I ALWAYS HAVE TROUBLE FILLING OUT THOSE LITTLE FORMS AT BORDER CROSSINGS THAT SAY “OCCUPATION.” RECENTLY I WAS INSPIRED TO WRITE “INNOVATION ACTIVIST” AS I WAITED FOR THE IMMIGRATION OFFICER IN SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA. THE GUY LOOKED AT ME DUBIOUSLY AND SAID, “IS THIS SOME KIND OF SUBVERSIVE ACTIVITY?”
While I still like “innovation activist,” probably the best headline came from my Economist Face Value profile; called me “Mr. Creativity.” That fits because my portfolio is ever-changing: a mashup of left and right brain, the entrepreneurial and the intellectual, the artistic and the practical.
I know that this is stylized as “Face value”—with a lower-case l—in the Economist, but opted to capitalize it instead as it looks awkward and might be confusing to readers unfamiliar with the column.
What’s hot for me now is the reinvention of education. Specifically, I’m CEO of a relatively new company called EdgeMakers, whose mission is to empower teenagers who want to be innovators and make a difference.
I’m also concerned with how innovation works at a societal scale. Our i20 group is an association of close to 50 national “Chief Innovation Officers.” I’ve done lots of advisory work for countries, states and cities on large-scale innovation strategy and execution. These engagements include Finland, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Australia, Canada and elements of the US government as well as the European Union innovation policy team.
I love presenting my perspectives to audiences worldwide, whether in the form of keynote speeches, interactive dialogues, or immersive workshops. In 2012, Yamaha made me their first ever Artist in Innovation, and I delight in putting innovation on stage through the medium of improvised music as part of what I call an “innovation concert.”
I’m passionate about how leaders learn to innovate, and have taught extensively in both public and private sectors. As a professor at Harvard Business School from 1982-96, I created executive and MBA programs on innovation. I wrote the BusinessWeek best-seller Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity to document what jazz musicians could teach leaders about creativity and innovation. My book Innovation Nation, published in October 2007, details America’s growing innovation challenge as global society evolves into an “innovation world.”
I’ve also had a life-long fascination with startups, culture and media. I started my first venture at the age of nine years old, and have been both 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). I went to Yale College (philosophy), Yale Medical School (psychiatry) and Harvard Business School (management)—and I was fortunate to apprentice to rock legend Frank Zappa in 1969.