Michael Schrage

Research Fellow, MIT Sloan School’s Center
for Digital Business

You don’t need better innovations — you need better innovators. Here’s how to train them.

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Michael Schrage is one of the world’s most provocative thought leaders on innovation.

He has redefined how we think about innovation by focusing on customer acceptance of new products and services as an integral part of the innovation process. He also has pioneered techniques for using rapid prototyping, simulations and modeling to improve return on innovation investment.

His latest book, The Innovator’s Hypothesis, looks at how to develop innovation in a quick, cost-effective way. “Innovation vacations” and the like are all very well for companies with money to burn and time to waste, but most organisations need maximum value from their innovation investments. One solution Michael offers is the 5X5 framework: giving diverse teams of five people up to five days to come up with portfolios of five business experiments costing no more than $5,000 each and taking no longer than five weeks to run. From financial services and pharmaceuticals to customer service, Michael’s 5X5 model is transforming businesses around the world. It's enterprise innovation gone viral.

His previous book, Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? (an HBR Single ebook), is a management bestseller on Amazon.

Michael’s earlier books include the celebrated Serious Play: How the World’s Best Companies Simulate to Innovate, which focuses on rapid experimentation and prototyping, speedy simulation and digital design, and Shared Minds: The New Technologies of Collaboration, the first book to explore specifically how collaboration is the key to successful innovation.

A research fellow at the MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, Michael is a columnist for Harvard Business Review, Fortune, CIO Magazine and MIT’s Technology Review, and is widely published in the business press. He is a regular contributor to The Conference Board Review.

Michael is a senior advisor to MIT’s Security Studies Program and consults to the U.S. government on national security systems innovation.

Michael is a powerful speaker with a very direct and engaging style.


  • Research Fellow, Center for Digital Business, MIT Sloan School of Management
  • Senior advisor, MIT’s Security Studies Program
  • Columnist for Harvard Business Review
  • Regular contributor, The Conference Board Review
  • Op-Ed contributor on national security and public policy, The Washington Post
  • Top-rated Lecturer at MIT Executive Education Programs
  • Contributor, CIO Magazine, MIT’s Technology Review, The Los Angeles Times and ComputerWorld
  • Former Merrill Lynch Forum Innovation Fellow
  • Recipient, Doblin Prize, "The Culture(s) of Prototyping"
  • Former director, Ticketmaster
  • Patent pending for "Telepons," a networked, point-of-sale paperless coupon


The Innovator's Hypothesis

How Cheap Experiments Are Worth More than Good Ideas

Michael Schrage

What is the best way for a company to innovate? That’s exactly the wrong question. The better question: How can organizations get the maximum possible value from their innovation investments? Advice recommending “innovation vacations” and the luxury of failure may be wonderful for organizations with time to spend and money to waste. But this book addresses the innovation priorities of companies that live in the real world of limits. They want fast, frugal, and high impact innovations. They don’t just seek superior innovation, they want superior innovators.

In The Innovator’s Hypothesis, innovation expert Michael Schrage advocates a cultural and strategic shift: small teams, collaboratively — and competitively — crafting business experiments that make top management sit up and take notice. Creativity within constraints — clear deadlines and clear deliverables — is what serious innovation cultures do. Schrage introduces the 5X5 framework: giving diverse teams of five people up to five days to come up with portfolios of five business experiments costing no more than $5,000 each and taking no longer than five weeks to run.

The book describes multiple portfolios of 5X5 experiments drawn from Schrage’s advisory work and innovation workshops worldwide. These include financial service approaches for improving customer service and addressing security challenges; a pharmaceutical company’s hypotheses for boosting regulatory compliance; and a diaper divisions’ efforts to give babies and parents alike better “diapering experiences” with glow-in-the-dark adhesives, diagnostic capability, and bundled wipes.

Schrage’s 5X5 is enterprise innovation gone viral: Successful 5X5s make people more effective innovators, and more effective innovators mean more effective innovations.

