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Matthew E. May

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Innovation Strategist

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About Matthew

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Keynote speaker Matthew E. May is a thought leader on strategy, innovation, creativity, design-thinking and lean-thinking. He is also a 5-time award winning, best selling author on innovative thinking and a sought after expert and commentator for some of the world’s most influential media such as MSNBC, Forbes and the Financial Times.

Matthew E. May is an internationally recognised thought leader and expert on strategy, innovation, creativity, design-thinking and LEAN. Specialising as an advisor and coach for senior executives, helping them and their teams craft new and innovative strategies and build the capabilities to implement them.

Matt has written five books on innovative thinking, most recently Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking, which investigates how Mindful thinking can lead to a competitive edge and encapsulates a decade of fieldwork and personal experience. He has also written for The New York Times, Harvard Business Review and Inc, to name a few. Matt holds an MBA from The Wharton School and a BA from Johns Hopkins, but he counts winning the New Yorker cartoon caption contest as one of his most creative achievements.

One of Matthew’s deepest passions is for ideas that solve a difficult problem in an elegant way, defining an elegant solution as one that is both uncommonly simple and surprisingly powerful, and that achieves the maximum effect with minimum means. Above all, Matt is a practitioner of business strategy and innovation with powerful lessons learned and war stories to tell from years in the trenches with companies ranging from small startups to companies as large and multinational as Toyota, where he was a full time advisor for eight years.

By blending his frontline experience and the years of research from his books, Matt aims to achieve four things in every address:

Inspire new thinking

Share a unique perspective

Tell compelling stories

Deliver practical takeaways

 

See keynotes with Matthew E. May

    Keynote by Speaker Matthew E. May

    The Brain Game: Fixing the Seven Fatal Flaws of Business Thinking

    • In this provocative and highly interactive keynote, Matthew E. May engages audiences in the same simple thought challenges given to over 100,000 people during a 10-year period.
    • Science confirms the distinction between the biological brain and the conscious mind. Each day, a game of mind versus matter plays out on a field defined by the problems we need to solve.
    • Calling on modern neuroscience and psychology to help explain the “seven fatal flaws,” May draws insight from some of the world’s most innovative thinkers.

     

    Keynote by Speaker Matthew E. May

    Subtraction: Removing Excess for Better, Smarter Business

    • How do you stand out and stay relevant in a world that is massively distracting and mostly disruptive?
    • In an age of excess everything, success looks different, and now demands a new skill: Subtraction.
    • In this keynote, May outlines six simple rules for winning (in business, as well as life) in the age of excess everything, and delivers a single yet powerful idea: When you remove just the right things in just the right way, something very good happens.

     

    Keynote by Speaker Matthew E. May

    Elegant Solutions: Why the Best Ideas in Business Have One Thing Missing

    • In this thought-provoking exploration of why certain events, products, and people capture our attention and imaginations, May examines the elusive quality behind so many innovative breakthroughs in fields ranging from physics and marketing to design and popular culture.
    • This compelling, story-driven talk that sheds light on the need for elegance in design, engineering, art, urban planning, sports, and work, while offering surprising evidence that the best ideas have something missing … on purpose.

     

    Keynote by Speaker Matthew E. May

    Toyota + Innovation: Forging New Inroads to Invention

    • Smart leaders know the necessity of thinking differently at every level. And no better example of the post-industrial innovative organization exists than Toyota.
    • Driving the Toyota approach is a companywide quest for elegant solutions—solutions that deliver optimal customer value and impact with the minimal burden, effort and expense.
    • Speaker Matthew May offers a vital prescription of ten key cultural practices that are a must-have for organizations seeking new inroads to innovation.

References

Matthew was right on point for what we needed. He created a lot of energy and after he finished his presentation and for the rest of the evening our attendees continued stating how good his presentation was.

Norma Feder-Dong

Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union

The presentation was exceptionally relevant to everything that we are living and breathing in our daily work as part of Corporate America - and the financial services industry. A very thought-provoking session!

Mary Baker

U.S. Bank
09.29.2017

Interview with Matthew E. May

When we have a problem to solve, we often jump right into brainstorming- something you call “Leaping”. You say this creates roadblocks. Why, and what’s a better solution?

Leaping to solutions or jumping to conclusions is the most prevalent fatal thinking flaw I see. We’ve been conditioned through formal education to seek the right answer as quickly as possible. All those “why?” questions we incessantly asked when we were much younger lose priority over the years, replaced by a “right answer now!” mindset. So brainstorming has become our go-to creative problem solving process.

The problem is that it doesn’t work. Immediately and instinctively leaping to solutions in a sort of mental knee jerk almost never leads to an elegant solution to an unfamiliar, complex problem, because not enough time is devoted to framing the issue properly.

If I have learned anything from facilitating problem-solving sessions, though, it is that we will be largely unsuccessful in attempting to shut off the now deeply embedded Leaping impulse, and we should not even try. We will make far more progress if we instead redirect and channel the instinct to act into behavior that feels like brainstorming, but involves generating questions instead of answers.

