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Robert Sutton

Make the Right Things Easy

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  • Organizational Change Keynote Speaker
  • Stanford Professor
  • Bestselling Author

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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.

More About Robert Sutton

Some of Robert’s engagements include Fortune 1000 and strategic clients such as Microsoft.

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 “,” 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, (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.

Sutton hosted 22 episodes of The Friction Podcast in 2017 and 2018, which was produced by the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. His personal website is, he has more that 40,000 Twitter followers, and he routinely writes posts and articles on LinkedIn (where he has more than 200,000 followers).


After they wrote Scaling Up Excellence, Dr. Sutton and his Stanford colleague Huggy Rao were deluged with stories from beleaguered people explaining about hard it was to get necessary things done where they work—a problem that gets worse as organizations grow, age, and become more complex. Sutton and Rao spent seven years digging into the causes and cures for organizational friction troubles, and along the way, discovered that skilled leaders not only were focused on making the right things easier to do for employees and customers, they also work relentlessly to make the doing the wrong things at the wrong times difficult or impossible to do. This speech unpacks what friction-fixing is such a crucial skills for leading people and designing companies. Drawing their forthcoming book, The Friction Project, Sutton’s speeches and workshops dig into why friction-fixing is a crucial skill and th beliefs and behaviors that friction-fixers hold and spread to others including serving as a trustee of others’ time, treating organizations as malleable prototypes, and rewarding doers rather than posers. His speech focuses on six friction traps and how to build organizations that avert or repair such troubles:

Leadership: Overcoming Power Poisoning

Addition Sickness: Putting the Subtraction Mindset to Work

Broken Connections: On Preventing Coordination Snafus

Jargon Monoxide: On the Drawbacks and (Limited) Virtues of Hollow and Impenetrable Babble

Fast and Frenzied: When and How to Apply Good Friction

The Wrong People: Putting Gunk People and Grease People in the Right Places

Sutton engages audiences with stories about all-star friction fixers, rigorous research, proven tools and tips, and exercises including the subtraction game and imaginary time travel.


For the past 15 years, Stanford’s Bob Sutton and co-author Huggy Rao have studied, written about, and worked with diverse companies on three elements of leading at scale: How to grow organizations, including skills that leaders need to develop as their teams and businesses grow (“up”), how to spread good norms, practices, and behaviors throughout organizations (out”), and how to be an effective leader in a large and complex organization (“big”). In addition to numerous articles on such topics, Sutton and Rao wrote that bestselling book Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less and are currently writing The Friction Project: How Smart Organizations Make the Right Thigs Easier, the Wrong Things Harder, and Do it Without Driving people Crazy.

Sutton has done keynotes and led workshops on leading at scale for more than 100 organizations including Google, Bloom Energy, Deloitte, SAP, InBev, WestRock, Oracle, Rabobank, Netflix, United Fresh, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Girl Scouts of the USA, Uber, UL, McKinsey, American Medical Association, Medtronic, Onyx Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Amgen), and since 2019, he has developed and delivered more than a dozen interactive sessions for Microsoft executives.

The key themes that Sutton discusses during such in-person and online gatherings include:

  • Scaling as “the problem of more”
  • Scaling as the challenge of “unity of effort,” of bringing many people together and moving them forward
  • Key scaling cases including Airbnb, AstraZeneca, IBM, IKEA, Disney, Google, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Netflix, Pixar, Procter & Gamble, Uber, Waze, and the 100,000 Lives Campaign
  • Scaling is about spreading a mindset, not just footprint
  • The power of accountability—of acting as if you own the place and it owns you
  • Scaling is about going fast and slow
  • Scaling as a problem of less and more (and how to overcome the default human tendency to solve problems via addition rather than subtraction)
  • Customize vs. standardize: A crucial, complex, and continuous choice point in every scaling journey
  • How scaling is driven by linking “hot causes” to “cool solutions”
  • Scaling by connecting people and cascading excellence
  • Scaling by going “from bad to great.”
  • Key scaling skills for leaders: delegation, division, integration, exclusion, and repetition
  • Parting points: Scaling as manageable mess and why “change is difficult and takes a long time” is a dangerous half-truth.

In this experience, the moderator can interact with Dr. Sutton on a combination of his (3) key topics, listed here. This allows a more unique and customized experience for the audience and how his tools and practical takeaways can be applied.

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