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John Kao isn’t simply an innovator; he is a leader in creating and delivering high-end leadership programs for both the public and private sectors. The Economist named him “Mr. Creativity,” but John prefers to call himself an “innovation activist.” He went so far as to coin the term “large scale innovation,” to refer to innovation at a societal level. He even became a chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation, whose i20 group is comprised of 30 national “Chief Innovation Officers.”

John is an advisor to many different nations, cities, and companies about innovation strategy and execution. The list is long and ranges from Abu Dhabi to the City of San Francisco, as well as sectors of US government and the European Union’s innovation policy team.

He is a graduate of Yale College (philosophy), Yale Medical School (psychiatry) and Harvard Business School (management). During his time in the faculty of Harvard Business School, 1982-96, he created executive and MBA programs for innovation.

His books include the Business Week bestseller Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, and Innovation Nation, centered on the challenge of innovation in America. John is a contributing editor to The Daily Beast’s innovation channel. Currently he serves as a director of the Bay Area Science and Innovation Consortium, and is a founding member of Cisco System’s Innovation Commission. He is a chairman of the Global Advisory Council on Innovation of the World Economic Forum and a director of TwoFour54, a Mubadala media company, and Phylotech, a company looking to bring together cleantech and the life sciences.

John has long been a supporter of innovation as an angel investor for emerging technology companies. He is a Tony-nominated producer for film (Sex, Lies and Videotape, Mr. Baseball) and the stage (Golden Child, Flower Drum Song). Ever a creative soul, he spent a summer apprenticed as a pianist to rock legend Frank Zappa in 1969.

Full Profile

    Dubbed “Mr. Creativity” by The Economist, John calls himself an innovation activist. He is chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation, whose i20 group is an association of 30 national ‘Chief Innovation Officers.’ John coined the term “large scale innovation” to refer to innovation as a societal agenda. He has advised numerous nations and regions on innovation strategy and execution, including Finland, Singapore, the City of San Francisco, Abu Dhabi and elements of the US government as well as the European Union innovation policy team.

    John is a leader in creating and delivering high end innovation leadership executive programs for both public and private sectors. He was a member of the Harvard Business School faculty from 1982-96, where he created executive and MBA programs on innovation. He wrote Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, a BusinessWeek best-seller, and Innovation Nation, published in October, 2007 about America’s growing innovation challenge.

    Currently John serves as director of the Bay Area Science and Innovation Consortium, founding member of Cisco System’s Innovation Commission, and chairman of the Global Advisory Council on Innovation of the World Economic Forum. He is contributing editor to The Daily Beast’s innovation channel. He is also a director of TwoFour54 a Mubadala company and Phylotech, a company that bridges cleantech and life sciences.

    John has long been an angel investor in emerging technology companies and a Tony-nominated producer of film (sex, lies and videotape, Mr. Baseball) and stage (Golden Child, Flower Drum Song). He is a graduate of Yale College (philosophy), Yale Medical School (psychiatry) and Harvard Business School (management). A jazz pianist at heart, he apprenticed to rock legend Frank Zappa in 1969.


John Kao Speaker Videos Back to top

John Kao


In this speech John Kao describes his position on innovation:
“Innovation as purpose is something I am a very firm believer in… it is a set of capabilities that enable the continuous realization of a desired future.” He goes on to say, “capability is something you have to practice to get. You have to do it a lot. Once you do it a lot and have it, it’s hard to lose.”

His major point is that “innovation is a methodology for dealing with a certain class of problems that we’re otherwise somewhat helpless to deal with.”

John Kao - Speech


John opens his speech with the story of how he earned the nickname the “innovation Sherpa” and equates innovation with climbing a mountain: “when you climb a mountain, and you don’t have a map, you often need a guide who hopefully has a map and knows how to get to the top of the mountain. So in my own work… I’ve been able to put together my own map of how the process works. How a start-up, a company, a country, really engages with innovation and does the work of innovation.”

As with mountain climbing, when innovating “you need the right equipment and the right skills” to get going. He suggests starting with three basic questions: What is innovation? Why is it important? How do you do it?

John Kao Discusses the Jazz / Innovation Mindset



Speeches / Speaking Engagements Back to top


John offers several programs designed to ignite innovation within your organization. Each program deals with innovation in a slightly different fashion. From “The Art and Discipline of Corporate Creativity” to his customized innovation workshops, there is a program to suit your organization’s audience and interests.

Suggested Programs:

  • Next Generation Innovation: From “Getting It” To “Getting It Done”
  • The Art And Discipline Of Corporate Creativity
  • Producing: Talent, Ideas And Capital In Business
  • Custom Innovation Workshop




* Please note that while this speaker’s specific speaking fee falls within the range posted above (for Continental U.S. based events), fees are subject to change. For current fee information or international event fees (which are generally 50-75% more than U.S based event fees), please contact us.

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    The Future Is Yours to Invent (NOOKBook
    John Kao, bestselling author and master of creativity and innovation, shows how you can put your life and business on a trajectory to uncommon success. The journey begins with a conceptual prototype of your own making and ends with you realizing your ambition.
    Order Here




    Clearing the Mind for Creativity (NOOKBook
    “In the beginner’s mind,” the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki once wrote, “there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are only a few.” The implication for Suzuki was that all that is new originates from a mind free of preconceptions. Here, in this brief eBook, former Harvard Business School professor and movie producer John Kao tells you how to achieve your own beginner′s mind and unleash your creativity.
    Order Here




    Innovation Nation: How America Is Losing Its Innovation Edge, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do to Get It Back
    Alarmed by the lack of innovation in the United States today, former Harvard Business School professor and current consultant Kao diagnoses the situation, describes best practices, explains how innovation works and puts forth a strategy proposal, all in an attempt to squirt ice water in America′s ear. Kao-who has been an entrepreneur, a psychiatrist, an educator and a pianist for Frank Zappa-is clearly passionate about his premise. Aimed primarily at policy makers and legislators, his three-pronged agenda is designed to help the government create a culture committed to constantly reinventing the nature of its innovation capabilities. However, his authoritative and history-rich book is not necessarily useful to the everyday reader, as Kao includes few small-scale strategies. His one effort to bring this down to the citizen′s level-in fictional short stories about the future-is a little contrived, jamming in statistics and leaning on flashbacks. But overall, the book does its job. The question is, will lawmakers look at it and follow its lead?

    Order Here


Suggested Programs:

  • Next Generation Innovation: From “Getting It” To “Getting It Done”
  • The Art And Discipline Of Corporate Creativity
  • Producing: Talent, Ideas And Capital In Business
  • Custom Innovation Workshop


John Kao


In this speech John Kao describes his position on innovation:
“Innovation as purpose is something I am a very firm believer in… it is a set of capabilities that enable the continuous realization of a desired future.” He goes on to say, “capability is something you have to practice to get. You have to do it a lot. Once you do it a lot and have it, it’s hard to lose.”

His major point is that “innovation is a methodology for dealing with a certain class of problems that we’re otherwise somewhat helpless to deal with.”

John Kao - Speech


John opens his speech with the story of how he earned the nickname the “innovation Sherpa” and equates innovation with climbing a mountain: “when you climb a mountain, and you don’t have a map, you often need a guide who hopefully has a map and knows how to get to the top of the mountain. So in my own work… I’ve been able to put together my own map of how the process works. How a start-up, a company, a country, really engages with innovation and does the work of innovation.”

As with mountain climbing, when innovating “you need the right equipment and the right skills” to get going. He suggests starting with three basic questions: What is innovation? Why is it important? How do you do it?

John Kao Discusses the Jazz / Innovation Mindset