Hal Gregersen

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Global Authority on Working with Leaders to Build Innovative Companies; Executive Director, MIT Leadership Center; Co-Author, “The Innovator’s DNA”; Author, “Questions Are the Answer” (Harper Collins, November 2018)

Biography

In an era of continual, rapid change brought on by new technology and business model shifts, organizations struggle to remain (or become) adaptive and dynamic. Hal Gregersen, a renowned expert on leadership, innovation and culture, has dedicated his extensive career to helping companies stay ahead in an accelerating world. What he’s found is that successful companies are those with a relentless focus not on applying pre-existing answers to problems that have no precedent, but on discovery, asking, and answering new questions. In his thought-provoking, interactive keynotes and workshops, Gregersen teaches audiences how they can implement this culture of inquiry within their own organizations and transform themselves into innovative powerhouses.

A senior lecturer in leadership and innovation at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and former executive director of the MIT Leadership Center, Gregersen created a repeatable three-step methodology, the Question Burst, by which companies can build better problem solvers and enhance creative impact at all levels, from senior executives and managers to entry-level employees. The crux of Gregersen’s argument, spelled out in his Nautilus award-winning book for business and leadership “Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life” (Harper Collins, November 2018), is that while people are programmed to look for answers, the real catalyst for innovative, disruptive change is questioning. Existing answers often remain anchored to yesterday’s problems; questions open up new avenues for action that anticipate radical changes in technology, markets and the wider society. The most sustainably innovative companies – including new industry-creators like Amazon – are those that facilitate candor in every interaction and embrace unconventional thinking. In “Questions Are the Answer” (based on 200+ interviews with catalytic questioners like Elon Musk and Orit Gadiesh), Gregersen offers vivid examples such as Debbie Sterling, the founder of GoldieBlox who pioneered making construction-themes girls’ toys after asking the question, “Why are all the great building toys made for boys?”

Though world-changing questions may seem impromptu, Gregersen argues that senior leaders can deliberately overhaul and transform company cultures to habitually seek (and produce) pioneering breakthroughs – especially in our digital age when survival depends on the ability to change. His Question Burst method, along with three more habits of productive inquiry, have helped redesign company cultures around constructive questioning at Chanel, Danone, Disney·Pixar, Ernst & Young, Fidelity, Genentech, Patagonia, Salesforce, and Zappos, among others.

Gregersen co-authored, with Clay Christensen and Jeff Dyer, “The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011), a guide to cultivating the discovery skills that CEOs and entrepreneurs rely on to build and guide the most innovative companies in the world, is still highly relevant almost a decade later. Having personally interviewed 100+ ground-breaking leaders, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, Gregersen draws on rigorous research and analysis to successfully advise the world’s largest corporations on innovation, transformation and key leadership challenges.

Ranked as one of the world’s 25 most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50 and winner of the 2017 Distinguished Achievement Award for leadership, Gregersen regularly delivers inspirational keynote speeches, interactive and dynamic customized workshops, motivational executive seminars and transformational coaching experiences. Along with 10 books, Gregersen is the author of more than 50 articles, book chapters, and cases on leading innovation and change (with more than 10,000 citations by other scholars). His research has been highlighted in global media such as BBC, CNN, The Economist, Fast Company, Financial Times, Forbes, Fortune, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2020, Gregersen was named a Top 30 Global Guru.

Gregersen’s tenure at MIT is the culmination of an illustrious academic journey that has included teaching posts at INSEAD, London Business School, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Brigham Young University and a Fulbright Fellowship in Finland. Prior to his academic career, Gregersen was an advisory board member at Pharmascience, a Montreal-based pharmaceutical company, and he remains a senior fellow at the global innovation consulting firm Innosight.

