Bob Sutton

Speech Topics

Robert Sutton, along with colleague Hayagreeva Rao, spent the last decade working to uncover how the best leaders and organizations spread excellence: from people and places that have it, to those that don’t. Sutton shows how the fate of every organization depends on building or finding pockets of exemplary performance, and—more importantly—how to spread those splendid deeds from the few to the many. Scaling well requires more than just creating a big footprint in a small amount of time—it entails developing, spreading, and preserving the right shared beliefs about which behaviors are “sacred” and which “taboo”. He shares lessons and principles that can be applied to organizations of every size and stripe: including that scaling is a problem of more and less, the power of linking hot causes to cool solutions, cut cognitive load while maintaining necessary organizational complexity, connect pockets of existing excellence and cascade them to new places, and bad is stronger than good. He ends by arguing that, under even the best conditions, scaling is always a messy and uncertain process.

Sutton weaves together the best psychological and management research with true stories to reveal the mindset and moves of the best bosses – which he bolsters by contrasting them with evidence on how the worst bosses think of themselves and treat their people. Sutton shows how bosses can master essentials including striking just the right balance between being too assertive and not assertive and doing dirty work like disciplining and firing employees in timely and humane ways.

Bob Sutton has continued to study and work with organizations that are bent on changing for the better since the publication of Scaling Up Excellence in 2014.  As the book emphasizes,  spreading and sustaining excellence (or any other flavor of organizational change) isn’t simple, isn’t easy, and the work is never done.   Yet there are certain essential, and sometimes surprising, methods for leading change that are emerging from their ongoing efforts to understand how and why organizational change happens, tracking the best academic research on change, and discussing their emerging ideas  with leaders from diverse industries who are knee-deep in such always messy but often rewarding adventures.

In addition, Bob combines ideas from HBR top book of the year Weird Ideas That Work, his experience as an IDEO fellow, academic research on innovation, and his experience in the new Stanford Institute of Design – where the focus is on teaching and coaching student teams that are doing real creative for real companies like Mozilla, Fidelity, WalMart, SAP, Timbuk2, Google, and others – Sutton talks about and leads workshops with organizations about the challenges of managing and doing creative work.


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Robert Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering and a Professor of Organizational Behavior (by courtesy) at Stanford.  Sutton has been teaching classes on the psychology of business and management at Stanford since 1983.  He is co-founder of the Center for Work, Technology and Organization, which he co-directed from 1996 to 2006.  He is also co-founder of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (which everyone calls “the d school”).

Sutton studies innovation, leadership, the links between managerial knowledge and organization action, scaling excellence, and workplace dynamics. He has published over 100 articles and chapters on these topics in peer-reviewed journals and the popular press. Sutton’s books include Weird Ideas That Work: 11 ½ Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation, The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Firms Turn Knowledge into Action (with Jeffrey Pfeffer), and Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management (with Jeffrey Pfeffer). The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t and Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best…. and Survive the Worst are both New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers.

Scaling-Up Excellence: Getting to More without Settling for Less (with Huggy Rao), was published in 2014 and was a Wall Street Journal and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller.

The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt (September 2017) is a continuation of his best-seller The No Asshole Rule from a decade earlier.

Professor Sutton’s honors include the award for the best paper published in the Academy of Management Journal in 1989, the Eugene L. Grant Award for Excellence in Teaching, selection by Business 2.0 as a leading “management guru” in 2002, and the award for the best article published in the Academy of Management Review in 2005. Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense was selected as the best business book of 2006 by the Toronto Globe and Mail. Sutton was named as one of 10 “B-School All-Stars” by BusinessWeek, which they described as “professors who are influencing contemporary business thinking far beyond academia.”  In 2014, Sutton is a Fellow at IDEO and  academic director of three Stanford executive education programs: Leading for Strategic Execution, Customer-Focused Innovation, and the new online Stanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate.  His personal blog is Work Matters at and he also blogs at Harvard Business Review and as an “influencer” on LinkedIn. Sutton tweets @work_matters. Bob was named one of the 10 Most Influential Leaders by AMA.

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