is needed. Numerator management (for example raising net income) however is in their opinion likely harder and more time consuming. Therefore it is key management task to go beyond the “harvest strategy” of aggressive denominator reduction (restructuring) in order to ensure the long-term competitiveness of the company.

Hamel and Prahalad understand reengineering (“21-century Taylorism”) as a higher level than restructuring - whereas they regard restructuring as never more than a necessary thing, reengineering can be a good thing. Reengineering aims to focus every process in the company in the direction of customer satisfaction, reduced cycle time and total quality, but is probably not the right tool to root out sources of future competitive advantages. Rather proactive than reactive organisational transformation is needed. The authors plead furthermore for a new view of strategy that focuses not only on becoming smaller, better and faster but also on becoming different, what means being capable of fundamentally reconceive oneself, regenerate ones core strategies as well as being capable of reinvent ones industry. This implies a view of strategy that recognises the need to unlearn and develop great foresight as well as the need to construct a strategic architecture and better resource leverage. Hamel and Prahalad suggest three ways how companies can create markets for the future in order to be (also) in the future an industry leader: (1) change fundamentally the rules of engagement in established industries, (2) redraw the boundaries between industries and/or (3) create entirely new industries.

Those primary challenges of becoming the initiator of industry transformation have to be followed by a secondary challenge of organisational transformation. Thereby the goal of both transformation processes is that the result is revolutionary whereas the execution is evolutionary (“bloodless revolution”). The end of the transformation process is not clear without ambiguity, because there is not one future but hundreds. In this respect the authors call business as the ability to uniquely imagine what could be - the art that distinguishes leaders from laggards.

1.2. How Competition for the Future is Different

Hamel and Prahalad consider competition for the future not as an extrapolation of the past, because new industrial structures will supersede old ones. That means existing industries will be profoundly transformed and entirely new industries will be born. These opportunities are inherently global whereby for example global distribution, forming of alliances and assembling of competencies will be necessary. Insofar competition for the future requires not only a redefinition of strategy, but also a redefinition of top management’s role in creating strategy - they have to imagine the future in order to create it and profit from it. The authors state that there are at least six issues concerning which future competition is different from today’s competition:

- Future competition is rather competition for opportunity share than market share, because the future is yet unknown and the way to the future is different for different companies and countries. In order to build opportunity share, companies have to have a commitment to build competence leadership in new areas, long before the precise shape and structure of future markets becomes completely obvious.
- Future competition occurs between companies and coalitions but not between products or business units, because of the sheer size in terms of time and money as well as complexity of future opportunities. Furthermore future opportunities are likely to be found between or across traditional business unit boundaries and may need access to competencies of different business units.
- In order to create exciting new opportunity arenas, rather the integration of complex systems than innovations around stand alone products is needed.
- Financial as well as emotional and intellectual commitment are just as important as speed in competing for the future, because of the large timeframe necessary to build leadership in new industries.
- Competing for the future takes often place in unstructured arenas, where the rules of competition have yet to be written, because it is as much about competing for a new industry structure as it is about competing within today’s industry structure.
- Competition for the future is rather multi- than single-stage competition and occurs in three distinct, overlapping stages: (1) competition for industry foresight and intellectual leadership (imagine the future), (2) competition to foreshorten migration paths (actively shape the emergence of the future) and (3) competition for market position and market share.

1.3. Learning to Forget

Hamel and Prahalad state that companies respective their managers have first to learn to forget (unlearn anticipatory) the old set of assumptions, presuppositions, beliefs, values and norms (“corporate genetics”/”managerial frame”) in order to imagine the future, because these bound the perspective of strategy and can be threats to survival in a rapidly and radically changing environment. Thereby unlearning means selective forgetting and is even more difficult than learning because of the emotional and economic equity invested in the past. The authors argue that technological, demographic, regulatory and/or social discontinuities are mostly the trigger for selective forgetting and therefore unlearning is still seldom anticipatory. Learning to forget is followed by the need to diversify corporate genetics and enlarge the managerial frames wherefore managers with curiosity, humility and the willingness to learn (upward learning) are needed.

