Scaling Up Farther, Faster & Effectively – Event Recap
Earlier this summer, I attended a delightful conference about the topic of scaling. Hosted at my alma mater, the Rotman School of Management, “Scaling Up Farther, Faster & Effectively” was their 17th annual Life-Long Learning Conference and chaired by Dean Tiff Macklem. Here’s a quick recap of some of the stuff I learned.
Session 1: Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less
With: Bob Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering and Cofounder – d.school Institute of Design, Stanford University; Author
I’m so excited to read Scaling Up Excellence, co-authored by Stanford B-School prof Huggy Rao. Some of my fondest memories are of going through the Stanford GSB’s SIGM program (which ultimately set me on the course of pursuing my MBA at Rotman). So when these awesome schools mesh, I get excited. Sutton’s talk really focused on the concept of having a centre of excellence, and the challenges of spreading and sustaining the mindset that drives it. He shared the following scaling principles:
- Link hot causes to cool solutions. Fire up contagious emotions – and give them an outlet
- Cut cognitive load. Organizations need structure and process, and there’s often much more of it as they grow. He shared J. Richard Hackman’s rule – over 6 people in a team and problems start to crop up, but when you get in to double digits…then the real trouble starts. This makes sense based on the special operations forces books I read where, for example. Navy SEALs are grouped in units of four.
- Connect people and cascade excellence.
- Go from bad to great. It’s hard to shed the weight of a dead beat. The impact of negative/bad interactions can drop productivity 30-40%. I previously read about the Losada Line, a ratio of positive:negative interactions also called the critical positivity ratio. It’s since been discredited, but I still like the idea of how much effort is required to “overcome” the negative seeds planted by others.
At an agency where I worked, I started up a series of “ladies lunches” by inviting individuals from departments across the organization. So you’d have someone from creative, someone from dev, someone from U/X etc. Sutton referred to this approach as creating little insurgencies, which I think is a perfect way to explain this attempt to cut through the horseshit we faced each day.
I really enjoyed Sutton’s talk and the reminder that scaling is not about zooming at hyper speed or adding bulk. At times, you have to slow down and reconfigure your vision because reality shifts.
Session 2: The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers
With: Gillian Tett, U.S. Managing Editor, Financial Times; Author
One of the things that I really took away from this session was the idea of organizing around the problem you’re trying to solve, rather than the product itself. Tett used healthcare as an example, specifically the Cleveland Clinic’s use of institutes that are built around the patient’s experience – the brain institute, the heart institute etc. – rather than the training a doctor receives. The content in this session was focused on this anthropological view, and I can’t wait to get and share her book with my sister (an anthropologist). I think the key thing here is in stepping back to observe how things join (or don’t join up). And that as an organization grows, it is pretty insane to think that free flowing information is the answer to managing change – that just “sharing information” abundantly somehow leads to comprehension. Instead, Tett discussed the need to stimulate the interpretation of information among different groups in the system. Her mentions of tribalism and social silences was also really great food for thought, because is often in that group dynamic or the absence of sound where we may see truth.
With: Jeremy Gutsche, Founder and CEO, TrendHunter.com; Author
This was a fun session simply because Jeremy Gutsche (pronounced “goot-chay”) is just unbridled energy. He talked about how in general, and with scaling, specifically, companies are not structured to adapt. Rather, they fall in the trap of repeating, if not potentially just optimizing against whatever they’re already repeating. As the ultimate Hunter as the Founder of Trend Hunter, he spoke about the different profiles of a Farmer and a Hunter – here are some differences:
Farmer Traps Hunter Instincts
Complacent Insatiable – always testing
Protective Willing to destroy and try something new
One interesting example was the contrast between Victoria’s Secret and Zara. Originally founded in 1977 by Roy Raymond, his attempt to market the company to men led to its decline (with it being sold for a mere $1mm in 1982). Re-positioned and re-branded, the company is a +$6 billion powerhouse nearly forty years later. But even that pales in comparison to the stealthy methodology of Zara (an $11.5 billion player in the fashion industry). Co-founder Amancio Ortega may be the second richest man in the world, but his low profile wouldn’t tip you off to how drastically different and responsive Zara’s approach is to fulfilling its customer’s dreams. Zara’s reported turnaround time for a product is said to be one week.
One week from design to production to distribution for a global empire is just bananas.
But they also do interesting things like not spending on advertising, and instead investing that in to their infrastructure. So it makes sense that the focus on their output is strongly supported at an organizational level. As I learned in studying the Zara case during B-School, fulfilling dreams fills their bottom line.
All this knowledge, and we’ve just hit lunch break! Part 2 of my recap on “Scaling Up Farther, Faster & Effectively” will be out soon. So many books to read and review!