5 Lessons from the Book “Scaling Up Excellence”

Michael Watson Ph.D Partner
Read Time: 2 minutes apprx.
managerial analytics supply chain

I’ve recently read the book Scaling Up Excellence by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao. ( Click here is you want a 14-minute HBR podcast interview or click here for a 60 minute presentation at Standford by Sutton)

The book has some great lessons for how to take a good idea within an organization and scale it throughout an organization.  If you are responsible for rolling out a new system or bringing good ideas from one part of the organization to another, you’ll find some good tips in this book.

I recently wrote an article on Supply Chain Digest on the 3 lessons that a supply chain manager could use.  Here are the three points and you can get more details in the article.

  1. “Amateurs discuss strategy, professionals discuss logistics.”
  2. Smaller teams may be better
  3. Changing tactics depending on the system status is a good strategy.

There are two more lessons worth mentioning that apply to any company thinking of the problem how to roll out good practices or good systems

  1. “Catholic vs Buddhist”  This is an important concept in scaling up excellence.  The “Catholic” approach is to take the exact same idea and implement it in new places.    This is, you exactly replicate the good idea in other locations.  Intel practiced this with their “Copy Exactly!” approach to manufacturing to ensure the highest quality.  Or, do you take the essence of the idea and allow each location to tweak the idea to better fit their unique needs?  This is what they call the “Buddhist” approach.  I heard a talk from Walmart where they discussed how their stores are very different in the US vs India vs Japan and so on.  They have learned to tailor their approach to the local market.
  2. You have to have excellence to scale it.  And, the authors note, it should be good to have deep excellence before scaling.  Rolling out something like the use of analytics could fit into this.  It is better to have a central team that is very good at analytics before you try to get an analytics team in each of your divisions and regions.