Robert Sutton is an organizational change virtual keynote speaker, Stanford Professor, and the New York Times bestselling author of The No Asshole Rule. Sutton’s research focuses on organizational change, leadership, innovation, and workplace dynamics.
Sutton currently speaks about and is working on The Friction Project, which focuses on why organizations make the right things too hard to do, the wrong things too easy. The Friction Project explains how skilled leaders and organizational designers can avert and overcome these obstacles.
He has written seven business books, including the national bestsellers Scaling Up Excellence, The No Asshole Rule, and Good Boss, Bad Boss. Sutton has published over 150 articles and chapters in peer-reviewed journals and management outlets, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review and the McKinsey Quarterly.
Robert I. Sutton is an organizational psychologist and Professor of Management Science and Engineering in the Stanford Engineering School. He is co-founder of the Center for Work, Technology and Organization, which he co-directed from 1996 to 2006. Sutton is also co-founder of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and the “d.school,” a multi-disciplinary program at Stanford that teaches and spreads design thinking. Sutton and Huggy Rao are currently building the Stanford Scaling Network, which brings together researchers, students, and leaders from diverse settings to develop, implement, and share knowledge about growth and diffusion.
Sutton has served as a Fellow at IDEO, a Senior Scientist at Gallup, an advisor to McKinsey & Company, and academic director of numerous Stanford executive education programs including (with Huggy Rao) Customer-Focused Innovation and the online Stanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate. He teaches hundreds of executives, engineers, and other professionals each year who come to Stanford for professional education. He has given keynote speeches to more than 200 groups in at least 20 countries– ranging from 300 city administrators in San Jose, California, to 400 leaders and managers at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, to 3000 beer wholesalers in New Orleans, to 2000 human resources executives in Singapore.
Sutton received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from The University of Michigan and has served on the Stanford faculty since 1983. He has also taught at the Haas Business School and was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences during the 1986-87, 1994-95, and 2002-03 academic years. He has served on the editorial boards of numerous scholarly publications, and as an editor for the Administrative Science Quarterly and Research in Organizational Behavior. Sutton’s academic honors include the award for the best paper published in the Academy of Management Journal in 1989, induction into the Academy of Management Journals Hall of Fame, the Eugene L. Grant Award for Excellence in Teaching, the McGraw-Hill Innovation in Entrepreneurship Pedagogy Award, the McCullough Faculty Scholar Chair from Stanford, and the award for the best article published in the Academy of Management Review in 2005. Most recently, Stanford awarded Sutton the 2021-2022 Department of Management Science and Engineering award for Graduate Teaching.
Sutton was selected by Business 2.0 as a leading “management guru” in 2002. He was named as one of 10 “B-School All-Stars” by BusinessWeek in 2007, which they described as “professors who are influencing contemporary business thinking far beyond academia.” The London Business School selected Sutton for the 2014 Sumantra Ghoshal Award “for rigour and relevance in the study of management.” The American Management Association selected Sutton as one of the top 30 leaders who most influenced business in 2014 (ranking him 10th on their list).
Sutton studies leadership, innovation, organizational change, and workplace dynamics. He has published over 125 articles, chapters, and case studies in scholarly and applied publications. He has also published seven books and two edited volumes. Sutton’s first book (with Jeffrey Pfeffer) is The Knowing-Doing Gap (Harvard Business School Press, 2000)—which was selected as Best Management Book of 2000 by Management General and in 2010 was selected by Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten as one of the best 100 business books of all time. Weird Ideas That Work (The Free Press, 2002), was selected by the Harvard Business Review as one of the best ten business books of the year and as a breakthrough business idea. Sutton (and Jeffrey Pfeffer) then published Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense (Harvard Business School Press, 2006), which was selected by Toronto’s Globe and Mail as the top management book of 2006 and by Strategy and Business as the best business book of 2006 and (in 2011) as one of the best 10 in the last decade.
The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t (Business Plus, 2007), is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Amazon.com (as the #1 non-fiction book), and BusinessWeek bestseller—and has been translated into more than 20 languages and sold over 800,000 copies. Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to be Best… and Learn from the Worst (Business Plus, 2010) is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. In 2014, Sutton and Huggy Rao published Scaling-Up Excellence, which is a Wall Street Journal bestseller and was selected as one of the best business books of the year by Amazon, the Financial Times, Inc., The Globe and Mail, and Library Journal. The Asshole Survival Guide (HMH, 2017) was selected as book of the month by the Financial Times, and was featured in outlets including The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, and The Guardian. New York Magazine, INC, and Vox.
Sutton’s research and opinions are often published as articles and quoted in the press, including The New York Times, The Times (of London), Fast Company, INC, BusinessWeek, The Atlantic, Financial Times, Esquire, Fortune, Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, National Post, The Observer, The Boston Globe, The Telegraph, Entrepreneur, Industry Standard, Investor’s Business Daily, Wired, Chief Executive, Strategy+Business, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury, TechCrunch, Vanity Fair, and Washington Post. Sutton has also been a guest on numerous radio and television shows, including ABC, Bloomberg, BBC, CNBC, Fox, NBC Today Show, PBS, NPR, Marketplace, Here and Now, CNN. Sutton had been interviewed on popular podcasts including WorkLife with Adam Grant, How To! with Charles Duhigg, Goop with Elise Loehnen, That’s What She Said with ESPN’s Sarah Spain, The Art of the Charm, Sloan Management Review, and Harvard Business Review.
Robert Sutton, along with colleague Hayagreeva Rao, spent six years working to uncover how the best leaders and organizations spread excellence: from people and places that have it, to those that don’t. Sutton shows how the fate of every organization depends on building or finding pockets of exemplary performance, and—more importantly—how to spread those splendid deeds from the few to the many. Scaling well requires more than just creating a big footprint in a small amount of time.
He shares principles that can be applied to organizations of every size and stripe: including large and small nonprofits, government agencies, schools, universities, and hospitals. Sutton closes by emphasizing that successful scaling requires relentless attention: a concentrated effort throughout the entire organization. There is no quick and easy way to do it well. Indeed, the most successful leaders are so persistent that they seem to take the path of most—rather than least—resistance as they spread excellence from the few to the many.
Sutton weaves together the best psychological and management research with true stories to reveal the mindset and moves of the best bosses – which he bolsters by contrasting them with evidence on how the worst bosses think of themselves and treat their people. Sutton shows how bosses can master essentials including striking just the right balance between being too assertive and not assertive and doing dirty work like disciplining and firing employees in timely and humane ways.
Combining ideas from HBR top book of the year Weird Ideas That Work, his experience as an IDEO fellow, academic research on innovation, and his experience in the new Stanford Institute of Design – where the focus is on teaching and coaching student teams that are doing real creative for real companies like Mozilla, Fidelity, WalMart, SAP, Timbuk2, Google, and others – Sutton talks about and leads workshops with organizations about the challenges of managing and doing creative work.
Stanford Professor Robert Sutton leads workshops that combine his vast knowledge of theory and research about innovation with a real-world, hands-on approach. He has conducted these design thinking workshops with groups including Arco gas stations, Tesla Motors, Del Monte Foods, the Ministry of Manpower in Singapore, and the Higher Colleges of Technology in Abu Dhabi.
These workshops typically run three hours and are highly interactive, resulting in lessons about key elements of innovation and design thinking including leadership, group dynamics, human resource management and, especially, the fundamentals of the design process and hands on learning about how to apply it to a host of business problems. In addition, they work with clients to develop and deliver workshops that are customized to the client’s needs and interests.