Winning the Brain Game Matthew E. May

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mindful thinking is the new competitive edge

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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 basically means I get paid to help people “think different.” 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 written five books, the latest being Winning the Brain Game. I hold an MBA in Organizational Design from The Wharton School (1985) and a BA in Social & Behavioral Science from Johns Hopkins University (1981). I received my training in Design Thinking from the Stanford d school (2010). Winning the New Yorker cartoon caption contest, though, is my fondest achievement.

Matthew E. May

Matthew E. May



I’ve published five books:

WINNING THE BRAIN GAME: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking (McGraw Hill, ©2016).

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

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

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



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 have a singular yet simple purpose: to inspire and accelerate growth through innovation in organizations all over the world. I counsel senior executives and help their teams develop fresh strategies and creative approaches to their most pressing competitive business challenges, in three main ways:


My advisory approach synthesizes various thinking methods to develop winning strategies for growth and innovation. I bring three decades of advisory experience to the table, along with the deep research into winning practices contained in my books, articles, and workshops. The goal of an advisory engagement is simple: explore innovative possibilities and develop elegant strategies that address a specific set of challenges, move the business forward, and increase the odds of company success.

The key deliverables of an advisory engagement include: 1. a creative roadmap containing both alternative strategies and guidance on implementation; 2. an internal team capable, inspired and equipped to field-test the new strategies and approaches generated; and 3. a strong foundation for the company to conduct similar strategic endeavors on its own when faced with new challenges in the future.


I work closely with senior managers, groups and teams as a session facilitator, strategic coach, and innovation catalyst. Armed with a robust repertoire of coaching and facilitation techniques from my experience as a master kaizen (continuous improvement) facilitator and executive coach, I work to bring the highest level of creative potential to light. The goal of a facilitation engagement is to pull out and harness the best thinking of the individual or team, and point it toward the challenge at hand by involving people in an effective process focused on producing actionable strategies and solutions.

The key deliverables of a facilitation engagement include: 1. a custom agenda designed to deliver a strategic conversation in a meaningful way; 2. a highly interactive session that avoids “the 5 D’s: dull, dated, derivative, dense, distracting; and 3. a strong directional pull based on the intellectual and emotional investment of participants, now eager to act on the possibilities they’ve produced.


I design custom training while also offering a number of popular executive briefings, seminars, workshops, and bootcamps on strategy, innovation, and lean. The goal of a training engagement is singular: expand capability through education. Based on my experience as an instructional designer for University of Toyota and adjunct professor for Pepperdine University’s Graziadio Graduate School of Management, my workshops revolve around my core philosophy of learning by doing.

The key deliverables of a training engagement include: 1. a baseline awareness level of a chosen skillset or method; 2. introductory preparation through advanced application (as appropriate) of a skillset or method; and 3. when requested, extensive preparation for internal trainers responsible for spreading, scaling, and embedding the adopted skills and methods in the company culture.

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


the art of elegance


the art of subtraction

popular sessions

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.

Rapid Prototyping

Rapid Prototyping

Even your best idea is just a guess – one that you must test – through simple, fast and frugal experiments that get things "roughly right" and produce valuable feedback.

Rapid "proto-testing" sessions featuring lean learning loops yield quick proof of concept.

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.

The Elegant Solution

The Elegant Solution

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