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Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less Hardcover – February 4, 2014

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Author One-on-One: Robert Suttonand Huggy Rao talk about Scaling Up Excellence

Robert Sutton: Why don’t we start off with why we wrote this book?

Huggy Rao: We wanted to give the executives we teach and advise better answers. In 2006, we launched an executive education program at Stanford called Customer-focused Innovation. Executives in the program kept asking us different versions of the same question. Their companies all had a pocket or two where people were customer focused. The problem was that there just wasn’t enough of it. They asked how they could spread such excellence and do it fast. We scoured academic research and practical books on leaders and teams. We found a lot on topics such as leadership and innovation. But we couldn’t find a single business book devoted to this problem, which we started calling “the problem of more” or the challenge of “scaling up excellence.”

We spent the next seven years studying and writing about it. I believe that this is the first major business or leadership book on scaling. We worked hard to write an approachable and useful book, but also one that digs into this vexing challenge in some depth. We offer much hard won advice, but no instant and easy cures.

Bob, why don’t you tell people about our research? It was quite an adventure.

RS: We started by doing interviews and case studies, and digging up the most rigorous studies we could find on scaling. But we also wanted to reach out to people who were in the thick of scaling challenges. So we checked repeatedly with senior leaders such as Kaiser Permanente’s Louise Liang (who led a successful information technology rollout in the largest U.S. private healthcare system), Facebook executive’s Chris Cox and Mike Schroepfer (who grew the engineering organization), and JetBlue Airlines pilot and executive Bonny Simi (who led a bottom-up effort to create and scale up a better system for dealing with operational challenges caused by bad weather). We wanted to make sure that the challenges we discussed, the stories we told, and advice we offered rang true to these and hundreds of other scaling up veterans we talked to during those seven years.

HR: What do you say when people ask you “what do you mean by scaling?”

RS: I tell them that we fixed our focus on a simple, but tough, question: If your organization has a bit of excellence, a pocket of goodness, how do you spread it? Early on in the project, I saw an interview with the famous folk singer Pete Seeger. He said something like “Sometimes the only thing wrong with it is there isn’t enough of it.” A lovely way to describe the main problem we tackled.

HR: I was struck by how similar the scaling challenges were that different organizations faced. The challenges of growing Google, of opening 180 highly standardized Bridge International Academy schools for poor children in Africa, and spreading practices for preventing infections to over 3000 hospitals sound quite different on first blush. But they turned out to be remarkably similar in many ways once we looked closely.

RS: How so?

HR: In every case, successful scaling didn’t mean just creating as big a footprint as possible, as fast possible – it required spreading a shared mindset that guided how people thought and acted. We learned that, especially in cases of fast and effective scaling, the teams that guided these efforts often slowed down at key junctures – to think about what they are doing and to develop true excellence – so they could move faster later. Scaling takes both patience and persistence, in concert with an obsessive focus on making progress toward long term goals every hour of every day.

RS: 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.

RS: Let’s end with the question that EVERYONE asks me about you. Is your name really Huggy?

HR: My real name is Hayagreeva, but my family and friends have always called me Huggy. I thought “Huggy” would be easier for people to pronounce and remember.

RS: It’s been quite a collaboration. Huggy was relentlessly optimistic during even the toughest days. Huggy is among the smartest and most imaginative organizational researchers on the planet. The rate at which he generates ideas astounds me. One minute he might be talking about “linking hot causes to cool solution,” the next “scaling is about going from bad to great, not so much good to great.”

We worked with so many terrific people facing scaling challenges, from entrepreneurs and startups, to senior executives at big corporations, to leaders and teams in nonprofits and large healthcare systems. But we stayed focused on one goal: Writing a book would ring true and be useful to anyone who strives to develop excellence in organizations and spreading it to others.


“With a huge amount  of research and insight within its covers, this is a timely read for young ambitious companies.” -Trevor Clawson, Forbes

"A great read that provides real, practical advice whether you're a team of 5 or 50,000.  Sutton and Rao find just the right stories to show how almost any team can get bigger and better." –Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of People Operations, Google

“Scaling Up Excellence is one of the finest business books you'll ever read. It is rich with vivid examples, deep research, and practical advice on the toughest challenge organizations confront: how to spread success from a few small pockets of an organization to its entire fabric. Whether you're an entrepreneur who wants to get big, a CEO who wants to avoid stagnation, or a non-profit executive who wants make a deeper difference, Scaling Up Excellence is an essential read -- a playbook that belongs on the desk of every leader.” -Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and To Sell Is Human
“Innovation at scale and speed is our goal.  Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao show us how to do it more often and better, knowing that scale matters.”  –Beth Comstock, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Office, GE

“The Internet creates new possibilities for scaling, but scaling rarely happens because of technology alone. This insightful book shares the methods and strategies that successful leaders rely on to spread the beliefs and behaviors that can accelerate an organization's growth while simultaneously improving its processes.” -Reid Hoffman, co-founder/chairman of LinkedIn and co-author of the #1 NYT bestseller The Start-up of You
“Growth and reinvention are key to winning, especially in tech. In Scaling Up Excellence,  Sutton and Rao outline a real-world view of the challenges leaders face, and provide wisdom and practical tips about how to master them. I loved the insights.” -Shantanu Narayen, CEO, Adobe Systems

