Robert Sutton - Scaling Up Excellence Podcast Interview

Getting To More Without Settling For Less

Bob Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering in the Stanford Engineering School-TotalPicture Radio interviewRobert Sutton

If your organization has a bit of excellence, a pocket of goodness, how do you spread it?

Welcome to a Leadership Channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio with Peter Clayton and David Dalka. 

I'm here to tell you that podcasts have the shelf life of a Twinkie. And we have living proof on the show today! One of the most popular interviews I've ever recorded on TotalPicture radio was with Bob Sutton - recorded in 2007, the two-part interview is still live on - the book and concept we discussed - The No Asshole Rule was a major best seller - and one major publisher refused to publish the book because Bob refused to change the title. I'm glad he did. And I'm glad he's back with us today to discuss his new book, Scaling Up Excellence Getting To More Without Settling For Less. Leading the interview today is CEO Advisor and frequent contributor to TotalPicture Radio, David Dalka.

Questions we ask Bob Sutton:

So what is scaling and what makes this emerging topic important?

Around the time of your United Airlines blog post in 2012, I sat on a tarmac with a commuting United Airlines pilot for six hours. Someone asked him, "What went wrong with this airline?" I now know everything that is wrong with the airline. What is causing trust breakdowns of this type?

With bicycle safety, your research teams learned that safety facts alone are not enough to change most behavior. With less young people riving, less know the rules of the road in general which causes problems. What impacts did your research have so far and how should those bicycle safety best practices be scaled?

Continuing with the example above...does the need for an emotional and/or component to be successful mean that the data-driven obsessed MBA and corporate world might be missing the true opportunities?

You talked about engaging all the senses and how this can influence behaviors at a subconscious level...the UK grocery store and French versus German music and how that influenced wine would seem that there is a possibility to use techniques like this more extensively?

We also learned that the key decisions and scaling principles were remarkably similar across different kinds of organizations. For example every organization and project gets more complex as it expands. More processes, layers, locations, and people are required. As a result, scaling nearly always adds "cognitive load" -- increased demands -- on people and teams. If it is not dealt with well, people feel overwhelmed. It becomes hard to get simple things done. In the best organizations, to paraphrase Twitter's head of engineering Chris Fry, leaders use the hierarchy to destroy bad bureaucracy -- to make things easier rather than harder for people. Fry's advice holds in every scaling case we studied.

At the start of the book you talked about the idea of scaling came from difficultly in creating customer-focused organizations. What are the primary barriers to this and in your view, how should CEOs overcome this?

So the best place to start scaling is anywhere?

Robert I. Sutton is professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University, where he is co-founder of the Institute of Design ("the"), Stanford Technology Ventures Program, and the Center for Work Technology and Organizations. Businessweek named him one of ten "B-School All-Stars". His books include The Knowing-Doing Gap (with Jeffrey Pfeffer), Weird Ideas that Work, and two New York Times bestsellers, The No Asshole Rule and Good Boss, Bad Boss. Huggy Rao is the Atholl McBean Professor of Organizational Behavior, Stanford University and author of Market Rebels.

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