provocative. practical. proven.

helping you win


I guide teams through Roger Martin's playing-to-win strategic framework.


Download a 1-page brochure on strategy services, engagement details, and pricing information.


I work with teams to transform design thinking ideas into elegant solutions.


Download a 1-page brochure on innovation coaching services, engagement details, and pricing information.


I educate leaders on the Toyota lean thinking tenets of continuous innovation.


Download a 1-page brochure on lean training services, engagement details, and pricing information.




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.



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.



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 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.





The Heart of Strategy

The Heart of 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.

The 7 Fatal Thinking Flaws

The 7 Fatal Thinking Flaws

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.



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.


I coach companies on matters of strategy, innovation, and lean. I’ve been at it for over 25 years, nearly a third of which were spent as a fully-retained creative 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 and speak widely to audiences interested in rethinking their businesses.

Winning The New Yorker cartoon caption contest 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


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

New Yorker Contest


March 2008

"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."


From My Blog

Weekly Super-Curated Roundup, Vol. 1

The big news this week was obviously the Volkswagen debacle. Everyone’s weighing in, but Jeffrey Liker has a nice perspective (see below). And there’s been a flurry of activity in management literature circles, focused on debunking Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation. One of the better pieces is unfortunately behind a pay wall. (The Undoing of Disruption, by Evan Goldstein in The Chronicle of Higher Education.)

My friend Dan Markovitz’s new book came out this week: Building the Fit Organization: Six Core Principles for Making Your Company Stronger, Faster, and More Competitive. He’s got a great post on HBR (see below) and I’ll be interviewing him here as soon as I’ve finished the book.

Here’s this week’s super-curated list of share-worthy reads:

Assessing the Sins of Volkswagen, Toyota, and General Motors, by Jeffrey Liker on Harvard Business Review blogs.

How Visual Systems Make It Easier to Track Knowledge Work, by Dan Markovitz on Harvard Business Review blogs.

How Useful is the Theory of Disruptive Innovation? by Andrew King for MIT Sloan Management Review.

How a Concentration Camp Survivor and an American Huckster Created the Magic Crystals of Miracle-Gro, by Cara Giaimo on Atlas Obscura.

This next one is a really well-written and edited piece by Bono on Medium. I just wonder who actually did the heavy lifting:

Solar Fields, Sexist Poverty and a Modern Marshall Plan.

Finally, in researching the art of framing problems, I was reviewing the great work of my friend and Stanford creativity prof Tina Seelig, and ran across this old but nonetheless amazing video:

The Limits of Our Known Universe, Big to Small

Back Into Writing Mode

Yes, I’ve been quiet lately. And I will continue to be so for the next few months as I pour the lion’s share of my writing energy into finishing a new book on deadline.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to share through social media (Twitter, FB, LI, G+) the most compelling items I’ve read each day, and probably do a super-curated weekly roundup, and if time permits, a bit of commentary.

This week’s reads include:

Read More

I Want Your Flaws

I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it. We continue to do it, time and time again. What’s the “it?” Made a mental mistake. Experienced a glitch in our thinking. And re-experienced it another context or situation.

Maybe you’ve leapt to an obvious solution only to find out that not only did it not work, it made things worse. Perhaps you’ve been so sure you were right, so brainlocked on a solution or strategy that you couldn’t see any possible alternative…until someone or something took the opposite approach and made your thinking obsolete.

Or maybe you’ve even thought so much about a problem that your overthinking actually created problems that weren’t even there in first place. Or you’ve short-cut your way into trouble…glommed on to a quick-fix that put you in a bad way.

Or maybe you’ve had a great idea, but killed it because the more you thought about it, the sillier it became…until someone else implemented it and changed the world, leaving you with nothing other than a slap to the forehead, or worse.

I am fascinated by the workings of the brain, especially when those machinations are at cross purposes with our intents and aspirations. Call them mental glitches, misthinks, brain farts…they are flaws, and often fatal when it comes to an idea, solution, or strategy.

Read More


[honeypot matt-trap]