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Think. Rethink. Outthink.

mindful thinking is the new competitive edge

Winning the Brain Game arrives in:

2016/05/27 10:32:29

advance praise

advance praise

in the media

the brain game

10 years of giving over 100K professionals a thought challenge reveals
7 consistent flaws our brain makes, fixed by using mindful thinking tools


Jumping to solutions before properly framing the problem.

FIX: Framestorming


Deeply grooved mindsets that make it hard to think different.

FIX: Inversion


Creating problems that weren’t there to begin with.

FIX: Prototesting


Glomming on to clearly mediocre solutions.

FIX: Synthesizing


Backing off a goal simply to declare victory.

FIX: Jumpstarting


Dismissing others’ ideas and reinventing the wheel.

FIX: Proudly-Found-Elsewhere


Killing our own ideas before they’re born to avoid rejection.

FIX: Self-Distancing


Raise Your Team's Creative Thinking Game!

matthew e. may

Call me Matt. I’m an innovation strategist, which means I help others hone their competitive edge by rethinking their business, no matter what field they’re in. I spent 8 years as a fully-retained creative advisor to Toyota, an experience which enabled me to write a book about their innovative methods and launch a speaking career. I’ve now written five books, the fifth being Winning the Brain Game. Winning the New Yorker cartoon caption contest, though, is my favorite 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.



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 & Media


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,, 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.


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.



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

New Yorker Contest


March 2008

"What appears to be the problem, isn't.
What appears to be the solution, isn't.
What appears to be impossible, isn't."



the art of winning


download a one-page brochure on STRATEGIC THINKING


the art of elegance


download a one-page brochure on DESIGN THINKING


the art of subtraction


download a one-page brochure on LEAN THINKING


Strategy Summits

Strategy Summits

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 summits produce the answers.

Design Sprints

Design Sprints

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 sprints do just that.

Lean Prototyping

Lean Prototyping

Even the best idea is just a guess, an hypothesis, to be quickly tested through simple, fast and frugal experiments that get things "roughly right" and offer rapid proof of concept.

Lean prototyping sessions turn creativity into creation.

Kaizen Challenges

Kaizen Challenges

The vaunted Toyota Production System is built on kaizen, the Japanese concept of continuous innovation, a discipline focused on delivering greater value through waste reduction.

Kaizen challenges foster relentless improvement.



Winning The Brain Game

Winning The Brain Game

This provocative and highly interactive session is based my latest book Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking.

Participants will engage in the same simple thought challenges given to over 100,000 people during a 10-year period, revealing the most prevalent and deadly mental glitches that can stall or stop our best thinking.

The Power of Subtraction

The Power of Subtraction

This keynote draws upon my book The Laws of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything.

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.

Designing Elegant Solutions

Designing Elegant Solutions

This popular speech is based on my two first books , The Elegant Solution: Toyota's Formula for Mastering Innovation, and In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.

Based on my partnership with Toyota, I deliver the key elements to creating and developing ideas and solutions that achieve the maximum effect with the minimum means, and foster a companywide culture of continuous innovation.





Play-to-Win Strategy Canvas

Guides the thinking required to generate an integrated set of strategic choices aimed at answering strategy’s two central questions: where to play, and how to win. Includes critical assumptions and strategic test design.


Lean Learning Loops Canvas

Guides the thinking required to conduct iterative prototyping and rapid-cycle innovation through simple, fast, and frugal experiments. Features a three-step method for driving concept testing and idea development.

From My Blog