THE MIT Press (Oct 2014)


Are Ideas Killing Our Organizations?Forbes


“In a world where intuition too often rules, it is important to realize the value of testing and exploring the world around us. In The Innovator's Hypothesis, Michael Schrage provides a practical guide for a simple and promising way to force ourselves to do better for ourselves, our customers, and society as a whole."
— Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics, Duke University; author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality

“Michael Schrage has created a powerful and practical guide for innovators in organizations large and small. He vividly illustrates that the road to a bold and brilliant future is often best travelled in steps that are simple, small, fast, and frugal. You'll never think the same way about innovation.”
— Andy Sieg, Managing Director, Bank of America Merrill Lynch

“This is a really terrific book. The style is disarmingly casual but Schrage makes important fundamental points about how business could and should explore experimentation to create profitable innovation.”
— Jim Manzi, Chairman, Applied Predictive Technologies

“If you, like me, believe that ideas are worthless in the context of innovation, this is the book for you. Michael Schrage presents us with an excellent methodology, using business hypotheses and rapid experiments, along with lots of examples, for accelerating the innovation process, rather than just getting stuck on ideas.”
— Brad Feld, Managing Director, Foundry Group; author of Startup Communities; and coauthor of Venture Deals

“Most books on innovation fail to deliver practical guidance that a business can execute immediately. The Innovator’s Hypothesis isn't one of them. Michael Schrage’s 5x5 framework has helped us instill and sustain a true ethos of experimentation in our organization.”
— Peter Steinlauf, Chairman of the Board and “Chief Experiment Officer,” Edmunds.com

“Michael Schrage’s writing has profoundly influenced my work over the years. The core essence of this book is a must-read for anyone seeking to accelerate the pace of innovation.”
— Qi Lu, Executive Vice President, Applications & Services Group (ASG), Microsoft Corporation

“As CEO of a 21st century company, I need to make sure that we are catalyzing innovation, not just thinking about it. The Innovator's Hypothesis is the first book I’ve read that explains how to do this through a clear methodology. It's ‘must’ reading for any business leader.”
— Victoria R. Montgomery-Brown, CEO, Big Think

The Innovator's Hypothesis is a brilliant breakthrough of a book that includes the first fresh thinking on innovation in years. Simple, profound, empowering methods any company can use immediately.”
—Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School; author of SuperCorp: How Vanguard Companies Create Innovation, Profits, Growth, and Social Good

“Schrage delivers (again). This is a new classic, a book that will change the way thousands of companies innovate, grow, and thrive.”
— Seth Godin, author of The Icarus Deception

Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?

HBR Single eBook

Michael Schrage

An Amazon management eBook bestseller

Who do you want your customers to become? According to MIT innovation expert and thought leader Michael Schrage, if you aren't asking this question, your strategic marketing and innovation efforts will fail. In this latest HBR Single, Schrage provides a powerful new lens for getting more value out of innovation investment. He argues that asking customers to do something different doesn't go far enough — serious marketers and innovators must ask them to become something different instead. Even more, you must invest in their capabilities and competencies to help them become better customers. 

Schrage's primary insight is that innovation is an investment in your client, not just a transaction with them. To truly innovate today, designing new products or features or services won't get you there. Only by designing new customers — thinking of their future state, being the conduit to their evolution — will you transform your business. Schrage explains how the above question (what he calls "The Ask") will incite you and your team to imagine and design ideal customer outcomes as the way to drive your business's future. The Single is organized around six key insights and includes practical exercises to help you apply the question to your current situation. 

Schrage also includes examples from well-known companies — Google, Facebook, Disney, Starbucks, Apple, IKEA, Dyson, Ryanair, and others — to illustrate just what is possible when you apply "The Ask." Marketing executives, brand managers, strategic innovators, and entrepreneurs alike should understand how successful innovation rebrands the client and not the product. A requisite question for its time, "Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become" will liberate you and your team from ‘innovation myopia' — and turn your innovation efforts on their head.

