Simply Better

Strategy Facilitation

I guide teams through the Roger Martin play-to-win cascade of strategic choices.

Innovation Coaching

I work closely with creative teams to turn design thinking into elegant innovations.

Lean Training

I teach the authentic Toyota lean thinking principles of continuous innovation.

sessions

Strategy

Strategy

What is strategy? The best definition on the planet is the one given by mentor Roger Martin: strategy is an integrated cascade of five critical choices, at the heart of which are two key questions: Where will we play? and How will we win?

Strategy sessions produce the answers.

Ideation

Ideation

Winning ideas are rare. Asking people to "be creative" won't produce them. Neither will unfocused brainstorming. You need a sound method designed to let people see things in new ways, and break free from old thinking patterns.

Design thinking ideation does just that.

Experimentation

Experimentation

Even the best idea is just a guess, an hypothesis, to be quickly prototyped and tested through simple, frugal experiments that yield proof of concept and foster an ethos of lab-like curiosity.

Rapid experimentation sessions turn creativity into creation.

Lean

Lean

Lean is a method for banishing waste and radically simplifying your most valuable systems and processes. Built on tenets of the Toyota Production System, lean demands continuous innovation.

Lean sessions deliver an authentic Toyota experience.

me

I counsel executives and teams on matters of strategy, innovation, and lean. I do that through facilitation, coaching, and training. I’ve been doing it for 30 years, nearly a third of which were spent as a full-time advisor to Toyota, an experience which culminated in my first book. I now have four, and I’m working on my fifth. Meantime, I write articles and speak regularly to audiences interested in simplifying their businesses. Winning the The New Yorker cartoon caption contest, though, is perhaps my most creative achievement.

Matthew E. May

Matthew E. May

Longer Story

I was the only member of the Wharton Graduate School of Business’ graduating class of 1985 to decline lucrative investment banking, management consulting, and corporate strategy job offers in favor of starting my own educational consulting company.

Crazy, right?!

As a solopreneur, I worked for the next thirteen years, first in New York City and then Los Angeles, for companies looking to build effective performance improvement programs and initiatives: companies like Lehman Brothers, Pfizer, J.D. Power & Associates, Sandy Corporation, Maritz Performance Improvement, Nissan Motor Corporation, Infiniti, Harley Davidson, Mitsubishi, and Hyundai Motor America.

Then in 1998…

…I met Toyota. Specifically, the University of Toyota, one of Toyota’s seven “New Era” strategies designed to accommodate the unprecedented global growth the company was experiencing, charged with keeping sacrosanct the principles, tenets, and practices of “the Toyota way.” From an initial project involving the design and facilitation of the new organization’s first strategic offsite, my involvement grew to a full-time engagement, a journey of over eight years, during which I gained mastery of kaizen (continuous innovation) and kaikaku (radical change). During my last two years with Toyota, I led the University of Toyota’s external Lean Thinking program, which taught other organizations Toyota’s winning ways, and caught the eye of The Wall Street Journal.

My partnership lasted until 2006, when I decided to take the show on the road. I took what I had learned from my Toyota experience and published my first book, The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation. Thanks to Simon & Schuster, it was a 2006 Wall Street Journal bestseller and the recipient of the Shingo Prize for Excellence.

Cool beans!

At the heart of my worldview is the concept of elegance, which I think of as a 3-word mantra: less is best. Elegance is the special breed of simplicity that Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. referred to when he wrote, “I would not give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side complexity.” It’s the ability to achieve the maximum effect through minimum means.

And it ain’t easy.

It took me a while to “get it,” and I almost gave up. I wrote about the turning point in the Preoccupations column of the Sunday edition of The New York Times in an article entitled The Art of Adding By Taking Away

I’m still chasing elegance.

Thank you, Toyota, for rewiring my brain.

Education

I hold an MBA in Organizational Design and Marketing from The Wharton School (1985) and a BA from Johns Hopkins University (1981). I received my training in design thinking from The Stanford d school (2010).

Writing

I’ve published four books:

THE ELEGANT SOLUTION: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation (Free Press, ©2006). Wall Street Journal bestseller. Winner, Shingo Prize for Research.

IN PURSUIT OF ELEGANCE: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing (Crown Business  ©2009, 2010). Named to 2009 BusinessWeek Best Books in Design and Innovation list.

THE SHIBUMI STRATEGY: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change (Jossey-Bass,  ©2011). Gold medal winner, Axiom Award for Best Business Fable.

THE LAWS OF SUBTRACTION: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything (McGraw-Hill, ©2013). 800CEORead bestseller.

I’m a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review blogs, Fast Company Design, ChangeThis.com, Strategy+Business, AMEX OPEN Forum, and University of Toronto’s The Rotman Magazine.

There are dozens of other contributions out there, and you can view my writing portfolio on the very cool site CONTENTLY.

Speaking

SpeakerMedley

I don’t fancy myself a “motivational speaker” or “business guru,” but rather a practitioner of business strategy, innovation, and lean thinking 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.

