About a month ago, Huggy Rao, our editor Roger Scholl, and I wrapped up the process of collecting advanced praise, or "blurbs" as they call them in the book business, for Scaling Up Excellence. I have frankly have mixed feelings about blurbs. First, it is rather odd to ask someone to praise your book. You aren't asking them for an objective review. Second, my last two books sold well — both were New York Times bestsellers — and we didn't use blurbs on either hardback. The No Asshole Rule had no blurbs at all. We asked a few well-known people to blurb it, and each said — in essence — "I love the book but don't want my name on something with the word asshole on it." After that, because the book sold so well, I didn't believe much in blurbs, so we didn't put any on the hardcover of my next book, Good Boss, Bad Boss. But I did later collect some to put on book sales sites such as Amazon and they ended-up on the paperback.
For Scaling Up Excellence, our editor Roger Scholl convinced us that blurbs made more sense. For starters, it has no dirty words on the cover! Asking people for blurbs would get it in the hands of well-known people who were interested in scaling –which was good for spreading word even if they elected not to blurb it. And we hoped that a broad set of blurbists would convey to readers that our ideas were pertinent to all kinds of leaders, teams, and organizations — not just start-ups or big companies, for example. Of course, we hope the list below will help sell some books. But the process of collecting them was surprisingly encouraging and downright enjoyable because we had so many friendly exchanges –some with old friends and some with people we didn't know before making the request.
For starters, my past experience with blurbs is that about 50% of the people you ask turn you down, never answer, or promise a blurb but don't get around to doing it. That is one of the reasons we asked so many (in addition for our desire for diversity). We were surprised and pleased with the high response rate. We asked 28 people and got 23 blurbs. Of the those five, two turned us down (each said the same thing — the same argument I use — they only endorse books when they can read the whole thing, and they didn't have time to do it). One never wrote back and two others have a policy of doing no blurbs at all (including the dean of a business school who didn't want to be in a position of blurbing some of his faculty members' books and not others and a famous CEO who turns them all down, as otherwise he said he would be deluged). And we were especially heartened by the enthusiastic the emails that we got along with the blurbs from people including Adam Grant, Dan Pink, Teresa Amabile, Google's Laszlo Bock, and Pixar's Ed Catmull.
Perhaps the most heartening of all was Tom Peters' response. Frankly, we didn't even ask him at first because, given he is the original "Excellence" author, we assumed it would be presumptuous and he would just say no. Then, just a week or so before the deadline, I did a Commonwealth Club gig with Tom and David Kelley about their great new book Creative Confidence. Tom told me he was puzzled that we never asked Tom Peters, and said he would get in touch with Peters about it — I told Tom that doubted he would do it, especially on such short notice. We are still a but stunned by the response. Peters not only came back quickly with a glowing blurb (thank you Tom) and very warm personal note. He tweeted about it several times and wrote us several spontaneous little "love notes" about the book in the following weeks.
As I said, we hope these blurbs sell some books. But, even if they don't sell a single book, the process has been wonderful because people have been so encouraging. This gives us confidence as the February 4th publication date. And as Adam Grant's research suggests, it is a reminder of how many generous and successful people are out there. All of these people are very busy and we know that most had more important things to do than to blurb our book — but they took the time to do it anyway. Here is the set, which I find both humbling and surprising each time I read it:
"A great read that provides real, practical advice whether you're a team of 5 or 50,000. Sutton and Rao find just the right stories to show how almost any team can get bigger and better." –Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of People Operations, Google
“Scaling Up Excellence is one of the finest business books you'll ever read. It is rich with vivid examples, deep research, and practical advice on the toughest challenge organizations confront: how to spread success from a few small pockets of an organization to its entire fabric. Whether you're an entrepreneur who wants to get big, a CEO who wants to avoid stagnation, or a non-profit executive who wants make a deeper difference, Scaling Up Excellence is an essential read — a playbook that belongs on the desk of every leader.” -Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and To Sell Is Human
“Innovation at scale and speed is our goal. Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao show us how to do it more often and better, knowing that scale matters.” –Beth Comstock, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Office, GE
“The Internet creates new possibilities for scaling, but scaling rarely happens because of technology alone. This insightful book shares the methods and strategies that successful leaders rely on to spread the beliefs and behaviors that can accelerate an organization's growth while simultaneously improving its processes.” -Reid Hoffman, co-founder/chairman of LinkedIn and co-author of the #1 NYT bestseller The Start-up of You
“Growth and reinvention are key to winning, especially in tech. In Scaling Up Excellence, Sutton and Rao outline a real-world view of the challenges leaders face, and provide wisdom and practical tips about how to master them. I loved the insights.” -Shantanu Narayen, CEO, Adobe Systems
“Startups sow the seeds of their culture from the very first day. Yet their ultimate success depends on knowing when and how to scale. Drawing on first hand accounts from a wide range of industries, Scaling Up Excellence is the first book to offer a detailed examination of the best practices needed to successfully scale without diluting the very qualities that made a company successful in the first place. An important book for corporations and entrepreneurs alike.” -Eric Ries, bestselling author of The Lean Startup
"Maintaining excellence while growing is full of pitfalls and pain, and requires a great deal of thoughtfulness. Scaling Up Excellence gives us a well-crafted framework for thinking about and addressing the nitty-gritty problems on the ground without getting derailed by lofty goals. Sutton and Rao keep us focused on the personal actions required for tackling this leadership challenge.” -Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation Studios