Hal Gregersen is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Videos

Media

Hal Gregersen's Forbes Column

Stay or Go? Dear HBR: Answers Your Questions With the Help of MIT Senior Lecturer Hal Gregersen

March 19, 2020

Where Questions are the Answer - Building Companies that Disrupt Themselves

September 10, 2019

You Should be Setting Fewer Goals - and Doing This Instead

June 11, 2019

Questions Are The Answer (Audio)

May 22, 2019

3 Ways Executives Can Manage Challenging Moments in their Careers

May 17, 2019

Wall Street Journal logo

To Be a Better Leader, Ask Better Questions

May 9, 2019

How Departing Leaders Can Pass Along Their Wisdom to Employees

April 17, 2019

Why It's Good For You to be Wrong

January 21, 2019

Ed Catmull on How He Helped Foster Creative Collaboration at Disney and Pixar

November 13, 2018

How These Leading CEOs Use Questions to Drive Success

November 8, 2018

How to Unlock the Power of Innovative Inquiry

October 4, 2018

Your Tech Strategy May Be Asking The Wrong Questions About AI

August 29, 2018

Digital Transformation Opens News Questions - and New Problems to Solve

August 28, 2018

How to Be the World's Most Innovative Leader

May 31, 2018

How We Rank The Most Innovative Companies 2018

May 29, 2018

The Power of Leaders Who Focus on Solving Problems

April 16, 2018

What Kind of Leadership Works Best at Your Company?

March 19, 2018

Questions (Not Answers) Are the Key To Innovation

February 21, 2018

Minds Worth Meeting

How Problem-Led Leadership is Changing the World With Hal Gregersen (Audio)

January 30, 2018

How Does Amazon Stay At Day One?

August 8, 2017

Bursting Out of the CEO Bubble

April 25, 2017

We Need to Ask How We Can Make Economic Growth More Inclusive

April 25, 2017

What Great Leaders Can Learn from Great Photographers

October 4, 2016

When Was the Last Time You Asked, Why Are We Doing It This Way?

April 1, 2016

Biography

In an era of continual, rapid change brought on by new technology and business model shifts, organizations struggle to remain (or become) adaptive and dynamic. Hal Gregersen, a renowned expert on leadership, innovation and culture, has dedicated his extensive career to helping companies stay ahead in an accelerating world. What he’s found is that successful companies are those with a relentless focus not on applying pre-existing answers to problems that have no precedent, but on discovery, asking, and answering new questions. In his thought-provoking, interactive keynotes and workshops, Gregersen teaches audiences how they can implement this culture of inquiry within their own organizations and transform themselves into innovative powerhouses.

A senior lecturer in leadership and innovation at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and former executive director of the MIT Leadership Center, Gregersen created a repeatable three-step methodology, the Question Burst, by which companies can build better problem solvers and enhance creative impact at all levels, from senior executives and managers to entry-level employees. The crux of Gregersen’s argument, spelled out in his Nautilus award-winning book for business and leadership “Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life” (Harper Collins, November 2018), is that while people are programmed to look for answers, the real catalyst for innovative, disruptive change is questioning. Existing answers often remain anchored to yesterday’s problems; questions open up new avenues for action that anticipate radical changes in technology, markets and the wider society. The most sustainably innovative companies – including new industry-creators like Amazon – are those that facilitate candor in every interaction and embrace unconventional thinking. In “Questions Are the Answer” (based on 200+ interviews with catalytic questioners like Elon Musk and Orit Gadiesh), Gregersen offers vivid examples such as Debbie Sterling, the founder of GoldieBlox who pioneered making construction-themes girls’ toys after asking the question, “Why are all the great building toys made for boys?”

Though world-changing questions may seem impromptu, Gregersen argues that senior leaders can deliberately overhaul and transform company cultures to habitually seek (and produce) pioneering breakthroughs – especially in our digital age when survival depends on the ability to change. His Question Burst method, along with three more habits of productive inquiry, have helped redesign company cultures around constructive questioning at Chanel, Danone, Disney·Pixar, Ernst & Young, Fidelity, Genentech, Patagonia, Salesforce, and Zappos, among others.

Gregersen co-authored, with Clay Christensen and Jeff Dyer, “The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011), a guide to cultivating the discovery skills that CEOs and entrepreneurs rely on to build and guide the most innovative companies in the world, is still highly relevant almost a decade later. Having personally interviewed 100+ ground-breaking leaders, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, Gregersen draws on rigorous research and analysis to successfully advise the world’s largest corporations on innovation, transformation and key leadership challenges.

