John Kao

Chairman of Institute for Large Scale Innovation

Former Chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Advisory Council on Innovation

John Kao

John Kao’s life and career are a study in innovation: he focused on philosophy and social science at Yale where he earned his BA; he spent a summer as a keyboard player with Frank Zappa (he’s an accomplished jazz pianist); and he graduated Yale Medical School with a specialty in psychiatry.

He did his residency at Harvard Medical School, where he then earned his MBA and stayed on for 14 years to teach as a Harvard Business School professor. His elective, “Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Organizations” drew some 2,000 MBA students, and the executive program he developed and taught, “Enhancing Corporate Creativity,” attracted top executives from companies such as Merck, Merrill Lynch, and Saudi Aramco. He has served as Chair of the World Economic Forum’s (Davos) Global Advisory Council on Innovation.

It is the eclectic quality of Kao’s knowledge and experience that make his insights so useful and unique.

John Kao has inspired audiences around the world and communicates in clear and compelling ways about what creativity and innovation are, why they matter, and how to make them real. He is a compelling communicator who has given hundreds of presentations and designed memorable experiences to instill the spirit of creativity and the “how to” of innovation.

Currently Kao is founder and chief executive of Edgemakers, Inc. a company whose mission is to empower teenagers to innovate and make a difference. He is chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation, whose i20 network serves close to 50 chief innovation officers of countries around the world. Kao has been described by The Economist as a “serial innovator.” He has long been an angel investor in emerging technology companies. He is a Tony-nominated producer of film (Sex, Lies and Videotape, Mr. Baseball) and stage (Golden Child, Flower Drum Song).



Bringing Innovation to Innovation

Innovation: one of the most commonly used yet most poorly understood concepts in the management lexicon. These days, innovation is “the new black,” yet organizations and leaders who know how to do it and “get it done” are in woefully short supply. It’s no wonder that most organizations embracing innovation wind up with disappointment, due to a combination of vague definitions, unrealistic expectations and lack of innovation skills.

In this speech, John Kao serves up a revolutionary view on the how of innovation, where it is defined not only as a brainstorm-to-blueprint process, but by results based on discipline and practice. He will challenge you to take your innovation agenda to a new level of practicality and results.

Jamming: The Art of Getting Innovation Done (interactive presentation with music)

Jazz music is innovation made audible. In this presentation, John Kao brings innovation to life on stage using speech, music, and audience engagement. Using a piano to demonstrate how jazz is a guiding metaphor for business, Kao “jams” on stage with Yamaha Artists and shares the keys to innovation that he taught at Harvard. These “innovation concerts” have drawn uniformly rave reviews and have been staged at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Google headquarters, the World Innovation Forum, and Xerox Parc. John leverages his status as Yahama’s first-ever “Artist in Innovation” to combine state of the art technology and leading edge concepts of innovation to create a unique and memorable experience.

Innovation Master Class

John Kao’s Innovation Master Class (1-2 day program) combines the best of an executive program with a deep dive component to produce, not just a knowledge base around innovation, but practical steps to innovation and execution.

Mr. Kao wrote the book on executive education for innovation—literally. His acclaimed residential executive program at Harvard Business School—Enhancing Corporate Creativity—was rated 4.8 out of 5 in its first year of inception. Mr. Kao has modified this core curriculum to teach executives in companies and governments worldwide, including the Singapore Civil Service College and the US Naval Postgraduate School, which made John a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Innovation.

Now, your executives don’t have to travel or sit in a group setting that prevents candid discussion about your organization’s innovation needs-—John will bring the power of executive education to YOU with a customized two-day program.

Innovating Education, Educating for Innovation

John Kao has made a career out of bringing innovation to a range of industries and institutions. Now he turns his attention to education.

It is a tumultuous time for the education system in America today. There are too many disruptive technologies that are fundamentally changing the education experience and the sense of connection (or lack thereof) that students feel to schools. New social demands — for innovation, entrepreneurship and imagination – have not lead to new learning experiences. And while countries around the world are basing their strategies on innovation, there is a lack of methods for cultivating innovation leadership and learning.

In this keynote, Kao brings diagnostic insight to bear on what is wrong, and what is right with, education. He also answers the most pressing questions regarding the state of the educational system: what are the complexities and opportunities afforded by new technologies in education? What is the link between innovation and entrepreneurship and how can they become a cornerstone of every school’s agenda? What is needed from the education establishment if a country is to become an innovation nation – and how do we do it? For bold predictions about the future educational landscape, look no further than this must-hear speech from John Kao.


Jamming: Art and Discipline of Business Creativity

In today's competitive environment, creativity is no longer an option. Companies that understand how to manage creativity in their people, organize for creative results and willingly implement good new ideas will triumph.

In Jamming, John Kao also offers an approach that demystifies a topic traditionally confounding to businesspeople everywhere. He begins by showing how creativity, like the musical discipline of jazz, has a vocabulary and a grammar. It is a process, and because of that it can be observed, analyzed, understood, replicated, taught and managed. He explains how creativity needs a particular environment in which to blossom and grow. Like musicians in a jam session, a group of businesspeople can take an idea, challenge one another's imagination and produce an entirely new set of possibilities. Kao reveals how managers can stimulate creativity in their employees, explores the impact of information technology on creativity, looks at the globalization of creativity and shows how to ensure the loyalty of people who design, build and deliver today's vital products and services.

Jamming: Art and Discipline of Business Creativity

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John Kao