MIT Sloan appoints innovation expert Hal Gregersen to faculty

Co-author of The Innovator’s DNA will head the MIT Leadership Center

May 6, 2014

Senior Lecturer Hal Gregersen

Senior Lecturer Hal Gregersen

MIT Sloan today announced the appointment of Hal Gregersen—an expert on innovation and organizational change—to its faculty. Gregersen, who joins MIT Sloan from INSEAD, will serve as both the executive director of the MIT Leadership Center and as a senior lecturer in leadership and innovation in the Work and Organization Studies Group.

Gregersen’s research explores how leaders in business, government, and society find provocative new ideas, develop the human and organizational capacity to execute those ideas, and ultimately deliver powerful results. He is the author and co-author of 10 books, including The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators with Jeff Dyer of the BYU Marriott School of Business and Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School.

“I have spent my career looking at how leaders behave innovatively and transform their organizations,” he said. “I can think of no better place than MIT Sloan and the MIT Leadership Center—both hotbeds of creativity and invention—to continue my work. I am thrilled to be here.”

MIT Sloan Dean David Schmittlein described Gregersen as “a talented and engaging teacher, who cares deeply about the school’s commitment to action learning.”

“Hal is a person who not only studies how managers create innovation and change, but exemplifies the qualities of a leader who understands how to cultivate creativity in organizations and in the rising generation of leaders,” he said. “I’m delighted to welcome him to MIT Sloan.”

Gregersen’s current research focuses on the factors that trigger leaders to ask the kinds of questions that disrupt how we view and interact with the world. Together with Harvard’s Christensen, Gregersen has interviewed 80 leaders around the globe, including Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff and Cirque du Soleil CEO Daniel Lamarre.

“We are trying to figure out how successful leaders ask the right questions on an individual level but also how they enable others throughout the organization to construct disruptive questions,” he said. “Most often these CEOs are not even aware of what they’re doing because they’re doing it so well. They’ve made it to the top because of unconscious competence.”

Already the pair sees patterns emerging. These leaders tend to be hyper-aware of the world around them; they tend to stick to people on the fringe of their industry, knowing that being in the middle of it creates blind spots; and they are fearless in seeking failure fast.

“Most of all they know the right questions to ask,” Gregersen said. “Getting the questions right opens all the doors.”

Gregersen is also the founder of The 4-24 Project, an initiative dedicated to passing down critical leadership skills—including the ability to ask these penetrating questions—to the next generation.

“From the moment we’re born we are questioners,” he said. “But when we go to school, those questions rapidly disappear. Instead, we focus on supplying answers.”

The average student, from primary school through college, asks seven questions per month in the classroom; the average teacher asks 7,000 questions per month, according to education researchers. The rise of standardized tests also contributed to this pervasive “answer-centric” culture, said Gregersen. “Students graduate and then companies hire them to provide solutions to problems. But this dynamic is not optimal for coming up with cutting-edge ideas and technologies. The 4-24 Project is trying to change that.”

At INSEAD, Gregersen held the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank Chaired Professorship of Innovation and Leadership. Previously, he taught at the London Business School, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Helsinki School of Economics, Brigham Young University, and the Turku School of Economics as a Fulbright Fellow. Gregersen is also a Senior Fellow at Innosight, the consulting firm, and a former advisory board member at Pharmascience.

Gregersen holds a BA in Management from the University of Utah, an MA in Organizational Behavior from BYU, and a PhD in Administration from the University of California, Irvine.

“MIT is a place driven by powerful ideas that actually want to happen,” he said. “My father was a master engineer who never got an engineering degree; he was always coming up with unique inventions to solve mechanical problems. Being here at MIT feels a little like coming home.”