Scaling Up Excellence: A Closer Look at the "Best Business Book" Favorite


It’s that time of year when we start to see various business organizations and content publishers offer their list of “best business books” for the year. These lists are helpful in that they provide shortlists of books that are well written, timely, and worth our valuable time to read. There are always a few titles that consistently make more than one list and these are the titles of special interest to note. So far, a few of these “best of” titles for this year are:

Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, by Simon Sinek

The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, by Walter Isaacson

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz

One book also making the lists is Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao. This book is full of interesting case studies and based on seven years of research. The authors “tackle a challenge that determines every organization’s success: scaling up farther, faster, and more effectively as a program or an organization creates a larger footprint.” A multitude of industries are covered including start-ups, pharmaceuticals, airlines, retail, financial services, high-tech, education, non-profits, government, and healthcare. Here is a nice video you can view where the authors briefly discuss the key concepts of the book starting with this description: “Our new book…is about what it takes to spread a little bit of excellence from those who have it to those who don’t, so it could be scaling up a startup or spreading something good like practices to reduce the number infections or preventable deaths in a hospitable…”

Dr. Michael Watson, writing for Supply Chain Digest examines the book and provides three supply chain lessons that can be learned. In his post entitled, “Supply Chain by Design: Three Supply Chain Lessons from the Book Scaling Up Excellence,” Dr Watson writes, “The book is worth a read if you are trying to roll out a new system or set of best practices across your supply chain. The book applies to many different types of companies and organizations. You’ll be able to pick and choose ideas from the examples and apply them to your situation.” He lists three examples that are relevant to the supply chain:

Amateurs discuss strategy, professionals discuss logistics – In this context, the term logistics was used to refer to “getting things done.” But, Dr. Watson states, “this also talks to the role for the supply chain team in many corporate initiatives” as “you need more than a good product, you need to worry about the logistics of making the product and getting it to where it needs to be.”

Smaller teams may be better – In the case of a large ER, “where it gave up some economies of scale in size, to gain much more benefits from better communication and coordination,” Dr. Watson adds, “This lesson can be applied in many areas of a supply chain including in the Lean idea of small manufacturing pods within a plant.”

Changing tactics depending on the system status is a good strategy – There is a story in the book about a successful traffic light system implemented by a bank that indicated to tellers if there was time to cross-sell products. Dr Watson concluded with this quote: “The supply chain often has similar conflicting goals, like minimizing cost and improving service. Just like this case, it may not be best to strictly pick one goal or another. But, instead, picking the goal that matches the status of the system may be the best idea.”


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