Tag Archives: John Kao

GSWS Weekender 30: Do you think our industry should get rid of the word “spa”?

Posted on Saturday, October 6th, 2012, by Dulcy Gregory | 56 Comments

Would you get rid of the word “spa”?

Yes, you heard us right. Think about it. Getting rid of the word spa. Good idea? Bad idea?

This simple yet disruptive idea came straight from the mouth of 2012 Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS) keynote speaker, Peter Rummell, former head of Disney Imagineering.

Peter was part of a Tuesday afternoon panel, along with GSWS board member, Philippe Bourguignon, and fellow keynote speaker, John Kao, titled “Imagining the Healthy Town of the  Future.” And the conversation went a bit like this (taken directly from the session transcription)

MR. RUMMELL: If I were the king of your world, the first thing I would do would be get rid of the word “spa.”

I had this conversation with some people who were more worldly and smarter than I am yesterday, and they reminded me that my reaction was an American reaction and that may well be true, but the word “spa,” at least here in the United States, has a connotation to it which is just deadly, compared to the openness and the broader thinking that I have heard in these rooms for the last two days. So I think there is some fundamental redefinition that needs to happen, and it is as simple as branding.

FEMALE VOICE: What is the deadly definition, in your opinion?

MR. RUMMELL: The deadly definition of, “spa”? Is that it is for rich, white women. Well, you asked me.

Well, there you have it. And while Rummell may be right in saying that the reaction is that of an American, it is a reaction nonetheless.

One of the things that didn’t go on the record, which we learned later, was that some of the 2013 GSWS keynote speakers—Peter Rummell, Jose Maria (former president of Costa Rica) and innovation expert John Kao—all agreed that, before attending the Summit, they had no idea the spa and wellness industry was truly this important and significant.

Serving up a good ol’ dose of controversy might be exactly what we need to get innovative and move our industry forward. And that first step might be to take a good hard look at S-P-A.

So, do you think our industry should get rid of the word “spa”? Let us know. And feel free to elaborate, expand or go off on a tangent. Get controversial if you will. You’ve gotta admit, it’s kinda fun.

Happy Weekend,
The GSWS Team

GSWS Weekender Issue 15: Innovation Guru John Kao Explains Innovation to Spa and Wellness Leaders

Posted on Saturday, June 16th, 2012, by Alexandra Plessier | 6 Comments

This year’s Weekenders are dedicated to understanding Innovation and Imagination – something many in the spa and wellness industry agree is a critical need. Thus, this recap of John Kao’s keynote presentation at last week’s Global Spa and Wellness Summit (GSWS) could not be more perfectly timed. Beth McGroarty, one of our Summit’s bloggers, did an excellent job in capturing the content and the spirit of his presentation. After this short summary of John’s impressive bio (see full bio to the right) you will find Beth’s description.

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Global Spa & Wellness Summit Day 1: Innovation Guru John Kao Jams at Summit – Using Jazz, He Not Only Demystified Innovation – He Showed How to Practically Get it Done

Posted on Monday, June 4th, 2012, by Dulcy Gregory | Leave a Comment

About John Kao: John’s career is itself a study in innovation. He received a BA from Yale (in philosophy), an MD from Yale Medical School (in psychiatry), and an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he became a professor specializing in enterprise creativity for 14 years. He is the author of  the best-selling Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity and Innovation Nation – and his work has been featured in publications from The New York Times to the Harvard Business Review. For two decades he has served as an advisor on innovation strategy for public and private sector leaders, including the governments of Finland, Singapore and the U.S.; the Clinton Global Initiative; and firms like Nike and Intel.


He is past Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Advisory Council on Innovation and Chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation (a community of national chief innovation “czars” from some 41 countries). He has presented keynotes at the TED conferences, the World Economic Forum and the European Union Innovation Team, and to major companies/institutions like Citibank, IBM and the U.S. Navy. He is also an angel investor in emerging technology companies and a Tony-nominated producer of film and stage. A jazz pianist at heart, he spent the summer of 1969 playing keyboards for rock legend Frank Zappa, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art and honorary Vice President of Arts & Business in the U.K.