Harvard Business Review Press (17 July 2012)

Serious Play

How the World's Best Companies Simulate to Innovate

Michael Schrage

Successful innovation demands more than a good strategic plan; it requires creative improvisation. Much of the "serious play" that leads to breakthrough innovations is increasingly linked to experiments with models, prototypes, and simulations. As digital technology makes prototyping more cost-effective, serious play will soon lie at the heart of all innovation strategies, influencing how businesses define themselves and their markets.

Author Michael Schrage is one of today's most widely recognized experts on the relationship between technology and work. His trenchant, witty columns and bestselling books on innovation are read-and used-by managers and technologists alike. In Serious Play, Schrage argues that the real value in building models comes less from the help they offer with troubleshooting and problem solving than from the insights they reveal about the organization itself. Technological models can actually change us-improving the way we communicate, collaborate, learn, and innovate.

With real-world examples and engaging anecdotes, Schrage shows how companies such as Disney, Microsoft, Boeing, IDEO, and DaimlerChrysler use serious play with modeling technologies to facilitate the collaborative interactions that lead to innovation. A user's guide included with the book helps readers apply many of the innovation practices profiled throughout. A landmark book by one of the most perceptive voices in the field of innovation, Serious Play will earn an important place on the bookshelves of every forward-looking business manager.

Harvard Business School Press; First Printing edition (1 Nov 1999)

No More Teams

Michael Schrage

No More Teams! goes beyond the faddish cliches of teams to explain how creative relationships really work. It sweeps away the pop mythology of teamwork to offer practical tools and techniques for tapping the interpersonal power of collaboration. Creative collaboration — not the politicized realities of teams — is the essential relationship for generating effective innovation and ideas in organizations.

Crown Business (1 April 1995)


Michael tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?

Brand Equity and Innovation for Your Organisation

Overcoming the Supply Side Balance in Innovation

If It’s Cool It Was Invented Here Syndrome

New Stuff Isn’t Innovation

Scenario Playing and Moderation

Premium Prices and Decreasing Cost

Profitability for Genuine Innovators

Innovation for New Value Creation

The omnichannel challenge, the rise of Big Data and a 'new normal' of tepid economic growth are forcing serious retailers to revisit and revise their most fundamental assumptions around their business models. Managing opportunity amidst uncertainty has become as much a cultural issue as a technical and organisational challenge. Deciding how best to align brand value with a novel but sustainable shopper experience has assumed a renewed strategic urgency. This keynote talk will explore the role of segmentation, experimentation, socialisation and skill-ification as key (re) design principles for retailers seeking lower-cost, higher impact approaches to creating better experiences for shoppers and associates alike. The talk's goal is to push retail marketers and their colleagues to take better, smarter and faster 'innovation risks' for new value creation.

Innovation Is the Secret to Bringing Good Old Things Some New Life

There is a widespread theory that all dazzling innovations end their days as commodities, products that anyone can make and that are bought only according to their price. Columbia Business School’s Bruce Greenwald once expressed this view with the quip, “In the long run, everything is a toaster.”

MIT Media Lab researcher Michael Schrage finds that innovation has a continued role, even in such staid objects as toasters and vacuum cleaners. High-tech companies who panic about the day when everyone can make their latest futuristic doodad at a low price should take note: Ignoring innovation and focusing on cutting prices can be fatal.

The evolution of the toaster shows that the appliance is in fact “an unlikely symbol of sustainable innovation,” Mr. Schrage explains. Since the first commercially successful toaster was made by General Electric Co. in 1909, improvements have arrived regularly: bread grilled on both sides (1919); automated toasters (1940s); toaster ovens (1950s); and digital toasters (1990s). He criticizes Hoover Co. for focusing on making its vacuum cleaners cheaper, when there were innovations still to be had — observe the success of Dyson’s expensive and pleasingly bagless vacuums. Price wars for products don’t necessarily mean that innovation has reached its limit; but the low prices could be a signal that more advances are needed. Even actual commodities, Mr. Schrage notes, are subject to developments: Look what Starbucks Corp. managed to do with coffee.

