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.

“Things are so hard to get done around here.”  “It feels like we are walking in muck.”  “The bigger and more successful we get, the slower we get.”    … Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao heard concerns like these during every speech and informal conversation with leaders they’ve had since publishing Scaling Up Excellence. So they’ve turned their attention to multi-year project on organizational friction, a theme that they have been working on since 2016, and will chip away at in their research, writing, and speaking for at least the next three years.   Sutton’s evolving speech on friction digs into the causes of destructive friction including misguided incentives and organizational designs that blind decision-makers to unnecessary frustration and fatigue imposed on employees and customers.  He digs into “friction removal tools” that leaders can use to redesign incentives and structures, and remake organizational cultures, and change the little things they do for the better. Sutton also discusses the virtues of organizational friction, how and why the best leaders and organizations make certain things more difficult or impossible to do—ranging from unethical behavior, disrespecting colleagues and customers, and adding destructive friction.

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.

In the decade since Sutton published his New York Times bestseller, The No Asshole Rule,  thousands of people who read the book or heard him talk about have asked, in one way or another, “Help. I am dealing with an asshole (or a bunch of them), what should I do about it.”    Sutton’s new book The Asshole Survival Guide is devoted to answering this question.  Sutton starts with diagnosis—what kind of asshole problem, exactly, are people dealing with? From there, he provides field‑tested, evidence‑based, and sometimes surprising strategies for dealing with assholes—avoiding them, outwitting them, disarming them, sending them packing, and developing protective psychological armor.  Sutton also shows people how to look inward to identify and stifle their own inner jackass. Sutton’s speech on the new book also weaves in leadership and organizational design practices that leaders and others who have influence over workplaces can use to build more civilized and psychological— yet effective and non-nonsense—workplaces.


click the covers for more information


Robert Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford. He is a 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, organizational change, scaling excellence, and workplace dynamics. He has published over 150 articles and chapters on these topics in peer-reviewed journals and the popular press. His books include Weird Ideas That Work, 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 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers. His latest book, Scaling-Up Excellence: Getting to More without Settling for Less (with Huggy Rao), is a Wall Street Journal and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller. Sutton’s next book is The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt.

Professor Sutton’s honors include the award for the best paper in the Academy of Management Journal in 1989, the Eugene L. Grant Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the award for the best article 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 , described as “professors who are influencing contemporary business thinking far beyond academia.” In 2014, the London Business School honored Sutton with the Sumantra Ghoshal Award for Rigour and Relevance in the Study of Management. He is a Fellow at IDEO and a Senior Scientist at Gallup. His personal website is and he tweets @work_matters.

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