John Kao, dubbed “Mr. Creativity” by The Economist and the “Innovation Sherpa” by the US Army, really kicked off the “Innovation through Imagination” agenda on the right note. His super-creative, first-day presentation demystified innovation as some deified process open only to that handful of geniuses. And Kao, using jazz as both a metaphor and a disciplined body of knowledge, showed delegates how innovation is something that you can actually practice, learn, replicate and manage. He literally showed them: playing the piano (magnificently) to illustrate how core innovation concepts like “conversation,” “discontinuity,” “context creation” and “conflict-collaboration” actually work. Because the ideas of his talk were realized through his actual playing, it’s impossible to replicate the magic here – but we can spotlight some key ideas he laid down.


Kao began his talk by noting that he really believed that the spa/wellness industry is entering a whole new paradigm and that innovation was NEEDED. For one,  the very terms “spa” and “wellness” need some new re-languaging and clarifying of their conceptual frameworks. He also noted that innovation is one of the most overused, misunderstood words in the lexicon, and that a Google search of the term leads to a dizzying 2.65 billion hits. He explained that while innovation is constantly worshipped/discussed, it’s typically made both over-complex/forbiddingand under-simplified.


Turning then to the discipline of jazz – and to his piano seat – he explored how jazz musicians, and real innovators, get innovation done…


What jazz can teach EVERYONE about innovation  and creativity:


* Innovation is not some magical “birth,” like Athena being magically sprung from Zeus’ head. Successful innovators practice, practice, practice. He illustrated this point with an interactive audience experiment. He started a story, had audience members pair up into twos, and had them each finish the tale. Immediately everyone was super-engaged with their partner, smiling, talking, listening and getting into the creative groove. His experiment illustrated that innovation is not pure, rock-star invention (when Edison “invented” the lightbulb), innovation is when the inventor set up the Edison Electric Company to sell zillions of lightbulbs. Innovation, unlike invention, always has a purpose. And Kao defined it as “a set of capabilities that enable the continuous realization of a desired future.” Jazz musicians practice for decades to get to the sound – the future – they want.


* Hence, innovation (as jazz musicians know) is about conversations, if not with others, than a constant conversation going on in their own heads. The process of improvisation always implies and installs an “other,” and conducts a dialogue with that other/voice.

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* Jazz musicians – and real innovators – are comfortable with discontinuities, and they integrate them. I.e., you are in the key of “C,” and you hit new, discordant notes, but you keep modulating until you’ve created a new harmony. Because it’s out of discordant notes that come the new harmonic ideas, jazz musicians are examples of the incremental, rather than disruptive, innovation model. So, great innovators, Kao argued, need both structure AND freedom, discipline AND imagination.


Find a place free of preconceptions, and put your mind in a position where you can think like a beginner. Kao noted that innovators need a context/place to create, explaining that for Charlie Parker to invent the whole new sound of bebop, he had to retreat to a woodshed for an entire year, to remove the noise of distorting external input. People need places of quiet, and they need to shed the baggage of what they “already know.”

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Conflict and collaborative learning: At places like Minton’s jazz club in NYC in the 1940s,  jazz musicians practiced “cutting sessions.” These were a jazzy “battle of the bands” where musicians played, were derided, learned, competed and collaborated in a charged environment. For instance, when a young Charlie parker played he was considered so bad, the drummer threw the cymbals at his head. Innovators are open to and collaborated. They were intense, freewheeling, critical environments where they were universally humiliated – so they could improve and step it up. Innovators need environments like “cutting sessions.”


Put together the right “band”: Teams that succeed need diverse kinds of people/skills to find the balanced, innovation “sweet spot.” Companies need the analytical minds – the intuitive/emotional/values-driven minds – the far-seeing, confident leaders, etc. Innovation often doesn’t thrive with just one kind of “player” because it often results in a one-note product.


Embrace risk and failure: Miles Davis argued that there are no mistakes within the discipline of improvisation. And Kao showed a video of Michael Jordan explaining how many hundreds of games he has lost, how many game-winning shots he has missed in his career. Innovators must not just accept failure, they must make failure a comfortable, galvanizing part of their everyday processes.


Big, rich doesn’t = innovation: Kao explained that we have to realize that the biggest countries and companies are not necessarily the ones that innovate best or have the most innovation potential. Showing an “innovation map” of the world, he explained that countries like Chile, Denmark, Finland and Singapore actually have more innovation potential than powerhouses like the U.S.