Sustainable, Cost-Effective Innovation

The goal of this two-day workshop is to give attendees the tools, ideas and insights essential to promoting sustainable and cost-effective innovation throughout their organisation. Attendees will come away with a new awareness of how they can productively define, design and invest in innovation.

The workshop achieves this goal by focusing on the ‘economics of innovation’ — that is, the essential ingredients of cost, benefit, supply, demand and risks that shape a firm’s ‘innovation marketplace.’ The key to understanding a firm’s ‘innovation economics’ is to understand how firms use—or abuse and misuse—models, prototypes and simulations to manage innovation and risk. How firms ‘invest and test’ their models, proto- types and simulations overwhelmingly determines the value they and their customers get from innovation.

Drawing on examples, case studies and vignettes from a wide range of organizations, participants will be able to pragmatically assess real-world implementation challenges associated with cost-effective modeling, prototyping and virtual experimentation. The selected examples are based on research from Michael Schrage’s best-selling Harvard Business School Press book Serious Play, his ongoing MIT research and his advisory work. The core ‘innovation economics’ principles they articulate apply across industries, across cultures (both corporate and national) and across enterprises regardless of size and scope.


Making Customer Better Makes Better Customers | BigThink


A business technology solution and managed services provider
Thank you for working so much to tailor and adapt the content/presentation for our session. I've only heard positive Feedback so far from [...] our executives who attended.

A major business publication:
Total event evaluation: 95%
Speaker contents evaluation: 97% (our historical average is 94%)
Speaker ability to motivate: 92% (our historical average is 88%)

(the % represents the share of qualifications VERY GOOD and GOOD, from the total, on a 5 level scale - ie: top two boxes)

So I think the results were great! We are very happy with your presentation as well, and the comments from the audience were also in this direction.

A major alcoholic beverage company:
Michael Schrage did a great job. I think that he was outstanding. I would bring him back in a heartbeat. He really thought through the audience. I think the people that were there appreciated the fact that he had done his homework. It wasn't sort of a canned speech that he gave; he really customised it to the boards and the business.

I thought he was great. He has a nice style, the way that he presents his ideas. He doesn't come across as a pompous lecturer; he comes across very sensitive and knowledgeable in terms of his area of innovation. He has a lot of experience in it and he speaks with authority. I thought he did a great job.

I thank you for steering me in his direction, because I know I was going in another way with someone else and you said, wait a second, I've got somebody here who I think would fit better. So thank you, it was great. On a scale of ten, I'd give Michael a twelve.

An IT solutions specialist group:
Here is some of the feedback we received from our post-event survey on Michael's presentation:

  • Over 75% of attendees said they would not have missed his presentation
  • "This guy gets it. The more you think through his message the more sense it makes."
  • "He does a really good job of getting to know the audience and delivering a message we all need to hear and engage."
  • "Great speaker."
  • "Great insights on how to improve our posture and products and services."
  • "This presentation was excellent!"
  • "Great - very insightful."

A conference on supply chain & customer relations:
Fantastic content, very thought provoking unique perspective on retailer impact; Very good presenter, great insight; Very good presentation skills.

An national association for financial services firms:
Very interesting and relevant.
Great presentation, informative and interesting.
Best speaker by far.
Outstanding, I wish this one could have been longer. Michael was very insightful. It is always welcoming to have a speaker that makes you think.
Very good, lots of energy.
Score: 3.97 of 4.0.

A technology company:
Everything went great. No complaints at all. Michael honestly went above and beyond any other guest speaker as far as the time and efforts he put forth. As conference organisers, we were extremely pleased and our executive team was impressed. Thanks for your help in coordinating his participation.


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