Kao, John J. 1950- (John Kao)

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Kao, John J. 1950- (John Kao)


Born December 14, 1950, in Chicago, IL; married. Education: Yale University, A.B., M.D.; Harvard University, M.B.A.


Office—Kao & Company, LLC, 39 Mesa St., Ste. 200, The Presidio, San Francisco, CA 94129.


Entrepreneur, consultant, writer, film producer, and theatre producer. Harvard Business School, Cambridge, MA, senior lecturer and associate professor, 1982-96; The Idea Factory, founder and CEO, 1997-2001; Kao & Company, LLC, consulting firm, founder and CEO, San Francisco, CA. Also founder of other companies in life sciences, digital media, and innovation services, including Genzyme Tissue Repair, involved with advanced tissue engineering techniques, and K.O. Technology, a next-generation cancer diagnostics and therapeutics company. Also visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, Cambridge, 1996, and distinguished visiting professor of innovation at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA. Producer of the film sex, lies & videotape and the play Golden Child; as a teenager one summer played keyboards for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Work-related activities include member of the Transformation Advisory Group of the Department of Defense.


Royal Society of Art (fellow).


(Compiler, with Frederick F. Kao) Acupuncture Therapeutics: An Introductory Text, Eastern Press (Garden City, NY), 1973.

(Editor, with Frederick F. Kao) Chinese Medicine—New Medicine, Institute for Advanced Research in Asian Science and Medicine/N. Watson Academic Publications (New York, NY), 1977.

(Editor, with Frederick Kao) Recent Advances in Acupuncture Research, Institute for Advanced Research in Asian Science and Medicine (Garden City, NY), 1979.

Three Millennia of Chinese Psychiatry, Institute for Advanced Research in Asian Science and Medicine (New York, NY), 1979.

(Editor, with Howard H. Stevenson) Entrepreneurship, What It Is and How to Teach It: A Collection of Working Papers Based on a Colloquium Held at Harvard Business School, July 5-8, 1983, The School (Cambridge, MA), 1985.

Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Organization: Text, Cases & Readings, Prentice Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1989.

The Entrepreneur, Prentice Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1991.

The Entrepreneurial Organization, Prentice Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1991.

Managing Creativity, Prentice Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1991.

The New Business of Design: The Forty-fifth International Design Conference in Aspen, Allworth Press (New York, NY), 1996.

Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, HarperBusiness (New York, NY), 1996.

(Editor, with Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Fred Wiersema) Innovation: Breakthrough Ideas at 3M, DuPont, GE, Pfizer, and Rubbermaid, HarperBusiness (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor, with Edith L. Kao) Frederick F. Kao, A Life between Two Worlds: A Memoir, J.J. Kao, 2001.

Innovation Nation: How America Is Losing Its Innovation Edge, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do to Get It Back, Free Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to the Huffington Post Web site.


John J. Kao is a modern Renaissance man who, when he was still a teenager, played keyboard one summer with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and then went on to earn a medical degree and a master's in business administration. He has produced films and plays, started several high-tech companies, taught at Harvard Business School, and become an international consultant in business. Kao has been called "Mr. Creativity" and has written numerous books on topics ranging from acupuncture and Chinese medicine with Frederick Kao to books on business, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

In his 1996 book Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, Kao "offers succinct advice cleverly packaged," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. Kao borrows from his background as a jazz musician to discuss creativity in the business world. According to the author, creativity is an essential part of business and success. In his book, he describes how business people and entrepreneurs can lead their companies to new levels of growth by fostering a creative environment for the emergence of new methods, ideas, and products. The author compares creativity to jazz musicians jamming, in which one musician follows and then takes off from something that another musician may be playing, creating a new "riff" in the process. "Jamming is all about creativity, one of those soft, spongy, imprecise qualities that every business needs but that few managers know how to discern, define, handle, or reward," wrote Ronald Henkoff in Fortune.

In Jamming, Kao also discusses how creativity has its own vocabulary and grammar and describes it as a process that can be observed, analyzed, replicated, taught, and managed. Keeping with the jazz metaphor, the author explains how businesspeople can take an idea, challenge one another's imaginations, and ultimately produce a new set of possibilities. He discusses how managers can stimulate creativity in the workplace and also explores the impact of information technology on creativity. "One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the way in which Kao explains the role of technology as a catalyst for and multiplier of creativity," noted Chuck Frey in a review on the Innovation Tools Web site. "Electronic tools for sharing information—including e-mail, intranets and knowledge management systems—dramatically enhance people's ability to represent, organize and apply knowledge and ideas…. " Kao also writes about ensuring loyalty in creative employees who design, build, and deliver products and services.

"It's a manager's toolkit, forcing the questions that measure you and your company's willingness to promote creativity," wrote Michael Pellecchia of Jamming on the BookPage Web site. Allison Lucas, writing in Sales & Marketing Management, noted: "Drawing on approaches that jazz musicians use in jamming sessions, Kao clearly and concisely shows managers how to engage their employees' minds, stimulate imaginations, organize processes, and foster worker loyalty."