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At the end of his conceptual talk/performance, Kao explained that in anticipation of the GSWS he began thinking about the specific innovation challenges – and more incredible opportunities – that the  spa/wellness industries have before them.



His discussion around these industry challenges/opportunities was fascinating. From how spas need to move from the sporadic, “event-driven” model, to create more sustainable connections and experiences for clients – to how to actually move beyond serving the “1%,” and expand spa/wellness offerings to demographics like children and entirely new cultures – to how to better meet the deep needs of spa-goers, who, Kao argued, come in the first place because they are on a personal, archetypal journey of exploration – and seek a very different kind of “service.”


A talk that was equally provocative and practical, it concretely illustrated to delegates that they too can get innovation done…and that thinking and acting like a jazz musician can be their touchstone.


World-Renowned Authority on Innovation, John Kao, Named Keynote Speaker for 2012 Global Spa & Wellness Summit

Posted on Wednesday, March 14th, 2012, by Dulcy Gregory | Leave a Comment

Creative Presentation Integrating Jazz Piano Will Demonstrate How to “Get Innovation Done”


The Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS), the leading annual event for spa and wellness industry executives, today announced that John Kao, one of the world’s thought leaders on innovation and enterprise transformation, will be a keynote presenter for the event being held in Aspen, Colorado fro

m June 3-6, 2012. Kao, dubbed “Mr. Creativity” by The Economist, is the author of global bestsellers on innovation and business creativity, serves as an advisor to numerous Fortune 500 companies and governments, and is one of the most sought-after speakers on the topic of innovation in the world.


With the 2012 Summit theme of “Innovation through Imagination,” Kao’s keynote, “Jamming: The Art of Getting Innovation Done,” will serve as a vivid call to arms for Summit delegates: establishing not only why innovation is so critical for the spa and wellness industries, but how to practically unlock it and translate it into concrete, strategic value and new business models. An accomplished musician, he will use demonstrations from jazz piano to illustrate the processes of innovation.


“I’m getting more and more excited about presenting to leaders from the worldwide spa and wellness industries,” said John Kao. “As spas and medically-based rejuvenation mash up with the realities of an aging Boomer population and a new wave of innovation in the wellness arena, the opportunities for re-imagining the industry are significant.”


About John Kao: Kao’s career is itself a study in innovation. He received a BA from Yale (in philosophy), an MD from Yale Medical School (with a specialty in psychiatry), and an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he went on to serve as a professor specializing in enterprise creativity for 14 years. He is the author of numerous books, including the best-selling Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, and Innovation Nation: How America is Losing its Innovation Edge, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do To Get It Back – and his work has also been featured in major publications from The New York Times to the Harvard Business Review. For two decades he has served as an advisor on innovation strategy and execution for public and private sector leaders, including the governments of Finland, Singapore and the U.S.; the Clinton Global Initiative; and firms like Nike and Intel.

Kao is past Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Advisory Council on Innovation and Chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation (a community of national chief innovation “czars” from some 41 countries). He has presented keynotes at leading conferences and organizations worldwide, from the TED conferences, World Economic Forum and European Union Innovation Team, to Citibank, IBM and the U.S. Navy. He is also an angel investor in emerging technology companies and a Tony-nominated producer of film and stage. A jazz pianist at heart, he spent the summer of 1969 playing keyboards for rock legend Frank Zappa, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art and honorary Vice President of Arts & Business in the U.K.  He was recently named a Yamaha innovation concert artist.


“I can think of no more perfect speaker for our 2012 agenda of ‘Innovation through Imagination’ than John Kao. His experience in helping businesses to not only understand the importance of innovation, but, more crucially, to learn how ‘to get that innovation done,’ is simply unmatched,” said Philippe Bourguignon, co-Chair of the 2012 agenda and Summit Board Member. “He has an extraordinary ability to demystify the creative process and show how innovation is, in fact, a process that everyone can learn, replicate, teach and manage.”


Kao joins six other high-profile keynote speakers previously announced by the Summit.

