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Creativity expert, Michael Perman helps teams crack the innovation paradox to generate actionable ideas, breakthrough products, and revolutionary customer experiences. The founder of C’EST WHAT?, a firm dedicated to cultivating "mindful innovation," Perman has a proven track record of leading senior executives and inspiring thousands of employees to capitalize on their collective creativity.

Perman has been a innovation force behind iconic brands for 30 years. Most recently, he served as Dean of Innovation at Gap Inc.(including Banana Republic, Old Navy and Athleta) where he pioneered Mindspark Initiatives to expand employee thinking, build harmonic teams, and establish innovative ecosystems. As a senior director at Levi Strauss & Co. for ten years, he set into motion an innovation renaissance for the American heritage company with new products, new retail experiences, new brands and global campaigns such as "Go Forth" and "Shape What’s to Come”, part of reinventing the Levi’s Women’s business.

Throughout his thirty years as an innovation leader, strategist and executive-level facilitator, he has honed numerous techniques and tools for transforming corporate cultures,unleashing employee creativity, and driving that innovative mojo. Perman's programs have been responsible for multiple breakthrough developments across a range of industries, including food, fashion, sports, energy, government, finance, and retailing.

Full Profile

Michael Perman galvanizes teams and whole organizations to think and act differently, while helping them envision a future of prosperity and growth. Michael is the founder of C’EST WHAT? The Mindful Innovation firm based in San Francisco.

Under his leadership, people become better equipped to make strategic choices regarding where to invest their time, energy, and resources for growth.

During his 30 plus year career in new product development, brand strategy, innovation and organizational transformation, Michael has gathered ethnographic insights from hundreds of sessions where people live, work, play, shop and find their inspiration. These sessions were creative fodder for dozens of innovation initiatives in categories of food, fashion, sports, energy, government, finance and retailing.

Michael’s experience includes projects for Levi’s, Starbucks, Adidas, Gap, Banana Republic, General Mills, Nike, US Bank, Google, The Naval Postgraduate School and the Electric Power Research Institute. His transformational programs were implemented with thousands of employees, leading to more effective teams, more motivated people and growth. Michael’s experience is global – having activated insights, innovation and marketing initiatives in several international cities. He also advises smaller organizations, start-ups, agricultural commissions and non-profits to create a path forward.

Most recently. Michael was “Dean” of Innovation for Gap across all brands and functions where he orchestrated 30 innovation leaders and enabled more than 2000 employees to experience and utilize best-in-class innovation tools. His team drove development of new products, new experiences, brand strategy and organizational effectiveness.

Prior to Gap, Michael held several roles at Levi’s including Head of Consumer Insights and Senior Director of Global Marketing where he helped reposition and turn around Levi’s women’s business. He also drove insights leading to the creation of several new sub-brands products including Waterless, Commuter and Denizen, which generated more than $600 MM in revenue.

Michael was previously founder of Brand New Corporation, the innovation and strategy consultancy based in Portland, Oregon where he created new methods of generating insights and ideas.

Michael believes innovation is the “ability to perceive alternative realities and the courage to act upon those visions.” His dynamic and creative presentations and workshops illuminate this concept and provides advice on how organizations can take action.

Michael lives in Larkspur, CA where he enjoys trail running with his dog Artimus, mountain biking, cooking fish and trying to make things grow in the garden.

Michael Perman ON Speaking Back to top


Audiences will learn what innovation actually is: the ability to perceive alternative realities and the courage to move toward those visions.

SPEAKING.COM: What do you want people to learn/take away from your presentations?

PERMAN: First, audiences will learn what innovation actually is: the ability to perceive alternative realities and the courage to move toward those visions. Then, they’ll learn how you gain that ability - through skills, mindfulness and fresh ways to solve problems.

Furthermore, I want people to become more curious – an essential part of being an innovator. Fortunately, curiosity doesn’t require a lot of skill, but rather attitude and some time. It’s also really valuable at a multi-day event when people need to engage with other content.

