Bob Sutton: Scaling Up Excellence [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

February 20, 2014
Stanford eCorner
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Bob Sutton: Scaling Up Excellence [Entire Talk]

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This video is about scaling up excellence in organizations. The speaker discusses the challenges and strategies involved in spreading excellence to more places and people without losing the essence of what makes it great. He emphasizes the importance of mindset, accountability, and simplicity in the scaling process.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the definition of scaling in this book?

Scaling, as defined in this book, is the process of spreading excellence from a small pocket or center to other areas and individuals within an organization.

Q: Why did the authors feel the need to talk to people knee-deep in the process of scaling?

Scaling is a complex topic that requires insight and feedback from those who have experienced the challenges of spreading excellence in practice. The authors wanted to gather real-world examples and lessons to inform their research and recommendations.

Q: What examples of scaling are mentioned in the video?

The video mentions several examples of scaling, including the growth of Pulse, the opening of new McDonald's stores in China, the spread of innovation within Procter & Gamble, and the success of the 100,000 Lives Campaign in improving medical care.

Q: How does the speaker explain the concept of accountability in scaling?

The speaker describes accountability as a feeling of ownership and responsibility for the organization's success. In organizations where accountability is present, individuals put pressure on each other to do the right thing and uphold the standards of excellence.

Q: What is the scaling principle mentioned regarding cognitive load?

The principle is to keep things Sesame Street simple, meaning that when scaling, it is important to minimize cognitive load by keeping procedures, processes, and systems as simple and easy to understand as possible.

Q: How does the speaker emphasize the importance of living a mindset instead of just talking about it?

The speaker gives examples of organizations like Facebook and JetBlue where the emphasis is on actively living out the desired mindset rather than simply talking about it. He explains that behavior, not just words, is what truly changes deep-seated beliefs.

Q: How does the video discuss the need for both local customization and standardization in scaling?

The video emphasizes the importance of the right balance between local customization and standardization in scaling efforts. It highlights examples like IKEA in China, where some customization was needed for success, but also warns about the dangers of over-customization and the replication trap.

Q: What is the cognitive load study mentioned in the video?

The study conducted by Bob Shriff showed that individuals with a higher cognitive load (trying to remember a seven-digit number) were more likely to eat more cake than those with a lower cognitive load (trying to remember a two-digit number). This highlights the impact of cognitive load on decision-making.

Q: What is the key lesson regarding complexity and hierarchy in scaling?

The key lesson is that as organizations grow, some level of complexity and hierarchy is inevitable. Although there is a need for simplicity, there is also a recognition that as systems and projects get bigger, more roles and processes are required to handle the complexity effectively.

Q: How does the video conclude in terms of scaling principles?

The video concludes by highlighting the importance of the scaling principles discussed, such as emotional engagement, living a mindset, simplicity, accountability, and the balance between customization and standardization. These principles can help guide organizations in their scaling efforts.


Scaling excellence requires more than just increasing numbers or expanding. It is important to cultivate a mindset that promotes accountability, simplicity, and emotional engagement. Organizations should focus on living the desired mindset instead of just talking about it. They should also find the right balance between customization and standardization, adapting to local needs while maintaining consistency. Lastly, it is important to consider cognitive load and keep processes and procedures as simple and manageable as possible. Through these principles, organizations can scale effectively while maintaining the essence of what makes them excellent.

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