Alf Rehn Globally noted thought leader in innovation, trends, and creativity; a sought- after speaker, an author & a columnist

Henry Harison

Leadership, Creativity & Innovation

Alf Rehn is a globally noted thought leader in innovation, trends, and creativity; a sought- after speaker, an author and a columnist, as well as a well-regarded commentator on leadership and organizational culture. He has held the Chair of Management and Organization at Åbo Akademi University in Finland, a professorship of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and is currently a professor of innovation, design, and management at the University of Southern Denmark. His research has spanned numerous fields and has been published in top academic journals as well as in a series of bestselling books, challenging preconceived notions and provoking thought across the world. His new book, Innovation for the Fatigued: How To Build a Culture of Deep Creativity, published by Kogan Page, is an antidote to fads and incrementalism – a much needed guide for any company that seeks to truly make new ideas take root.


A well-regarded academic – but also known as an academic enfant terrible – Alf Rehn combines rigorous analysis with a creative and often surprising outlook on life, bringing topics like popular culture and philosophical theory into his analyses of modern business and the contemporary economy.

Professor Rehn’s approach to management and business is highly creative and often turns notions we take for granted on their heads. Rather than presenting the same buzzword as everyone else, he challenges our thinking by means of provocation, juxtaposition, paradox, and humor. His audiences tend to thank him for both the laughs and the food for thought.

Alf has written 17 (soon to be 19) books, among which we find Dangerous Ideas: When Provocative Thinking Becomes Your Most Valuable Asset, a bestselling book on creativity for people who do not like books on creativity. Translated into eight languages (including Chinese, Russian, Spanish and Italian), it challenges the overly positive manner in which creativity is often presented and argues for a broader understanding of the phenomenon – including paying attention to shocking, childish and unseemly things. He has also published a guidebook to trendspotting, a book on power, several on play, games, and frivolity, as well as a book explaining the fundamentals of innovation.

His latest book, published in 2018, is called The Paradoxes of Leadership (first published in Finnish, with Swedish and English translations forthcoming) deals with the paradoxes of leadership – why leadership always fails and why this isn’t a problem. In it, he discusses the challenging and contradictory demands placed on leaders, and how the best leaders manage to deal with this paradox. His forthcoming book, Innovation for the Fatigued (2019), focuses on innovation, the threats that face it and what we can do about it: How innovation fatigue afflicts organizations, why the innovation industry is complicit in this, what we can do to design innovation cultures, and why respect and inclusion are critical for innovation.

Exempel på teman och rubriker

Alf Rehn speaks on several topics, including but not limited to creativity, innovation, futures thinking and leadership. His keynotes include:

Creative Cultures
– How They’re Created, and How They’re Destroyed
For a company to be successful, it needs to be able to harness creativity, innovate, and re-invent itself. The most critical aspect of this, however, is not specific “creatives”, but instead the creation of the right culture. Cultures where creativity is respected and supported, regardless from whom it comes, become better at adapting to changes in the environment, can benefit from a wider range of talents and competencies, and consistently out-innovate their competitors. In his keynote, professor Alf Rehn details what sets creative cultures apart, and how companies can manage to destroy their own creativity by looking to the wrong things.

Saving Innovation
– Innovating in an Age of Bullshit and Copycats
Innovation is a core corporate competency, but has also become an annoying buzzword, talk rather than action. In his provocative keynote, professor Alf Rehn challenges our taken for granted notions of innovation, and argues that we may be in the midst of an innovation crisis – in society and in our companies. By discussing innovation fatigue, innovation stress, and why our current innovation ambition is far too modest, Alf encourages his audiences to think in new ways about innovation and what we can do to strengthen the same. Rather than just saying “innovation is important”, Alf shows how it has been lost and what we can do to save it.

Thinking Out of Bounds
– The Power of Challenge, Critique, and Extreme Creativity
You, yes you, are less creative than you think. So is each and every person working with and/or for you. Even though creativity has become the thing every person and every company professes to love, real creativity is as rare as ever. In his keynote, professor Alf Rehn clarifies why creativity doesn’t come naturally to us, what is required in order for true creativity to emerge, and what can be achieved when we start to develop radical ideas. Instead of extolling cute ideas, Alf argues for extremes in thinking, why ideas should be dangerous, and why critique and difficult people are key to real creativity.

The Paradoxes of Leadership
True leaders are masters of paradox, capable of being both hard and soft, action-oriented as well as measured and thoughtful. Rather than seeing leadership as one singular thing, defined through a recipe, we need to understand the paradoxical demands put on leaders. In his keynote, professor Alf Rehn discusses how to understand leadership paradoxically, why books on leadership can hinder more than they help, and why consistency is more important than being nice. The keynote is directed both towards those wanting to improve their leadership, and those who wish to better understand their own leaders.

Taboo Futures
– The Strategic Genius of Expecting the Worst
Despite its supposed avantgarde nature, much of trendspotting and futures thinking suffers from being bland and predictable. We tend to imagine futures that make sense to us, and that closely follow what we already have knowledge of. Further, we tend to prefer futures thinking in which we are still the key agent, something that can easily blind us to truly disruptive, disturbing events. In his keynote, professor Alf Rehn discusses the need to consider “taboo futures”, unthinkable events and shifts that challenge the very foundation of how we think about our business, and why these are an important strategic tool. Using hard-hitting cases, Alf highlights the need to think the unthinkable in strategy.


Your speech raised the exchange of opinions we hoped for and resonated well with the team of senior leaders. Your way of using powerful stories instead of slides was praised by them and it’s something they themselves want to pick up. Also, references to what you said about consistency and predictability of leadership were made in the discussion with our CEO the next day.
Anneli Karlstedt, Senior Project Manager, Nokia Corporation

We very much enjoyed Alf’s exciting keynote speech, which evoke new ways of thinking and was definitely one of the highlights of this year‘s strategy meeting. The workshops worked out very well, too. Alf managed to motivate all attendees to get involved and share their opinion and access to the topic.

We would like to thank Alf for his valuable contribution to a very successful meeting.
Dr. Michael Tojner, Vorstand Montana Tech Components GmbH

Many thanks indeed for your contribution to our conference. Your presentation made a considerable impact. It was very well received. The following days a lot of reference was made both to yours and Robs presentation, this probably was the most positive of all.
Henrik Tirsgaard, Head of Geoscience Maersk Olie & Gas AS


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