Finally, I want attendees to feel inspired and empowered to use their imaginations. People will discover how to peel back the layers that shroud natural courage - another crucial component of the innovation process - and boost their confidence for the future

SPEAKING.COM: What kind of special prep work do you do prior to an event? How do you prepare for your speaking engagements?

PERMAN: There’s mental preparation and physical preparation. I like to learn as much as possible about the audience so I’m in tune with their wavelength. Fortunately, I am a curious person so I love learning about new areas.

I have a structure to my presentations, but I need to have something new in the mix to stay excited, so I usually switch out images and bring in new visual stimulation.

Something unique about me is that I really like doors so try to arrive early to an event and see the local doors.

Finally, I always do a work-out – ideally running on a trail – prior to my presentations to ensure that I’m fresh, energized and alive!

SPEAKING.COM: Have you had any particularly memorable speaking engagements / unusual situations arise while on the road?

PERMAN: I once spoke to a collection of advertising executives in Montego Bay, Jamaica. I was early on the agenda but it was still 85 degrees and the air conditioning was broken. The hotel brought in giant fans, but there were really noisy. In the end, I just presented with profuse sweat. I think the audience understood though, and, as advertising executives, they were accustomed to improvising. The experience reminded me that innovation requires spontaneity.

SPEAKING.COM: What types of audiences would most benefit from your message?

PERMAN: People who wish to energize their organization with fresh ideas about creating a future of prosperity, vitality and growth. People who see the value of creative culture and want to know how that happens.

Most people have creative gifts that are sequestered by culture, society and their personal experiences. I see my role in life as unleashing the natural talent and brilliance that everyone has within their minds.

SPEAKING.COM: Which of your keynote speaking topics are your favorites and why?

PERMAN: I love speaking about imagination - how it happens and making people feel OK that their crazy ideas are what the world really needs. I also love speaking about how our minds work, although it’s important to note that I’m not a neuroscientist.

Most people have creative gifts that are sequestered by culture, society and their personal experiences. I see my role in life as unleashing the natural talent and brilliance that everyone has within their minds.

I also love speaking about creative culture and how to make it happen. The process of creativity and innovation is a hazy mystery to many but it’s really clear to me so I think it’s my mission to share the keys to the kingdom of imagination.

SPEAKING.COM: What inspired you to start doing speaking engagements?

PERMAN: My first public speaking event was the Earth Day rally I organized in eighth grade at Richards Elementary School in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. Our town had just been fogged with DDT to kill beetles in the elm trees, but it also resulted in the killing thousands of birds and other critters. I was young and pissed.

We had 400 grade school kids and teachers in the school gymnasium plus local politicians whom I invited. I had propped the stage with a stuffed gorilla wearing a gas mask and as the curtains opened we played the theme song to 2001 Space Odyssey, Zarathustra, Op. 30. It was a dramatic event, especially for grade school students.

That feeling of speaking my mind, sharing what I know and making an impact on the audience and the world around us was energizing and it became a passion. In some ways, I think speaking is my calling. It’s one of the ways I get my energy and a sense of purpose.

I want people’s minds to wander and make sub-conscious connections to what I share.

SPEAKING.COM: How do you keep your audience engaged and actively listening during your keynotes? Do you use case studies, personal stories and/or in your speeches?

PERMAN: My role at most events is to inspire, evoke curiosity, and be the speaker who differs from the majority of presenters - most of whom use case studies. Personally, I’m not a big case study guy because I feel it’s ego-centric to yak about “my amazing accomplishments.” Rather, I am a storyteller who likes to use unconventional words and phrases. I like to incorporate historical references and some personal stories. My presentations are also image-heavy with very few words. I have an extensive personal library of photographs that are evocative, and use those images because I want people’s minds to wander and make sub-conscious connections to what I share.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the successes you've helped clients achieve?

PERMAN: The insights and new thinking I helped drive at Levi’s resulted in new brands and business ventures that led to $600 million in incremental revenue, bailing the company out of financial troubles that it had. For adidas, I helped them envision alternative paths for the future of innovation - out 5 or more years. My sweet spot is helping organizations envision their future.