Ranked as one of the world’s 25 most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50 and winner of the 2017 Distinguished Achievement Award for leadership, Gregersen regularly delivers inspirational keynote speeches, interactive and dynamic customized workshops, motivational executive seminars and transformational coaching experiences. Along with 10 books, Gregersen is the author of more than 50 articles, book chapters, and cases on leading innovation and change (with more than 10,000 citations by other scholars). His research has been highlighted in global media such as BBC, CNN, The Economist, Fast Company, Financial Times, Forbes, Fortune, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2020, Gregersen was named a Top 30 Global Guru.

Gregersen’s tenure at MIT is the culmination of an illustrious academic journey that has included teaching posts at INSEAD, London Business School, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, Brigham Young University and a Fulbright Fellowship in Finland. Prior to his academic career, Gregersen was an advisory board member at Pharmascience, a Montreal-based pharmaceutical company, and he remains a senior fellow at the global innovation consulting firm Innosight.

Hal Gregersen is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

All speech topics are also available as customized, interactive workshops.

Questions Are the Answer: Discovering the Power of Inquiry in the Innovation Process

When confronted with a problem, our typical response is to look for a pre-packaged solution. But in a world increasingly transformed by technology and riddled with uncertainty, we face problems that have no ready-made answer or past precedent. Employees may think their role is to have all the answers, but in fact, says Hal Gregersen, they should be asking questions – especially when operating on the edge of uncertainty. In this presentation based on his book, “Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life” (Harper Collins, November 2018), Gregersen outlines his Question Burst method, which is designed to transform companies into hotbeds of innovation by teaching leaders and employees to rediscover their powers of inquiry. Drawing upon his first-hand research on innovative companies and leaders at Amazon, Pixar, Tesla, Zymergen and more, Gregersen demonstrates how asking questions inevitably leads not only to solutions but to valuable new and transformative ideas.

Bursting the CEO Bubble: Asking Catalytic Questions – Before It’s Too Late

Powerful organizational and industrial forces can keep any senior leader from hearing (or asking) uncomfortable questions, and creating a “good news cocoon,” at his or her own peril. It’s what Hal Gregersen calls “The Leader’s Dilemma,” and it can be exceedingly dangerous in an era when dramatic market shifts can happen unexpectedly. In this session, Gregersen discusses how leaders and organizations can escape the innovator’s most dangerous blind spot, the space where “we don’t know what we don’t know.” Based on in-depth interviews with more than 200 of the world’s best question-asking leaders, including Charles Schwab’s Walt Bettinger, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Bain’s Orit Gadiesh, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Fidelity’s Abigail Johnson, and General Stanley McChrystal, he reveals five daily disciplines these leaders rely on to surface the right questions. Gregersen also helps audience members become better questioners in real time by sharing key questioning tools and helping them unlock solutions, innovations and processes.

Building a Sustainably Creative Company: Putting People, Processes & Philosophies to Work

Innovative leaders hold the power to create monumental impact throughout an organization by acting and thinking innovatively themselves. However, if leaders don’t empower others to do the same, the breadth of a company’s innovation capacity – and consequently, its growth potential – rises and falls with them alone. In this session, Hal Gregersen discusses how today’s most innovative leaders, including Disney·Pixar’s Ed Catmull, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Patagonia’s Rose Marcario, and Salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff, are relentless problem solvers who build a culture of innovation by decentralizing the source of ideas and instilling a creative problem-solving capacity from the bottom up – and why it’s the single most important legacy leaders can leave behind. As Benioff put it, “It’s my job to create a culture of innovation.”

The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators

Is an innovator born or made? This is the question Hal Gregersen, along with Clayton Christensen and Jeff Dyer, set out to answer for their bestselling book, “The Innovator’s DNA.” Drawing on his firsthand conversations with 100+ game-changing founders and CEOs – and research from more than 15,000 creative leaders around the world – Gregersen discusses five key skills that innovators leverage to solve challenging problems and discover new markets to fuel economic growth. Gregersen also focuses attendees’ energy on actively developing these skills through brief, high-energy learning activities so they leave thinking and acting differently in their professional work and personal lives.