I try to blend my frontline experience as a creative catalyst and innovation strategist with case studies and stories I’ve researched and written about in books and articles, in order to deliver useful concepts with immediate application.

I aim to achieve four things in every address:

  1. 1. inspire new thinking
  2. 2. share a unique perspective
  3. 3. tell compelling stories
  4. 4. deliver practical takeaways

 

I am exclusively represented by Katrina Smith, President of Keynote Speakers, Inc., headquartered in San Francisco.

Media

In addition to my editorial contributions, my work has been featured or mentioned in Harvard Business Review, The Globe & MailThe New Yorker, Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, LDRLB, Fortune, USA Today, 99U, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, The Dallas News, Time, Forbes, INC magazine, Fast Company, Wharton Leadership Digest, CIO Insight, American Enterprise Institute, The Miami Herald, and The Los Angeles Times.

I have appeared on numerous radio shows, television, and online shows, including MSNBC, NPR, CNBC, and ESPN.

New Yorker Contest

NewYorkerCartoon

March 2008

books

Speaking

Crafting a Winning Strategy

Crafting a Winning Strategy

This keynote draws on my close study of strategy under the mentorship of Roger Martin, as well as my daily facilitation work. I deliver three key insights, a clear framework for making strategic choices, and a process for developing strategy that is simple, fun, and effective.

The Laws of Subtraction

The Laws of Subtraction

This keynote draws upon my book The Laws of Subtraction. I outline six simple rules for standing out and staying relevant, built on a single yet powerful idea: When you remove just the right things in just the right way, something good happens.

Mind of the Innovator

Mind of the Innovator

In this provocative and interactive session based on a chapter from my book In Pursuit of Elegance, I reveal the obstacles to innovative thinking, then illustrate how to neutralize them with the powerful creative method used by the world's best innovators.

The Zen of Innovation

The Zen of Innovation

This talk draws from my success in applying wisdom gleaned from nearly a decade of working with Toyota, as found in my books The Elegant Solution and The Shibumi Strategy. I offer the ten key practices critical for fostering a culture of continuous innovation.

milestones

Winning Strategies
Elegant Innovations
Lean Improvements

"I would not give a fig for simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity."

OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES JR.

reviews

Posts

Why Beauty, Elegance, and Design Matter

If you want to change the world, you have to ask audacious, world-changing questions, then set your sights on answering them. Questions like, “How do we dignify disease?” and “Can death be designed?” and “How can we connect young people to the Jewish faith?”

These are the kinds of questions IDEO Chief Creative Officer Paul Bennett tees up in one of the more inspiring talks I’ve seen on the true power of design thinking, given at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management at month ago today. (Shout out to Avi Steinlauf, Edmunds.com CEO and Kellogg alum, for sharing!)

Bennett’s 2015 New Year’s Resolution was to “speak from the heart,” and in his address he tells five stories that he had never told before in a public forum, covering love, beauty, religion, death, and space. The topics aren’t typical fodder for industrial designers. But they go to the core of our human experience, and, really, our humanity.

“Design isn’t making things pretty,” Bennett concludes. “It’s about creating change.”

We are all designers, he implies, because we are all imbued with that power.

You can view the entire one-hour talk here. Here’s a quick teaser, perhaps my favorite clip:

Keys To Creativity

Over at Harvard Business Review blogs, a couple of author acquaintances, David Burkus and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, have blogged on the topic of creativity. David Burkus, whose book The Myths of Creativity I enjoyed and interviewed him on, surprisingly ballyhooes Adobe’s “Kickbox” program. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, whose book Confidence I enjoyed and interviewed him on, surprisingly goes down a “do more” path.

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Practicing What I Preach

After a good bit of simplification and streamlining, achieved through subtraction, I’m finally (mostly) happy with my site redesign.

Given that I started the year with a post dubbing 2015 the year of the question, I began my effort with one: how can I deliver the essence of what, how, and for whom I do what I do in the simplest digital way possible?

I came up with a quick, back-of-the-napkin design brief:

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The Art of Social Media: Interview with Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki needs no introduction. He’s the original Apple evangelist, turned ultimate evangelist. From the art of startup to artisanal self-publishing, Guy takes his current endeavor to a level of artistry.

Ten years ago, anything resembling what we now know as social media was a blip on the typical web surfer’s radar screen. Now everyone is a social media user. But not a “power user.”

And that’s where Guy comes in. He is. A power user, that is. I’ve watched his follower base grow 10X in the course of less than two years. He has millions of fans and followers across the full spectrum of social media.

So it should come as no surprise that he’s penned (yet another) bestseller on the topic, this time with coauthor Peg Fitzpatrick: The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users.

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2015: The Year of the Question

[Note: This is a replacement post for one lost during a data migration snafu.]

As I contemplate the year ahead and the changes I’d like to bring about, I hereby by dub 2015 the “Year of the Question.” If I know anything after a half century on this planet, it’s that we all live our lives in constant and continuous pursuit of answers to questions that occupy our minds – forever learning, forever in search of knowledge at many levels. And while we are generally successful in answering the questions we ask, we often either don’t ask the right questions, or don’t give the right questions much thought.

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