Michael Perman Speaker Videos Back to top

Michael Perman, Innovation Speaker: Sizzle Reel


Innovation keynote speaker, Michael Perman reveals the source code of revolutionary innovation and how you can cultivate a state of mind conducive to creativity. In order to envision and create a successful service or product that doesn't yet exist, he suggests we need to deeply understand three vital factors: what do people crave, what are they concerned about, and what brings them comfort.

In addition to being able to imagine an "alternative reality," Perman notes that we need to have the courage to test that idea and see it through the development process. Fostering a culture of empathy, he claims, is instrumental to removing fears that block that process. "Once you start to care for each other and understand that you are cared for as well, you end up in a safe place," Perman explains. "So that spike in the heart, that fear is gone, and now you're in the place of being able to create and create without judgement."

Michael Perman, Innovation Speaker: Highlight Reel


Michael Perman, Innovation Speaker: Panel


Michael Perman, Innovation Speaker, and Peter Himmelman, Musician: Intro to Big Muse Collaboration



Speeches / Speaking Engagements Back to top


Michael Perman provides your group with a unique multisensory experience to get your minds and teams unstuck. From music to meditation, Perman incorporates tools and activities that will help your team push their limits and connect better with each other so that your organization can craft a safe environment where employees can freely share ideas, express feedback, and build on each other's work. In addition to feeding your innovative mindset, Perman shows you how to make smarter decisions regarding which initiatives you choose to pursue, and how much time and energy you invest in them.

Building Creative Cultures
For organizations that want to drive more creativity and innovation in their culture, leading to growth and employee satisfaction. Michael will reveal the right behaviors, tools, insights and ways of working that lead to more innovative, growth-oriented cultures. The presentation, accompanied by music, film, interesting graphics and stories will inform and entertain your audience. This presentation is for organizations who want to see creativity flourish and people motivated.

Mindful Innovation
“Mindful Innovation” is an advanced level of Design Thinking that accesses deeper levels of empathy and collective consciousness - liberating more holistic ideation. The technique also leverages meditation and social consciousness as contemporary tools that enable organizations to develop more purpose-driven cultures where employees thrive in greater harmony. In this presentation, Michael Perman shares ideas from years of experience implementing Design Thinking. You’ll learn how your organization can evolve and thrive amidst a higher level of consciousness. You’ll also feel really peaceful, relaxed and inspired to create what’s next.

Juicing the Middle Brain
Innovation emerges from deep insights about WHAT PEOPLE CRAVE. These sensations are triggered by hormones such as dopamine, cortisol and oxytocin. In this presentation, Michael Perman shares his experience, wisdom and advice from conducting hundreds of insights sessions and dozens of innovation workshops that drive creativity and innovative thinking with teams. You’ll hear curious stories about seeing alternative possibilities and heart-warming stories about courage. This presentation is great for organizations trying to transform, grow and innovate.

When we Create:
In this experience, Michael combines live music and imaginative graphics to share moments of creation that helped organizations to thrive. He’ll provide stories about creativity and innovation that helped Levi’s business transformation after almost going bankrupt in the 2000’s. You’ll also here about the creative transformation at Gap Inc - what worked and where they struggled. For years, Michael has studied the art and science of creative cultures and will also share the wisdom he’s derived from dozens of interviews with innovation luminaries. Plus, you’ll enjoy the surprising intersection between sensory experiences and creativity - likely with interesting live music on stage. It’s a memorable experience where you’re audience will learn tools and techniques they can use in their own business.

Curious Clues: About What’s Next
William Gibson once said, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” In this presentation, Michael Perman shares emerging trends through his careful analysis and pattern recognition of “CURIOUS CLUES.” Michael can customize his presentation for your industry, and share concepts about what’s emerging. Michael is an experienced futurist and will share exciting possibilities about what’s coming next in your industry.