Master Moderator: Creating Conference-wide Question-Centric Culture

Having interviewed more than 200 top leaders in his decades of research and writing, leadership and innovation expert Hal Gregersen expertly moderates panel discussions that create deeper participation in the material from everyone involved. Consider Gregersen as a moderator for the entire event: In his opening keynote, he’ll encourage a new way of thinking about the forthcoming sessions through the lens of questioning. During the event, he’ll serve as a catalyst for attendees to practice their questioning skills as they learn new material and engage in deeper conversations with other conference attendees. At the close of the event, Gregersen may facilitate a session that recaps how the questioning techniques served participants throughout the event. Not only will they have spent the entire conference practicing questioning techniques, but they’re equipped to immediately apply those methods to their work.

Media

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Books & Research

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Workshops

Outline Sample: Becoming a Sustainably Innovative Leader and Company

Developing Your Innovative Potential: An Interactive Workshop

Hal Gregersen’s half-, one-, and two-day interactive, tailored workshops are designed to help audiences apply lessons directly in driving innovation and growth within their organizations. A gifted teacher, Gregersen immerses audiences in the principles and practices which make for more successful enterprises. These sessions will equip you with the tools you need to enhance your organization at work, the very next day. The following is a sample of focus areas and industries Gregersen has worked directly with:

Focus Areas:

  • New markets/avenues of growth
  • Inquiry-driven leadership for individuals and teams
  • Becoming higher impact leaders
  • Job performance and productivity
  • Collaboration
  • Risk identification and mitigation

Industries:

  • Aerospace
  • Consumer packaged and luxury goods
  • Technology & engineering
  • Consulting & professional services
  • Finance
  • Automotive
  • Telecommunications & mobile
  • Communications & media
  • Higher education
  • Health care

Recommendations

Advance Praise for “Questions are the Answer”

“I connected with this book’s message because I lived it. Everything changed for the better when I realized that I, like so many others, was asking the wrong question. Our culture chases conventional notions of success instead of nurturing what would really make us thrive. Hal Gregersen is absolutely right — the best way to get to a better answer is to start with a better question, and we can all learn to do that.”

—Arianna Huffington, Founder & CEO, Thrive Global and Founder, The Huffington Post

“It’s a great insight that, if you want to arrive at a better answer, you should start with a better question. Hal Gregersen takes that observation further, exploring how to put it into daily practice. I love this book’s emphasis on creating the conditions in which creative thinking will thrive, and I love its bighearted storytelling.”

—Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos, and author of #1 New York Times bestseller Delivering Happiness

 “In his new book, Hal Gregersen reveals the power of cultivating a beginner’s mind, deep listening and continuous reflection in search of the right questions. Read this remarkable book and you will find a path to meaningful answers.”

—Marc Benioff, Chairman & Co-CEO, Salesforce

“Do you already know that questions lie at the heart of creativity? Yes. Do you know how to ask better questions? Probably not—but thankfully, Hal Gregersen is here to guide you. This book illuminates a path toward sparking new ideas.”

—Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals, Give and Take, and Option B with Sheryl Sandberg

“Hal Gregersen is one of those rare educators who always practices what he preaches. Deliberately, he pushes himself out of his comfort zones, and consistently, he surfaces those great questions that unlock better answers. I think it’s wonderful that, with Questions Are the Answer, he is equipping so many more people to do the same.”

—Clayton M. Christensen, Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

“If you want a simple answer to the question of what matters most to creativity, then look no further than the title of this book. Mastering the art of questioning is not easy, but Hal Gregersen describes a wealth of valuable approaches that will serve you well — no matter what kinds of problems you are trying to solve.”

—Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, and author of Design for Change

“As machines become exceedingly proficient at providing answers, it becomes more and more important for people to be asking the right questions. Hal Gregersen is exactly right that this is a skill we can learn — and must teach.”

—Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab, and author of Whiplash

“I have always been fascinated by the rebels among us–the iconoclasts who see things differently and make things change in positive and constructive ways. Questions Are the Answer gives essential insight into how these “deviant” types consistently manage to challenge their own going-in positions–and the most stubborn assumptions of the people around them. A key addition to the literature on creative thinking.”

—Francesca Gino, Professor, Harvard Business School, and author of Rebel Talent

“Creating an open environment where every manager can ask questions without fear is the first step in bringing innovation to achieve the betterment of a corporation. The author brings out how asking the right questions is the responsibility of a successful leader. A ‘must’ read for every corporate person aspiring to succeed as a leader.”

—N. R. Narayana Murthy, Founder of Infosys

“Curiosity can’t be taught. Or can it? Good question. The answer is yes, it can — by absorbing the hard-earned but highly accessible wisdom Hal Gregersen offers. This is a book for business leaders but also for artists and anyone else who cares to grow their ability to find answers through sustained, skillful question-asking. I wish I’d had it when I was first heading out into the world.”

— Sam Abell, National Geographic staff photographer, and author of Stay This Moment and The Life of a Photograph

“People start out in life as fearless questioners, but most learn as time goes by to suppress that impulse. This book has a simple premise—that we can rebuild our questioning capacity by adapting the habits and skills of persistently creative thinkers—and it delivers on that premise powerfully.  An invaluable guide for today’s leaders.”

Amy C. Edmondson, Professor, Harvard Business School, and author of The Fearless Organization

“In this masterful work, Hal Gregersen shows how educators and parents can teach the ability to ask good questions and the habit of curiosity to all young people—and why these skills are so essential. Questions are the Answer is an invaluable contribution to the reimagination of education for the 21st century.”

Tony Wagner, bestselling author of The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World

“We were privileged to have Hal moderate a discussion at our flagship annual customer event – the TCS Summit. He curated a thought provoking discussion between 4 leading CEOs/Chairpersons on how boardrooms need to build companies that constantly innovate and disrupt themselves. The tremendous intellectual power, impeccable credentials, innate ability to draw out insights and get people to open up, that Hal brings to the table makes him a terrific conversationalist. No surprise then that his session was highly rated by the audience of 400+ CLevel executives as one of the most compelling discussions they had attended across any event this year.”

Abhinav Kumar, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer – Global Markets, Tata Consultancy

“Hal delivered his “A” game. Thoughtfulness, rigor, and genuineness/passion that resonated with our audience of executives. Both his keynote and in the collaboration session were the right delivery and engagement that got the audience to think and absorb.”

—Co-Producer, digitalNow, an executive summit for association/non-profit leaders

 

“It was such a pleasure to meet you in Orlando. Thank you for participating in the FCIS Convention. We appreciate your support of independent schools in Florida and your willingness to share your knowledge and expertise with Heads of School and administrators from around the state. Many independent schools in Florida are young and constantly evolving. Your keynote definitely struck a chord with the audience.”

— Alison Carlson, Director of Professional Development, Florida Council of Independent Schools

“Hal Gregersen’s highly interactive 90-minute presentation on the Innovator’s DNA was the keynote presentation for an internal conference on innovation for our key executives, product managers, and marketing managers. Not only did Hal exceed our expectations, he held the entire audience spellbound. Hal’s combination of superior intellect, his willingness to share many years of scholarship and field work on innovation, his warm personal style, natural curiosity, and humility resonated exceptionally well with the audience and they rewarded him with their undivided attention and a standing ovation. Both during and after his presentation, our executives came up to me and praised everything about Hal and his message. Hal’s presentation set the tone for the rest of the conference and attendees referred to Hal’s concepts repeatedly over the next three days. I would recommend him to any company that is serious about becoming a leading innovator in your industry.”

Larry Yokell, CenturyLink

“Thank you for your inspiring keynote presentation during Confluence in Berlin. You were our highest-rated speaker and the highlight of the event for a lot of our attendees. You brought strategic insight, humour and practical advice that I know people will take home and use in their daily lives, as I have been doing.”

Claire Hockin, Infosys

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Intro Video

Video ThumbnailHal Gregersen at the SAP Executive Summit - youtube Video