John Kao specializes in the following innovation based services and consulting.
I’ve had a long history of serving as a trusted advisor to leaders of both companies and countries. I’m fundamentally a clinician, not a theorist; I like to work with someone who is in the hot seat to deliver an innovation agenda, then bring practical, grounded experience to bear on execution. I like nothing better than to achieve breakthroughs and ferret out actionable insights.
My experience working with public sector leaders on innovation is unique. I’ve been asked to benchmark national innovation systems by the heads of state and ministers of economic affairs and have developed transformational agendas for innovation for them. One of my specialties is facilitating candid strategic conversations among senior stakeholders to constituencies in order to create alignment around a shared agenda.
With extensive private sector experience, I also know the power of a systematic approach to innovation. My definition of innovation is the capability of continuously achieving a desired future. When considering the future, most organizations start with the past, and then extrapolate forward as if innovation were simply a planning exercise. I advocate another approach by activating a senior team to define a vision for innovation that can galvanize an organization or a society.
I know very well how to generate a communications strategy for innovation. And most importantly, I know how to deploy processes aimed at understanding the current state of the organization (assessment), envision the future and “over the horizon” business opportunities that might represent discontinuities from current understandings (foresight), and then work back to the present in order to create an integrated innovation stewardship, communications and strategy plan for getting to the desired future (action). My work iterates among these agendas of assessment, foresight and action, and often takes the form of a journey that unfolds over time. I’ve carried out substantive assignments for the governments of Finland, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Abu Dhabi and others, and have also worked closely with global companies such as BASF, American Express, Nike and Intel.
When I was on the faculty of Harvard Business School from 1982-1996, I developed and taught courses on innovation and entrepreneurship to executives and MBA students. Almost 2,000 second year MBA students subscribed to my elective—Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Organizations—and I’m still getting comments about it to this day. My executive program on managing innovation was rated 4.8 out of 5 in its first year and attracted executives from major companies around the world.
More recently, I’ve focused my pedagogy for the needs of senior public servants who are grappling with issues of innovation strategy and execution. For example, I served as a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Innovation at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and also designed courses on innovation for the Naval Sea Systems Command over a three-year period. I completed a stint as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Singapore Civil Service College and have developed innovation curricula for public sector agencies worldwide.
My approach to innovation pedagogy is highly customized, although it builds on a body of knowledge that creates a spine for virtually any pedagogical effort.
In May 2010, I delivered a keynote speech to an audience of European CEOs that included the President of the European Commission Herman von Rompoy, the CEO of Deloitte Touche Tomatsu, and Prince Philippe of Belgium. The venue is the room in which Einstein announced the theory of general relativity in 1914.
Two of my greatest pleasures are starting companies and enabling the startups of others.
When I was nine years old, I began my first startup: a school literary magazine. I organized a contest to create a name, created an editorial board and persuaded the principal of the school to let me use the PA system to promote the magazine—and had a great time putting it all together. It was called the Hillside Inkwell, by the way.
Since then, I’ve started other ventures such as BioSurface Technology (now a division of Genzyme, but a hot IPO in 1996). I’m currently the CEO of EdgeMakers, a company focused on empowering young innovators, and am co-chair of In2music, a venture that is focused on reinventing music education through the power of the internet.
I welcome the opportunity to interact with entrepreneurs who have a great idea and might benefit from assistance with the startup or “power-up.”