Also presenting on topics surrounding “innovation” are:

  • Dr. Richard Carmona: 17thSurgeon General of the U.S. and Vice Chairman, Canyon Ranch
  • Jose Maria Figueres: Former President of Costa Rica, and expert on global environmental practices
  • Mariel Hemingway: Academy Award-nominated actress & wellness advocate
  • Peter Rummell: Former Chairman of Disney Imagineering, and current chair of the Urban Land Institute
  • Elizabeth Stephenson: Partner at global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company
  • Philippe Bourguignon: Vice Chairman, Revolution Places; Former co-CEO of the World Economic Forum (Davos)


Additional keynotes will be announced in coming weeks. The 2012 GSWS promises to be the most unique event in the organization’s six-year history. It’s being held in collaboration with the prestigious think-tank, the Aspen Institute, and will feature a robust three days of presentations and panels squarely focused on the most innovative strategies that can propel the $2 trillion global spa and wellness industries forward.


To register, or to learn more about attending or sponsoring the Summit: http://www.globalspaandwellnesssummit.org/


Note to Editors:

Issue 3: Innovation for Dummies

Posted on Saturday, February 25th, 2012, by Dulcy Gregory | Leave a Comment

Ok, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.  Just what is innovation?  And is there any benefit to me personally or professionally for understanding the concept?

There’s a lot, and I mean A LOT of information out there.  My head is spinning.  In fact, it looks a bit like this:

So, I took a definition journey…

First stop: The dictionary
Second stop: Wikipedia
Third stop: “Innovation for Dummies” Yes, thankfully, it does exist.

During my research, I came across the ways in which various prominent people and organizations defined this term. Care to match up the statement on the left with the correct source on the right?

To find out how many you got right, click here.

Issue 1: Innovation through Imagination

Posted on Friday, February 10th, 2012, by Dulcy Gregory | 7 Comments

“A world filled with innovation capability and innovators is a much more hopeful world.” – John Kao

 Many have said that the spa and wellness industry is seriously lacking in innovation and needs some spark.  So, the Global Spa & Wellness Summit would like to bring you a new – and hopefully innovative way – to ignite the conversation!

Meet “The Weekender.”

  • This weekly communication is designed to start one conversation about one topic with the entire global spa and wellness universe. For the time being, we’ll be zeroing in on the topics of Innovation and Imagination.
  • All content is linked to a blog, where you can join the conversation by posting comments and sharing ideas (which is most definitely encouraged).
  • And, for a taste of things to come, look for a comparison of the world’s “most innovative”  countries and companies, views from expert innovators, a few TED presentations on the topic, advice on how to grow our individual imaginative skillsets, and a general spotlight on what people are writing and saying about innovation right now.  (No one can deny that “innovation “ and “imagination” are hot topics making headlines!)

Earlier this morning, I spoke with John Kao, the author of Innovation Nation and a confirmed keynote speaker at the upcoming Global Spa & Wellness Summit taking place in Aspen, Colorado.  Here are a few things from my research and our conversation that caught my attention:

  1. John calls himself an “Innovation Activist”
  2. In this interview, which I encourage you to read, he defines “innovation” and explains why it is so important for the future of our world:  “I define innovation as a set of capabilities that are possessed by individuals, teams, countries or geographies that allow the continuous realization of a desired future.”
  3. John’s book Innovation Nation includes an analysis of which countries can be considered the most innovative (hint, think Singapore and Finland) and he talks about the need to innovate the very “process of innovation,” which I find extremely interesting.
  4. In a recent NY Times article about his “performance and talk” at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, they mentioned John’s use of Jazz music to demonstrate the tension in the innovation process between training/discipline and improvised creativity that always fuels new ideas and products.
  5. His unique perspective is likely a result of his very eclectic background that includes a degree in philosophy from Yale College, an MD in psychiatry from Yale University and a degree from Harvard Business School in management.  He is also a Tony nominated film producer and a jazz pianist who studied under Frank Zappa.
  6. Oh, and did I mention he loves spas?

Doing things differently is what innovation is all about.  Just as I was inspired by John, I hope that you will be motivated – by this email – to join the conversation on how this industry could benefit from true innovation and a healthy dose of imagination.  Or sit back, relax with a cup of coffee (or herbal tea) and just be a sponge.  After all it is the weekend. What better time to soak up something new?