BIG MUSE + C'EST WHAT? Live Music Experience
Music and song are vital to the creative process. They humanize our intellect and give voice to our emotions. Lyrics and stories connect us to something greater, opening up a world of possibilities. In this experience your people will learn to create songs and have a full rock band play their stories live and improvisational. Creativity is what happens when we are deeply engaged in the things we believe in - and they will be engaged!

In this magical event, Michael collaborates with GRAMMY and EMMY nominated musician, author, and Kellogg School of Management alumnus, Peter Himmelman and his BIG MUSE team to create a quick, fun, and effective way to unleash creativity in your team. This is a game-changing set of experiences and tools to drive creativity and innovation for your event, conference and your organization.

This powerful duo will craft a memorable experience that ignites energy among thousands of people. And, then take that energy to enable a very focused and strategic perspective for a core team of leaders. People who attend your event will record this as one of the most memorable and powerful experiences of their career. Your team will depart inspired to create what's next!



Michael Perman Speaker Testimonials Back to top

”Michael has a rare combination of analytical skills and creative intuition that combine to create compelling results and collaborate with teams to achieve their highest potential.“
- Mary Alderete, CMO at Modcloth

”Michael was definitely our most innovative Master of Ceremony. He turned our Design Thinking Forum into a masterpiece. Michael won’t just speak on your program—he will transform it!“
- Heather McKenzie, Senior Producer, Marcus Evans

”Michael was amazing at delivering the humor and insight our audience loves and other people gravitate to. He’s an incredible speaker and has great presence with the audience.“
- Jeffrey Friedman, Head of Production, Brain Exchange

”Michael connects with an audience, opening up their minds by opening up his heart. We crave innovation, we fear complexity, but we find comfort in connection; and Michael helps us with all three.“
- John Harris, President and CEO, Worldwide Partners, Inc.




Exclusive Interview with Michael Perman

Our minds have huge potential, which often remains untapped due to reliance on more reductive or analytical innovation tools. Mindful innovation accesses sub-conscious thinking and the collective consciousness of energy where deeper and newer ideas exist but have yet to emerge.
In this interview, innovation keynote speaker, Michael Perman discusses:
  • How mindful innovation helps us tap into our subconscious and a wealth of new ideas.
  • The 3 C's that are the building blocks of creating break-through products and services.
  • Why innovation is not everyone's job.
  • How to maximize the introverted innovators at your company.

  • * 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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    ”Michael has a rare combination of analytical skills and creative intuition that combine to create compelling results and collaborate with teams to achieve their highest potential.“
    - Mary Alderete, CMO at Modcloth

    ”Michael was definitely our most innovative Master of Ceremony. He turned our Design Thinking Forum into a masterpiece. Michael won’t just speak on your program—he will transform it!“
    - Heather McKenzie, Senior Producer, Marcus Evans

    ”Michael was amazing at delivering the humor and insight our audience loves and other people gravitate to. He’s an incredible speaker and has great presence with the audience.“
    - Jeffrey Friedman, Head of Production, Brain Exchange

    ”Michael connects with an audience, opening up their minds by opening up his heart. We crave innovation, we fear complexity, but we find comfort in connection; and Michael helps us with all three.“
    - John Harris, President and CEO, Worldwide Partners, Inc.


    Building Creative Cultures
    For organizations that want to drive more creativity and innovation in their culture, leading to growth and employee satisfaction. Michael will reveal the right behaviors, tools, insights and ways of working that lead to more innovative, growth-oriented cultures. The presentation, accompanied by music, film, interesting graphics and stories will inform and entertain your audience. This presentation is for organizations who want to see creativity flourish and people motivated.

    Mindful Innovation
    “Mindful Innovation” is an advanced level of Design Thinking that accesses deeper levels of empathy and collective consciousness - liberating more holistic ideation. The technique also leverages meditation and social consciousness as contemporary tools that enable organizations to develop more purpose-driven cultures where employees thrive in greater harmony. In this presentation, Michael Perman shares ideas from years of experience implementing Design Thinking. You’ll learn how your organization can evolve and thrive amidst a higher level of consciousness. You’ll also feel really peaceful, relaxed and inspired to create what’s next.