“One of the challenges faced by any complex organization is how to improve performance by sharing best practices within the organization. Too often, scaling is done as an art. To be done well, it needs to be a science. ‘Scaling Up Excellence’ elevates scaling to a core competency instead of a talent. This is a worthwhile book to read.” -George Halvorson, chairman of the board, Kaiser Permanente
“A must-read. Renowned experts Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao are the first to tackle a pervasive problem that every leader faces: spreading and multiplying success. This landmark book is full of rich examples, powerful studies, and actionable insights for anyone who cares about making groups or organizations more effective.” - Adam Grant, Wharton professor and bestselling author of Give and Take
“Sutton and Rao provide an illuminating perspective that is particularly useful for leaders and teams about to embark on their own challenging journey to scaling excellence. The stories and studies shared by the authors provide valuable strategic and practical advice, which will increase your odds of success when they are combined with the real “grit” required to make improvements.” -Ann L. Lee, senior vice president, Genentech and Global Head of pharma technical development, Roche
"We are all searching for new ways to build more effective teams, startups, and organizations that will stand the test of time. Through compelling research, stories, and narrative, Scaling Up Excellence will show you how to help your best ideas reach a much wider audience. If you want to have a big impact . . . make sure your entire team reads this book." –Tom Rath, bestselling author of Strengthsfinder 2.0
“An engaging exploration of a powerful and frequently neglected source of competitive advantage: Finding ways to spread and sustain the best ideas and practices we already know how to do. Packed with inspiring examples of how to make it happen –or miss out.”-Martin Riant, Group President Baby, Feminine and Family Care, Procter & Gamble Co.
“If you want your organization to expand and grow without losing what makes you special, this is the book for you. Sutton and Rao have written a must-read handbook for scaling.” -Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Decisive, Switch, and Made to Stick
“Scaling Up Excellence offers a strong antidote to the common pap–the delusions, impatience and incompetence– that too often frustrate reforms and keep many good ideas from achieving their goals. Through engaging accounts of both organizational successes and colossal failures, Sutton and Rao offer practical wisdom for scaling improvements in complex institutions. Anyone involved in the work of improvement should hold this book close at hand.” -Anthony S. Bryk, president, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
“Rather than a one size fits all recipe for what to do in scaling up your company, Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao offer guidelines for action in easy to read terms, based on case studies and research conducted over the last seven years. If you are interested in excellence using the principle of Less is More, this is the book to read." -Riccardo Illy, Chairman, Grupo Illy, S.p.A
“Scaling Up Excellence is the best book I’ve ever seen on making an organization’s vision come true. Sutton and Rao have created a deeply practical guide that is also a great read, grounded equally in astonishing stories and rigorous research. No matter what you do for a living, read this book to figure out how to link your “short-term realities to long-term dreams.” - Teresa M. Amabile, professor, Harvard Business School and coauthor, The Progress Principle
“Taking a small, manageable organization and making it into a big, successful enterprise is a major challenge in healthcare or any other industry. Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao take the mystery out of ‘going large’ with memorable mantras and fascinating case studies. Scaling Up Excellence shows the high roads – and the pitfalls – on the way to bigger and better. Delos M. Cosgrove MD, CEO and President, Cleveland Clinic
“Inspiring stories, compelling research, and actionable ideas masterfully woven together and immediately usable by any entrepreneur or manager.” -Clara Shih, CEO and Founder of Hearsay Social, member of Starbucks Board of Directors
“Sustaining exceptional performance in growing organizations is critical in today’s world. Sutton and Rao bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to identifying best practices in a straightforward and accessible way. If you want to grow your business, you need this book.” – Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone
"Rao and Sutton have hit on an important challenge for leaders in every organization – companies, social sector and government: how do you scale what works, and do it faster. The challenge of finding pockets of excellence and changing mindsets and behavior so that success becomes the norm not abnormal is very real for those who want to make excellence stick. Scaling up Excellence is a useful roadmap for today's change leaders" -Lenny Mendonca, Director Emeritus, McKinsey and Company, Founder, Half Moon Bay Brewing Company
“Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao’s book provides insights on the key principles of scaling for excellence. For entrepreneurs or business leaders at the forefront of organizational growth, “Scaling up excellence” is a treasure trove of case studies and industry showcases.” -N. R. Narayana Murthy, Executive Chairman, Infosys Limited
"Scaling Up Excellence is a masterpiece. I have been wrestling with the same conundrum for 30 years, and I simply marvel at the way Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao have disentangled this supremely important Gordian knot."-Tom Peters, bestselling author of In Search of Excellence
Once again, we thank each of these folks for their kind words and for taking the time to write them.
In closing, I have some advice for any author who is trying to get a blurb for me, or for that matter from most other leaders, authors, and others who are asked to do a lot of them. Other people can help you in specific cases — by introducing you to a potential endorser or even asking for you. We got help landing two or three of the above blurbs — especially from Tom Kelley and Roger. But your odds of success are a lot higher most of the time if you ask them yourself. Sure, you can hand it off to your editor or a publicist, but not only are your odds lower, you miss the chance to make a connection with someone who you probably want to know a bit — and probably wants to know you. Finally, if someone else does land a blurb for you — or even a thoughtful rejection — write the blurbist a personal thank you note. Only good things can come of it.