I thought I would provide an update about what I am working on these days, and use it to get some ideas and advice from folks who read this blog.
2011 was a year of learning and thinking for me, which was necessary because 2010 was simply wild. I had open heart surgery in April, Good Boss, Bad Boss was published in September, as was the paperback version of The No Asshole Rule -- both of which became New York Times bestsellers. I spent 2011 doing a lot of talking, reading, and thinking about two future projects -- they are moving along, but it is always a slow process. I am lucky to have a job where I don't have to rush to get things out before I am proud of them.
The first project remains in the early stages. It follows from my focus on the intersection of humanity and performance in the workplace. I would tell you more, but it is so ill-formed that I changed my mind about the exact focus several times last year and will likely do so several more times. The one thing I can say at this point is that, when I go back to all the stories people have told me about being a boss, working for bosses, and dealing with assholes, two themes come up over and over: 1. How crucial it is for people to feel as if they are treated with dignity and respect and 2. How important it is for people to be able to stand-up for themselves and others, to create conditions that enable dignity and respect, but to do so without being an asshole. This first project may take years to reach fruition as my main focus now is on the second project -- which fits with my other work on innovation and organizational change.
My Stanford colleague Huggy Rao and I have been reading about, talking about and studying "scaling" for several years now -- the challenge of spreading and sustaining actions and mindsets across organizations and networks of people -- of spreading excellence or goodness from the few to the many. This was my primary focus last year and will continue to be in 2012. Huggy and I are now making serious progress on a book that digs into the topic.
Every book has a life of its own. This one took awhile to get moving, but it is now dominating our lives. We seem to be in constant conversation with managers and executives from all kinds of industries about the topic (e.g., in recent weeks we've talked to executives from high tech firms, banks, and the hotel industry; administrators who run prisons; leaders of a big beer company; and school administrators -- this week we are swimming in founders of start-ups), we are teaching a fun and somewhat crazy class with 60 MBA and engineers on scaling-up excellence this term (I will blog more about this in the coming weeks), and the text for the book is now pouring out of our computers slowly but steadily.
Last year, HBR provided summaries of projects that a host of of business and management leaders would be taking on in 2011 -- including me. The perspective Huggy and I are developing has become more refined and our ideas are now much sharper. But the "agenda" piece I wrote about a year ago still captures what we are trying to do pretty well.
I said our goal was to finish the book in 2011. That didn't happen, but I am optimistic it will this year as we are moving along at a healthy clip. I repeat that description of our project completely (along with comments from the earlier version of this post, published here last year). We would love any additional comments, suggestions, examples, or other ideas you have:
My Stanford Business School colleague Hayagreeva Rao and I are absorbed by why behavior spreads—within and between organizations, across networks of people, and in the marketplace. We've been reviewing academic research and theory on everything from the psychology of influence to social movements to how and why insects and fish swarm.
We are also doing case studies. We're documenting Mozilla's methods for spreading Firefox (its open-source web browser); the Institute for Healthcare Improvement's "100,000 Lives" campaign (an apparently successful effort to eliminate 100,000 preventable deaths in U.S. hospitals); the spread of microbrewing in the United States; an organizational change and efficiency movement within Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (now part of Pfizer); and the scaling of employee engagement at JetBlue Airways. And we're examining case studies by others, including the failure of the Segway to scale and the challenges faced by Starbucks as a result of scaling too fast and too far.
Our goal is to write a book in 2011 that provides useful principles for managers, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who wants to scale constructive behavior. Because we are in the messy middle, I can't tell how the story will end. But we believe we're making progress, and we're excited about a few lines of thought.
The first is the link between beliefs and behavior. A truism of organizational change is that if you change people's minds, their behavior will follow. Psychological research on attitude change shows this is a half-truth (albeit a useful one); there is a lot of evidence that if you get people to change their actions, their hearts and minds will follow.
The second theme is "hot emotions and cool solutions." As Rao shows in his research on social movements, a hallmark of ideas that scale is that leaders first create "hot" emotions to fire up attention, motivation, and often righteous anger. Then they provide "cool," rational solutions for people to implement. In the 100,000 Lives campaign, for example, hot emotions were stirred up by a heart-wrenching speech at the kickoff conference. The patient-safety activist Sorrel King described how her 18-month-old daughter, Josie, had died at Johns Hopkins Hospital as the result of a series of preventable medical errors. Her speech set the stage for IHI staffers to press hospitals to implement six sets of simple, evidence-based practices that would prevent deaths.
The third is what we call the ergonomics of scaling—the notion that when behaviors scale, it is partly because they've been made easy, with the bother of engaging in them removed. In developing Firefox in the early days, Mozilla's 15 or so employees were able to compete against monstrous Microsoft (and produce a browser with fewer bugs than Internet Explorer) by dividing up the chores and using a technology that made it easy for more than 10,000 emotionally committed volunteers to do "bug catching" in the code. Mozilla now has more than 500 employees, but it is still minuscule compared with Microsoft, and those bug catchers are still hard at work every night.
Again, we would love to hear your ideas: Cases we should dig into, research on scaling and organizational change we should know about, and methods you've used in your organization to scale good behavior and descale bad. We would love to hear it all.