    Juicing the Middle Brain
    Innovation emerges from deep insights about WHAT PEOPLE CRAVE. These sensations are triggered by hormones such as dopamine, cortisol and oxytocin. In this presentation, Michael Perman shares his experience, wisdom and advice from conducting hundreds of insights sessions and dozens of innovation workshops that drive creativity and innovative thinking with teams. You’ll hear curious stories about seeing alternative possibilities and heart-warming stories about courage. This presentation is great for organizations trying to transform, grow and innovate.

    When we Create:
    In this experience, Michael combines live music and imaginative graphics to share moments of creation that helped organizations to thrive. He’ll provide stories about creativity and innovation that helped Levi’s business transformation after almost going bankrupt in the 2000’s. You’ll also here about the creative transformation at Gap Inc - what worked and where they struggled. For years, Michael has studied the art and science of creative cultures and will also share the wisdom he’s derived from dozens of interviews with innovation luminaries. Plus, you’ll enjoy the surprising intersection between sensory experiences and creativity - likely with interesting live music on stage. It’s a memorable experience where you’re audience will learn tools and techniques they can use in their own business.

    Curious Clues: About What’s Next
    William Gibson once said, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” In this presentation, Michael Perman shares emerging trends through his careful analysis and pattern recognition of “CURIOUS CLUES.” Michael can customize his presentation for your industry, and share concepts about what’s emerging. Michael is an experienced futurist and will share exciting possibilities about what’s coming next in your industry.

    BIG MUSE + C'EST WHAT? Live Music Experience
    Music and song are vital to the creative process. They humanize our intellect and give voice to our emotions. Lyrics and stories connect us to something greater, opening up a world of possibilities. In this experience your people will learn to create songs and have a full rock band play their stories live and improvisational. Creativity is what happens when we are deeply engaged in the things we believe in - and they will be engaged!

    In this magical event, Michael collaborates with GRAMMY and EMMY nominated musician, author, and Kellogg School of Management alumnus, Peter Himmelman and his BIG MUSE team to create a quick, fun, and effective way to unleash creativity in your team. This is a game-changing set of experiences and tools to drive creativity and innovation for your event, conference and your organization.

    This powerful duo will craft a memorable experience that ignites energy among thousands of people. And, then take that energy to enable a very focused and strategic perspective for a core team of leaders. People who attend your event will record this as one of the most memorable and powerful experiences of their career. Your team will depart inspired to create what's next!


    Michael Perman, Innovation Speaker: Sizzle Reel


    Innovation keynote speaker, Michael Perman reveals the source code of revolutionary innovation and how you can cultivate a state of mind conducive to creativity. In order to envision and create a successful service or product that doesn't yet exist, he suggests we need to deeply understand three vital factors: what do people crave, what are they concerned about, and what brings them comfort.

    In addition to being able to imagine an "alternative reality," Perman notes that we need to have the courage to test that idea and see it through the development process. Fostering a culture of empathy, he claims, is instrumental to removing fears that block that process. "Once you start to care for each other and understand that you are cared for as well, you end up in a safe place," Perman explains. "So that spike in the heart, that fear is gone, and now you're in the place of being able to create and create without judgement."

    Michael Perman, Innovation Speaker: Highlight Reel


    Michael Perman, Innovation Speaker: Panel


    Michael Perman, Innovation Speaker, and Peter Himmelman, Musician: Intro to Big Muse Collaboration



    Create a Future of Prosperity with Innovation Speaker, Michael Perman

    By Michael Perman

    Innovation keynote speaker, Michael Perman helps teams crack the innovation paradox to generate actionable ideas, breakthrough products, and revolutionary customer experiences. The founder of C’EST WHAT?, a firm dedicated to cultivating “mindful innovation,” Perman has a proven track record of leading senior executives and inspiring thousands of employees to capitalize on their collective creativity. He ... more

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