“Startups sow the seeds of their culture from the very first day. Yet their ultimate success depends on knowing when and how to scale.  Drawing on first hand accounts from a wide range of industries, Scaling Up Excellence is the first book to offer a detailed examination of the best practices needed to successfully scale without diluting the very qualities that made a company successful in the first place. An important book for corporations and entrepreneurs alike.” -Eric Ries, bestselling author of The Lean Startup

"Maintaining excellence while growing is full of pitfalls and pain, and requires a great deal of thoughtfulness.  Scaling Up Excellence gives us a well-crafted framework for thinking about and addressing the nitty-gritty problems on the ground without getting derailed by lofty goals.  Sutton and Rao keep us focused on the personal actions required for tackling this leadership challenge.”  -Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation Studios

“One of the challenges faced by any complex organization is how to improve performance by sharing best practices within the organization. Too often, scaling is done as an art. To be done well, it needs to be a science. ‘Scaling Up Excellence’ elevates scaling to a core competency instead of a talent. This is a worthwhile book to read.”  -George Halvorson, chairman of the board, Kaiser Permanente

“A must-read. Renowned experts Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao are the first to tackle a pervasive problem that every leader faces: spreading and multiplying success. This landmark book is full of rich examples, powerful studies, and actionable insights for anyone who cares about making groups or organizations more effective.” - Adam Grant, Wharton professor and bestselling author of Give and Take

“Sutton and Rao provide an illuminating perspective that is particularly useful for leaders and teams about to embark on their own challenging journey to scaling excellence. The stories and studies shared by the authors provide valuable strategic and practical advice, which will increase your odds of success when they are combined with the real “grit” required to make improvements.”   -Ann L. Lee,  senior vice president, Genentech and Global Head of pharma technical development, Roche 

"We are all searching for new ways to build more effective teams, startups, and organizations that will stand the test of time. Through compelling research, stories, and narrative, Scaling Up Excellence will show you how to help your best ideas reach a much wider audience. If you want to have a big impact . . . make sure your entire team reads this book." –Tom Rath, bestselling author of Strengthsfinder 2.0

“An engaging exploration of a powerful and frequently neglected source of competitive advantage: Finding ways to spread and sustain the best ideas and practices we already know how to do. Packed with inspiring examples of how to make it happen –or miss out.” -Martin Riant, Group President Baby, Feminine and Family Care, Procter & Gamble Co.
“If you want your organization to expand and grow without losing what makes you special, this is the book for you.  Sutton and Rao have written a must-read handbook for scaling.” -Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Decisive, Switch, and Made to Stick
 “Scaling Up Excellence offers a strong antidote to the common pap--the delusions, impatience and incompetence-- that too often frustrate reforms and keep many good ideas from achieving their goals.  Through engaging accounts of both organizational successes and colossal failures, Sutton and Rao offer practical wisdom for scaling improvements in  complex institutions.  Anyone involved in the work of improvement should hold this book close at hand.” -Anthony S. Bryk, president, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
 “Rather than a one size fits all recipe for what to do in scaling up your company,  Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao offer  guidelines for action in easy to read terms, based on case studies and research conducted over the last seven years.  If you are interested in excellence using the principle of Less is More, this is the book to read." -Riccardo Illy, Chairman, Grupo Illy, S.p.A

Scaling Up Excellence is the best book I’ve ever seen on making an organization’s vision come true. Sutton and Rao have created a deeply practical guide that is also a great read, grounded equally in astonishing stories and rigorous research. No matter what you do for a living, read this book to figure out how to link your “short-term realities to long-term dreams.” - Teresa M. Amabile, professor, Harvard Business School and coauthor, The Progress Principle

 “Taking a small, manageable organization and making it into a big, successful enterprise is a major challenge in healthcare or any other industry. Robert  Sutton and Huggy Rao take the mystery out of ‘going large’ with memorable mantras and fascinating case studies. Scaling Up Excellence shows the high roads – and the pitfalls – on the way to bigger and better.  Delos M. Cosgrove MD, CEO and President, Cleveland Clinic

 “Inspiring stories, compelling research, and actionable ideas masterfully woven together and immediately usable by any entrepreneur or manager.” -Clara Shih, CEO and Founder of Hearsay Social, member of Starbucks Board of Directors

“Sustaining exceptional performance in growing organizations is critical in today’s world.  Sutton and Rao bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to identifying best practices in a straightforward and accessible way.  If you want to grow your business, you need this book.” – Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone

"Rao and Sutton have hit on an important challenge for leaders in every organization - companies, social sector and government: how do you scale what works, and do it faster. The challenge of finding pockets of excellence and changing mindsets and behavior so that success becomes the norm not abnormal is very real for those who want to make excellence stick. Scaling up Excellence is a useful roadmap for today's change leaders" -Lenny Mendonca, Director Emeritus, McKinsey and Company, Founder, Half Moon Bay Brewing Company

“Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao’s book provides insights on the key principles of scaling for excellence. For entrepreneurs or business leaders at the forefront of organizational growth, “Scaling up excellence” is a treasure trove of case studies and industry showcases.” -N. R. Narayana Murthy, Executive Chairman, Infosys Limited

"Scaling Up Excellence is a masterpiece. I have been wrestling with the same conundrum for 30 years, and I simply marvel at the way Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao have disentangled this supremely important Gordian knot."-Tom Peters, bestselling author of In Search of Excellence


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1 edition (February 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385347022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385347020
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Terri L. Griffith on February 6, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Sutton and Rao offer a comprehensive guide to management in a package of enticing stories, subtly supported by references to high-end research. Their personal history in the Silicon Valley and their global access to interesting organizations provides the backdrop.

The main theme is that, while many good practices exist in organizations, they either get lost or there are difficulties when attempts are made to spread them (scale them) across the organization. The breadth of this theme means that this book will provide value to anyone who would like to see organizations improve. The benefits are not limited by industry, functional area, or organizational size.

Sutton and Rao are far more direct than most academics; it often takes a lot to get a professor away from an “it depends” answer. In this instance they have enough background to be confident with the following:

We’ve identified reliable signs that scaling is going well or badly, and we’ve distilled these signals into seven mantras. If you are embarking on a scaling effort [I’ll add if you are doing anything to make your organization better], memorize them, teach them to others, and invent ways to keep them firmly in focus -- especially when the going gets rough.

Spread a mindset, not just a footprint. This first one is their, and your, protection against being labeled a fad.
Engage all the senses. From my perspective, this is where you consider how to weave together human, technical, and organizational practices such that they work together, not against your goals. It’s also where I realize that my presentation of these ideas is much less colorful, and perhaps less likely to scale.
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Format: Hardcover
You might think Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao are a bit “slow” when you realize it took seven years to come up with seven Scaling Mantras. But, you’d be wrong. “Scaling Up Excellence” is filled with powerful and practical ideas that are illustrated with colorful stories and supported by scholarly research.

7 Scaling Mantras:

1. Spread mindset, not just footprint.
2. Engaging all the senses. (Personally, I want every lobby to smell like coffee or popcorn.)
3. Link short-term realities to long-term dreams.
4. Accelerate accountability.
5. Fearing the clusterfug.
6. Scaling requires both addition and subtraction.
7. Slow down to scale faster - and better - down the road.

Anyone familiar with Bob’s work expects a no-nonsense approach to writing and management - splashed with some tongue-in-cheek color. The addition of Huggy didn’t change the tone of this work.

One of my favorite chapters is: “Bad is Stronger Than Good: Clearing the Way for Excellence.” That’s the kind of stuff I expect from Bob. Get your head out of the clouds and face the hard truth that a little bad goes a long way.

I read one or two leadership books a week. “Scaling Up Excellence” is must reading. The principles in this book, if implemented, will change your leadership/management and your organization.

Seven years in the making, “Scaling Up Excellence” is a bargain.
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I consider this book, really, just a book about change management. "Just" is probably unfair because there aren't a litany of great change management books that aren't simplistic or fables. So, suggestions like "get the cool kids on board," is fun, new lingo and thus reading the book is a fairly fresh read, but I think the book overreaches. There's no grand approach to truly replicate excellence in a way that it was tried successfully across several organizations in a repeatable way.

But, to conclude this and decide the book doesn't have value is unfair. Lower your sights, expect to take a few good nuggets on how to approach change as a process, and I think you'll find this book worthy.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Growth is something we all assume will happen. Invent something cool, deliver a needed service, and you will naturally prosper and increase revenues, right? But what if there is a better way to grow, or scale? What if you need to constantly check whether it’s time to go “Buddhist” style or “Catholic?” What if growth depends on regularly stoking “hot causes” and linking them to “cool solutions”?

Bob Sutton is a veteran Stanford professor and organizational guru who has written ground-breaking books about the nuances of interpersonal and management innovation, often with his characteristic humor and humanity in such bestsellers as The No ARule.

Here, he has teamed up with fellow Stanford professor, Huggy Rao to tackle something incredibly complex and important: Why do so many businesses stumble as they grow? Sutton and Rao tell us in engaging, behind the scenes stories why Google and Facebook have scaled effectively while Starbucks and others have stumbled. Flexibility is a key positive message: Facebook advocates fast development and gives engineers the leeway to “feel safe to break some stuff along the way; they also widely promote “hack a month” where each year employees are loaned to another group for a month. Google, surprisingly, despite its meteoric growth, “has always been notoriously slow to hire…every new hire is still approved at the organization’s highest levels.”

One of the things you can count on in a Sutton book are stories you’ll be able to tell at your next business dinner or meeting. But unlike so many books today, these aren’t just culled from business articles or the web. Bob and Huggy have interviewed dozens of top executives at many of the nation’s premiere companies.
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