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Bob Sutton’s Five Essential Books for Leading & Scaling Up Innovation

Bob Sutton’s Five Essential Books for Leading & Scaling Up Innovation

I’ve always been fascinated with innovation, and so am very pleased to introduce my guest blogger, Bob Sutton. Bob is the professor of management science and engineering at Stanford, and has written a bunch of other books and articles. I had the pleasure of interviewing him earlier this year on how to spread excellence throughout an organization, based on his latest book  Scaling Up Excellence.

He and his co-author Huggy Rao have just announced a free online Stanford course (with new interviews with scaling stars) that starts September 8th. Participants get a Stanford Certificate of Completion.  I’d encourage you to check it out here.

Without further ado, here are Bob’s five essential books for leading and scaling up innovation.

Book 1: The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work
by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer
A masterpiece of evidence-based management — the strongest argument I know that “the big things are the little things.”


Book 2: Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace
by Gordon MacKenzie
It is hard to explain, sort of like trying to tell a stranger about rock and roll, as the old song goes; but it is one of the best creativity books ever written and one of the best business books on anything – even though it is nearly an anti-business book. Gordon’s voice and love for creativity and self-expression — and how to make it happen despite the obstacles that unwittingly heartless organizations put in the way — make this book a joy.


Book 3: Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Ed Catmull
An astounding story by one of the most persistent, caring, and imaginative leaders who has ever lived. Catmull shows, as I wrote in my blurb for the book, how “Pixar’s greatness results from connecting the specific little things they do (mostly things that anyone can do in any organization) to the big goal that drives everyone in the company: making films that make them feel proud of one another. (Ed’s note: Here’s a video interview of Bob talking to Ed.)


Book 4: The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914
by David McCullough
On building the Panama Canal. This is a great story of how creativity happens at a really big scale. It is messy. Things go wrong. People get hurt. But they also triumph and do astounding things. And it is the antidote to those who believe that great innovations all come from start-ups and little companies.


Book 5: Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success
by Adam Grant.
I include this in my list on leading and scaling innovation because the implication of Grant’s masterpiece is that — to grow a great organization — you don’t have to select, train, and reward people so that is packed with selfish jerks. On the contrary, the best young organizational researcher on the planet (for my tastes) shows how generosity and kindness can pave the path to individual and collective success.

About Bob Sutton

bob suttonBob Sutton is intrigued by organizational life, especially the little things that make people feel caring, confident, and creative. And how those little things are linked to more traditional organizational outcomes such as innovation and effectiveness (not just making money, saving lives and educating kids too). His latest book is Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More without Settling for Less with Huggy Tao.

Connect with Bob:

Twitter: @work_matters
Web: Scaling Up Excellence
Stanford University: Scaling Up Your Venture Without Screwing Up


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