Earlier in the week, I did my first post at HBR.org in over 2.5 years -- my last was in January 2011. I was pretty shocked that it had been so long -- my last post was about a story I heard at Pixar on how Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith (Pixar's founders) served as "human shields." In the 1980s, they were under pressure from their (then superiors) at Lucasfilm to do a large layoff in the division that eventually was sold to Steve Jobs and became Pixar. Ed and Alvy did somthing remarkable to protect their people --something that people at Pixar still talk about to this day.
As the song goes, ain't it funny how time slips away. But the last few years have required intense focus from Huggy Rao and me to finish Scaling Up Excellence, as we both gave everything we had to the book -- it isn't up to us to judge the quality, but I can tell you that I worked longer and harder on this effort than any work project in my life. The last year or so, when people asked me what I was doing, I half-joked "I am trying to type my way out of solitary confinement in my garage."
To be clear, although I am delighted to have the book finally done, and both Huggy and I sometimes felt pressure to make progress and were troubled when we hit dead ends, part of me is sorry the writing is over. Huggy is a delight to work with (his speed of idea generation is astounding) and, well, the fact is that I am probably happiest when I am alone in a quiet room writing. So the book gave me a glorious excuse to indulge in something I love. Now, I will turn that love to writing short pieces about scaling and other management and realted behavioral science topics -- here and elsewhere. And Huggy is getting cranked up to do so as well -- he is a remarkably creative guy, one of the most productive, thoughtful, and prestigious organizational researchers on the planet.
I will reprint the HBR post here in a week or so -- they let me do that after it has been the site for awhile. The new is called "Scaling:The Problem of More." Julia Kirby, a senior editor at HBR (and a skilled management theorist -- see Standing on the Sun) helped me craft a compact summary of how and why we ended-up with such a broad take on the concept of scaling and what it takes to do it well. Here is the key sentence:
"Scaling challenges nearly always come down to the same problem: the difficulty of spreading something good from those who have it to those that don’t – or at least don’t yet. It is always, in other words, the problem of more."
It sounds so simple when I re-read those words. But Huggy and I spent seven years wrestling with this challenge -- and we aren't done yet! It would be arrogant -- and also not very useful -- to claim that we've got all the answers just because the book is done. As I will discuss in future posts, the book evolved from a process where Huggy and I believed that we would spend a few years gathering evidence, stories, and scaling techniques and then one day unveil the fully formed "truth" in the book to a more social process. Our writing was punctuated by interactions where we described parts of what we had learned to people who were knee-deep in scaling, had been in the past, or had other kinds of expertise related to scaling (especially our academic colleagues). Then we would listen to their reactions, stories, evidence, and advice -- and update our perspective little by little.
Finishing the book is a milestone in this process, but as Huggy likes to say, "the adventure continues." So please give us your reactions, tell us your scaling stories, and ask us hard questions. As you will see here and elsewhere, we are continuing to collect new studies, stories, and lessons about what it takes to scale up without screwing up.