Kao is the editor, with Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Fred Wiersema, of Innovation: Breakthrough Ideas at 3M, DuPont, GE, Pfizer, and Rubbermaid. In their book, the editors via company accounts present five case studies of visionary firms and how they have applied innovative ideas to their business practices to become successful. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "what comes through in each of the five case studies is a commitment to take chances in order to remain market leaders." Among the innovations these companies have made, as outlined by the case studies, are flattening their corporate hierarchies and opening communications throughout their companies. They have also encouraged innovative thinking. Writing in Computerworld, Robert L. Scheier noted that the book's theme is that "coming up with good new ideas is easy. Doing something useful with them is the hard part." Report on Business magazine contributor Shelley Cathers wrote that "this savvy collection of company accounts does illustrate that innovation requires continuous appraisal and steady, sometimes costly, nurturing and support."

Kao's 2007 book Innovation Nation: How America Is Losing Its Innovation Edge, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do to Get It Back examines how the United States has been losing its competitive edge in innovation, resulting in a loss of standing in economic leadership. Kao also writes that, as a result, the country's future prosperity and national security are at serious risk. Focusing on competitiveness in innovation as a primary factor in the potential decline of the United States, the author presents a look at places where innovation is thriving, such as Singapore, Denmark, and Finland. Kao also points out that students in the United States rank twenty-fourth in the world in math literacy and twenty-sixth in problem-solving ability. Furthermore, the author writes, the ongoing influx of highly schooled and highly trained people from around the world who once came to the United States to work and create has stopped. He points out that the country is suffering a reverse brain drain as thousands of highly trained professionals are leaving the United States to return to their native countries, especially China and India.

Despite the problems, Kao writes that the United States can still turn the trend around. Based on his experience in advising leading companies around the world on how to be more innovative, the author notes that the United States not only has the capability to regain a competitive edge but also to step to the forefront of the global community and develop a new leadership role. However, he warns that serious and concerted action is needed. Kao goes on to present his plan for a national innovation strategy that can rejuvenate the process of innovation in the United States. The plan focuses on building twenty innovation hubs throughout the United States at a cost of twenty billion dollars.

Noting that Kao is "is clearly passionate about his premise," a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "the book does its job" in presenting the dangers facing the United States and providing a potential way to avoid them. Bruce Nussbaum wrote in Business Week that Innovation Nation is "a scary, insightful, and ultimately very useful book."



Booklist, June 1, 1996, David Rouse, review of Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, p. 1654.

Business Week, October 22, 2007, Bruce Nussbaum, "America's Fleeting Edge in Innovation; Talent and Capital Have Gone Borderless. Can the U.S. Regain Its Leadership in Creative Thinking?," p. 122.

Business Wire, October 15, 2007, "John Kao, Leading Expert on Innovation Management, Slated to Keynote Chicagoland Innovation Summit October 25."

Chemical & Engineering News, April 6, 1998, Susan Ainsworth, review of Innovation: Breakthrough Ideas at 3M, DuPont, GE, Pfizer, and Rubbermaid, p. 69.

Computerworld, August 25, 1997, Robert L. Scheier, review of Innovation, p. 82.

Entrepreneur, July, 1996, Debra Phillips, review of Jamming, p. 238.

Forbes, May 1, 2000, Ann Marsh, "Zen and the Art of Incubation," p. 102.

Fortune, September 9, 1996, Ronald Henkoff, review of Jamming, p. 183.

Harvard Business Review, November, 2007, John T. Landry, review of Innovation Nation: How America Is Losing Its Innovation Edge, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do to Get It Back, p. 36.

Inc., July, 1998, review of Innovation, p. 119.

Journal of Product Innovation Management, September, 1997, Kumar S. Nochur, review of Jamming, p. 417.

Library Journal, July, 1996, Kathy Shimpock-Vieweg, review of Jamming, p. 128.

Modern Casting, March, 2008, Shannon Wetzel, "Innovation as a Battle Cry," p. 47.

Publishers Weekly, April 22, 1996, review of Jamming, p. 53; June 2, 1997, review of Innovation, p. 62; August 27, 2007, review of Innovation Nation, p. 73.

Report on Business, August, 1997, Shelley Cathers, review of Innovation, pp. 18-19.

Sales & Marketing Management, August, 1996, Allison Lucas, review of Jamming, p. 98.

Transpacific, March, 1997, Laura Silverman, "Jamming Man," p. 60.

Wall Street Journal, July 10, 1997, Stanley W. Angrist, review of Innovation, p. A13E.


BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (May 3, 2008), Michael Pellecchia, review of Jamming.

Global Business Network Web site,http://www.gbn.com/ (May 3, 2008), biography of author.

Innovation Nation Web site,http://www.innovationation.org/ (May 3, 2008), biography of author.

Innovation Tools,http://www.innovationtools.com (September 13, 2002), Chuck Fey, "‘Jamming’ Teaches Managers How to Embrace and Drive Innovation."

Kao & Company Web site,http://www.johnkao.com (May 3, 2008).

Strategy + Business,http://www.strategy-business.com/ (May 3, 2008), Joel Kurtzman, "An Interview with John Kao."

Wizards of Oz,http://oz.deichman.net/ (may 3, 2008), Shane Deichman, "Coffee with Kao," interview with author and review of Innovation Nation.