1.4. Competing for Industry Foresight

Regarding Hamel and Prahalad competing for industry foresight is the first stage of competition for the future and aims to build the best possible assumption base about the future as well as establish ones company as the intellectual leader of the industry. Industry foresight helps managers to develop a clear point of view about future types of customer benefits, necessary competencies to offer these benefits and customer interfaces needed to “deliver” the benefits. Companies need a prescient, well founded, creative and well articulated view about tomorrow’s opportunities and challenges. Hamel and Prahalad argue that the solid factual foundation distinguishes industry foresight from a vision. Furthermore they are of the opinion that because of bureaucracy, multiple levels of approval and a lack of personal freedom it is almost impossible for large companies to be truly innovative. In order to overcome this impediment, they suggest entrepreneurial teams which are allowed to break out of the dominant managerial frame and have access to worldwide resources. The foundation of industry foresight are the observation of weak signals and trend lines but even more important a childlike deep and boundless curiosity and innocence about what could and should be. The authors discuss several ways to escape current orthodoxies, thus they state that companies respective their managers have to look beyond existing served markets - enlarging their opportunity horizon - in order to discover white spaces. This means that managers must conceive companies as a portfolio of core competencies (broad class of customer benefits) rather than a portfolio of individual business units (specific product-market focus). Furthermore they have to abstract away from business units to underlying core competencies as well as from traditional product and service definitions to underlying functionality elements. Other ways to escape orthodoxies are to challenge industry assumptions about price-performance trade offs and ensure an eclectic mix of individual perspectives within the company as well as create an eclectic set of perspectives in every employee. Furthermore managers should use metaphors and analogies to transfer the unfamiliar picture of the future to every employee. The authors argue that customers are notoriously lacking in foresight and therefore companies have also to overcome the disadvantages of being customer-led. Companies should extract new product possibilities from customer’s way of living and behaving in order to find unarticulated opportunities as well as to find out which customer the company is not yet serving. Last but not least industry foresight comes from the ability to empathize with basic human needs.

1.5. Crafting Strategic Architecture

Hamel and Prahalad state that after a company has imagined the future through industry foresight, it has to map and find the path that leads into the future through strategic architecture. Further they define strategic architecture as a broad agenda for functionality deployment and competence acquisition. This means that a strategic architecture rather identifies the major capabilities to be built than specify exactly how they are to be built. The authors point further out, that strategic architecture doesn’t address goals which can be measured today, but rather tasks that have to be done today in terms of competence acquisition and preparation to capture a significant share of the future revenues in emerging opportunity arenas. Companies have to begin to regenerate their core strategies while they are still at the peak of their prosperity, because long term doesn’t start in five or ten years. Hamel and Prahalad describe the process of crafting a strategic architecture as a discovery process of successive approximation which implies the risks of under-specifying and over-specifying the future as well. The process is also recurrent and challenging insofar that it is full of frustration, surprises, unexpected insights, missed deadlines and possibly recursive. In order to build a strategic architecture a careful blend of industry foresight and resource commitment is needed. None of both should go to far ahead the other one because risk-taking is the enemy of constancy even if a significant degree of residual uncertainty is likely to remain.

1.6. Strategy as Stretch

The authors point out that after a company has imagined the future through industry foresight as well as mapped and found the path that leads into the future through strategic architecture, it needs energy in financial, but even more important, in emotional and intellectual terms in order to reach the future. This emotional and intellectual energy for the journey is summarised by the concept of strategic intent. The foundation for a company’s strategic intent and strategic architecture as well is a deep understanding of potential discontinuities, competitor intentions and evolving customer needs. According to Hamel and Prahalad strategic intent is more differentiated than strategic architecture and conveys a sense of direction, discovery and destiny; what means that it is a tangible goal that can be described and it implies a particular point of view about the long-term market or competitive position that a company hopes to build. Strategic intent must be personalised for every employee so that each of them understands the precise way in which his contribution is crucial to the achievement of strategic intent. The milestones between a companies present position and its strategic intent, corporate challenges, are more concerned with what is desirable than with what is evidently obtainable. Hamel and Prahalad state that corporate challenges can only be met by doing different - by fundamentally rethinking processes, roles and responsibilities. In this context it is important to take into account that every employee have to feel a deep sense of responsibility for the company’s success and needs a clear channel for contribution. In order to do so, companies have to use more often motivators like competitor and customer benchmarks.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
491 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Jyväskylä – School of Business and Economics; Department of Management and Leadership
Excellent (Grade A)
About Gary Hamel Prahalad Competing Future Harvard Business School Press Boston Massachusetts Competitive Strategies



Title: About: Gary Hamel, C.K. Prahalad: "Competing For The Future"; Harvard Business School Press; Boston, Massachusetts 1994