The fix for the Leaping flaw, then, is quickly generating multiple ways to frame the problem. In other words, instead of coming up with answers right away, you come up with questions right away, before you launch into solutioning.

It’s called Framestorming.

To have doubt is to be human, and all business people can find themselves in places of doubt along their career journey.  How is self-censoring because of that doubt harmful and what should we as professionals be doing instead?

Well, we don’t come into the world doubters, or self-doubters. Toddlers are fierce when it comes to taking delight from engaging in what we as adults have come to view as silly nonsense. Many of the more popular approaches to business innovation are rooted in the desire to reclaim some of that childlike curiosity and urge to play, experiment, and explore.

Self-censoring is when we field or create a great idea, recognize it as such, but deny or kill it anyway, without due consideration. Then we slap ourselves on the forehead when some- one else “steals” our great idea. I often think of it as “ideacide.”

Whether it’s because we’re too critical or because we recoil at the impending pain of change and disruption of normalcy, Self-Censoring arises out of fear. That fear shrinks us, mentally.

It’s the deadliest of the fatal thinking flaws, because any voluntary shutdown of the imagination is an act of mindlessness, the long-term effects of which eventually kill off our natural curiosity and creativity.

The fix for that mindlessness is the opposite, which is mindfulness. But a word of caution: do not do what many companies are doing right now, which is equating and confusing mindfulness with Eastern-style meditation. Meditation seeks to suspend thinking. Mindfulness as I am using it is the Western approach involving active thinking, centered on achieving a higher order of attention, considering different perspectives, and noticing moment-to-moment changes around you.

I’m horrible at meditation. But I have learned to be more mindful.

Talk a little about the concept of “Downgrading” and how that particularly is detrimental for business owners.

Downgrading is my term for when we formally revise our stated ambition in a distinctly downward or backward direction, committing what amounts to preemptive surrender, which in a kind of perverse way enables us to do what we really want to do, which is declare and announce victory. No one likes to lose; we all love to win. But by definition, there’s only one true winner. So in order to feel like a winner, we will back off the original goal and tell ourselves a happy but fictional story of triumph. Politicians are masters of it. And unfortunately, it happens all the time in business, and it can result in wholesale disengagement, which is detrimental to any effort.

Here’s the thing: You can’t reach Mars by settling for the moon.

Downgrading comes naturally and too easily. We unconsciously sell short our capability. We often and automatically impose limits on ourselves that can unnecessarily hold us back, rather than propel us forward. The fact is that you can’t possibly know your true limits until you put your capacity on trial.

Immunity from Downgrading is founded in good old “grit,” as my fellow Wharton author Angela Duckworth terms it.

You tell a story about a training session where you gave the correct answers to an exercise to junior team members whose input was ultimately dismissed by people senior to them at every single table. What can business people learn from this and “Not Invented Here” syndrome in general?

I fully admit to playing a dirty trick on some very senior managers in my earlier days of consulting. At an offsite retreat, I sat the most junior or lowest-level person at a table of those more senior and higher-ranking managers, and gave each “ringer” the answers to a group prioritization exercise, along with the job of convincing the table they knew the solution. Not a single group presented the correct solution, even though it was present in the group.

I did it to make the point that some great ideas and suggestions were being rejected out of hand at the supervisor level, simply because the source of those ideas happened to be lower level employees. It was internal “Not Invented Here” syndrome, meaning “if it’s not my idea, it’s not a good one.”

Not Invented Here is actually a hard-wired brain response to the enormous mental energy required to process and absorb the ideas of others. Our brains are lazy and don’t want to work that hard, so the easiest and most effortless thing to do is simply reject those ideas. The result is that we close ourselves off from potentially great ideas and opportunities, and often end up trying to reinvent a wheel someone else already has.

That mindset leads to a tremendous waste of resources and poor ROI – return on innovation. Procter & Gamble’s A.G. Lafley, recognizing that such a syndrome and resulting poor payoff was hurting the business, mandated that fully 50% of all innovation must come from the outside. He called P&G’s outside-in innovation program “Connect and Develop,” and it resulted in an ROI far greater than the former inside-out only approach.

What’s the one last piece of advice you would give us about being more effective in our creative problem solving endeavors?

Understand that what appears to be the problem, usually isn’t; what appears to be the solution, then, isn’t; and what appears to be impossible, never is.

Your brain will guide you into comfortable ruts unless you inject a bit of mindful thinking, and rethinking, into your creative process. Always look at things from several perspectives, and take the advice of Harvard’s Ellen Langer (Mindfulness) who gave me a profound bit of wisdom, which I’ll pass on to you: as soon as you realize your issue or problem looks different from a different perspective, take that perspective.

See keynotes with Matthew E. May
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Keynote topics with Matthew E. May