John Kao






Who is the most interesting man in the world? Maybe John Kao!

  • Artist in residence for Yamaha
  • Jazz musician
  • A big deal in ed tech
  • Advisor to the navy
  • Advisor to Angela Merkel
  • Founder of several companies
  • MD

John Kao is the Founder, Chairman and CEO, EdgeMakers and Chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation. The common thread is creativity — he can see things across industries that are all over the place and because of that he’s got the ability to add value and bring fresh (smart) eyes to all kinds of problems.

Dubbed “Mr. Creativity” and “a serial innovator” by The Economist, John Kao is a leading authority on innovation, business creativity, organizational transformation and emerging technologies. John has been a trusted advisor to senior leaders of both public and private sector organizations. He has advised the governments of Finland and Singapore on their innovation strategies as well as leading firms such as Nike, Intel, and BASF.

Kao’s thought leadership is expressed in his books: Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, a BusinessWeek best-seller that has been published in a dozen languages; and Innovation Nation, which sounds the alarm about America’s growing innovation challenge. He has published three e-books: The Future is Yours to Invent, Are You a Producer?, and Clearing the Mind for Creativity.

John’s work has been profiled in major publications, including The Economist, Harvard Business Review and The New York Times. He has served in many prestigious membership and advisory roles:

  • Board Member – Bay Area Science and Innovation Consortium
  • Member – Innovation Commission of Cisco Systems
  • Senior Visiting Fellow at Singapore Civil Service College
  • Honorary Vice President of Arts and Business in the U.K.
  • Advisor to Finnish Innovation Fund
  • Chairman – World Economic Forum’s Global Advisory Council on Innovation
  • Advisor to Finland’s Aalto (Innovation) University
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Art
  • Advisor to Clinton Global Initiative

John is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor in emerging technology, and a Tony-nominated producer of film and stage. He was producer of the Broadway play, Golden Child, production executive on Sex, Lies and Videotape, and executive producer of Mr. Baseball. A jazz pianist at heart, he spent the summer of 1969 playing keyboards for rock legend Frank Zappa.

Keynote Presentations

Reimagining Leadership In A Time of Discontinuity

Disruption has become all-to-familiar term in the management lexicon, but it is even more accurate to describe ours as an era of discontinuity, one in which old maps no longer suffice and we are challenged to create new ones to successfully navigate towards an uncertain future. This requires us to re-evaluate the established ways in which we lead, manage and organize. This keynote describes the new personal and organizational proficiencies that are required for new times and how to implement them.

My new leadership framework called the “six intelligences” is relevant here. It presents six forms of intelligence that leaders must deploy in a blended, integrated manner for individuals, teams, and organizations.  The six include finely honed situational awareness, innovation sophistication and digital literacy, emotional and social intelligence, a moral compass, and the ability to galvanize needed transformation. Assessed and deployed properly, they comprise the deep “how” of leadership.

Innovation Reframed

In this era of discontinuity, innovation remains a cardinal priority, but its strategies and methods must be fundamentally reframed, so they do not simply generate better approaches to existing problems or succumb to any number of what I call “innovation pathologies.” Numerous creative tensions must be negotiated including the need to create a sense of urgency while at the same time encouraging improvisation, a culture of experimentation and the kind of beginner’s mind that can generate new sources of value within a future-focused framework. Familiarity with a tidal wave of AI, data science and related digital technologies is also essential because they will fundamentally alter the nature of collaboration and thus how innovation “works.”

What Leaders Can Learn From Jazz

Some years, ago I wrote a best-selling book – Jamming – the Art and Discipline of Business Creativity. It reflected my passion not just for playing jazz, but also for understanding the deeper levels of how it – and the creative processes associated with it – “worked.” My “innovation concerts,” which have been delivered at Google headquarters, the World Economic Forum Davos and other comparable venues are a noteworthy way to bring creativity and agility into the room – not as abstract ideas, but as concrete practices that can be learned by all organizations and their stakeholders. This also remedies the tendency to lose sight of creativity and improvisation in discussions of innovation. This keynote involves a presentation accompanied by musical illustrations performed live.

John Kao Testimonials

“Thank you for making our opening event a huge success and a truly groundbreaking event for the Design Council. We have received some overwhelming feedback from some of the guests at the IMAX as well as from those who were listening in the regions and in cyberspace, including: ‘I feel as if I’ve learned new ways of valuing business this morning;’ ‘Design has moved upstream and become more core business;’ ‘There’s a new emerging type of company and it doesn’t buy creativity, it is creative itself.’ It has been a great privilege to have worked with you and I hope to have the opportunity of doing so again in the future.”

UK Design Council

“Thank you for helping ASTD make our International Conference and Exposition in Denver such a success. We had over 9,000 people in attendance – an energized group of leaders who came together to learn from the best. Your message on the art and discipline of business innovation and your demonstration via jazz were a hit with our audience. We heard positive comments about your presentation for the rest of the week. And thank you for leading the discussion at our Executive Briefing. I know our learning executives appreciated a chance to discuss how their world is changing and how they can help the process.”

American Society for Training & Development

“Our Tiffany Merchandising Conference was terrific and your opening presentation contributed enormously to its success. The group is still talking and thinking about the experience! Many of the conference participants also expressed interest in having you participate in a real problem solving situation, which we can do in a workshop environment.”

Tiffany & Co.

“Brilliant. He provides an out-of- the-box thinking that is also very grounded in the everyday world.”

Campaign staff, Hillary Clinton for President

“I’m a big fan of John Kao’s”
Quincy Jones

“If Orson Welles and Peter Drucker were somehow to mate, the result would be something like John Kao, a serial innovator”
The Economist