Stanford Biz School Professor Huggy Rao and I spent seven years working on Scaling Up Excellence, which will (finally) be published in early February. The history of the d.school and the book are deeply intertwined – it never would have been written without the healthy discomfort the d.school creates for both students and teachers. The exact date of the d.school’s birth is difficult to trace but a key milestone came in 2006 when we moved into our first dedicated teaching space – a double-wide trailer on the Stanford campus. A big and often unruly gang of us taught what is now Bootcamp for the first time that January (I found an old note from Alex Kazaks, who along with George Kembel was one of the key leaders: over 20 people were on the teaching team for 60 students).
By mid-2006, in addition to hanging out with early d.school stalwarts including Diego Rodriguez (we taught something called Creating Infectious Action in Spring of 2006), Debra Dunn, Michael Dearing, Liz Gerber, and Perry Klebahn (all are still involved, except Liz who is a Northwestern professor and founder of Design for America), I was talking a lot (often over a glass of wine) with Stanford Business School colleague Huggy Rao — who had just arrived at Stanford. I talked to Huggy about the madness of the d.school, how our goal was to create great experiential learning. Huggy, a design thinker at heart, immediately asked the “and” question “suppose we did an executive program that combined traditional classroom education in the mornings AND that hands on stuff you do at the d.school in the afternoons.”
Huggy’s applied his charm and persistence to convince GSB administrators to take a risk on our crazy new program. With an amazing d.school team led by Perry Klebahn, we launched Customer-Focused Innovation in 2006: the first d.school executive program. Just as Huggy had imagined, in the mornings, 30 or so executives gathered in a case style classroom at the Business School to discuss topics leading innovation, strategy, marketing, and such. In the afternoons, the gang moved to the d.school’s double-wide trailer and worked on prototypes for improving customer experiences at ARCO gas stations. Many participants from that first year went on to do remarkable things. Doug Deitz from General Electric, one of the heroes of both Tom and David Kelley’s Creative Confidence and Scaling Up Excellence, developed and spread the “Adventure Series” — which makes the experience of getting MRI’s, X-Rays, and other scans fun rather that terrifying for little kids. Jeremy Gutsche, then with Capital One, started the fantastically successful site Trend Hunter (which just passed one billion visits). And Kaaren Hanson, who took CFI in 2007, led the “Design for Delight” movement at Intuit. Check out this post called “The Clean and the Messy” to learn more about the first CFI.
A vexing management challenge arose that first year. Our book’s opening paragraphs explains:
Scaling Up Excellence tackles a challenge that confronts every leader and organization—spreading constructive beliefs and behavior from the few to the many. This book shows what it takes to build and uncover pockets of exemplary performance, spread those splendid deeds, and as an organization grows bigger and older—rather than slipping toward mediocrity or worse—recharge it with better ways of doing the work at hand.
This challenge has been our constant companion since 2006, when we launched a weeklong management education program at Stanford on “Customer-Focused Innovation.” It kept clobbering us over the head. No matter what we asked the participants to do—discuss a Harley-Davidson case study, interview JetBlue customers at the airport, or design solutions to improve the “gas station experience”—the same concern nagged and gnawed at them. It pervaded their comments and questions. They described it as the biggest obstacle to building a customer-focused organization. And their feedback drove us to devote more time to this challenge each year.
We started calling it the Problem of More. Executives could always point to pockets in their organizations where people were doing a great job of uncovering and meeting customer needs. There was always some excellence—there just wasn’t enough of it. What drove them crazy, kept them up at night, and devoured their workdays was the difficulty of spreading that excellence to more people and more places. They also emphasized that the Problem of More (which they often called “scaling” or “scaling up”) wasn’t limited to building customer-focused organizations; it was a barrier to spreading excellence of every stripe.
Huggy and I invite you to visit www.scalingupexcellence.com to learn more about the vexing challenge of spreading, multiplying, and sustaining constructive words and deeds. If you pre-order it now, we’ve got a few goodies for you including a sneak peek of the first chapter, an interview with David Kelley about scaling up IDEO and the d.school, and a calendar our publisher will mail you with tips for making 2014 “the year of subtraction.”
Scaling Up Excellence is about the challenge of spreading all kinds of good things from those who have it to those who don’t – not just design thinking. But “the Problem of More” has become a central theme in the Customer-Focused Innovation program. Huggy and I teach scaling principles in the mornings. The steps for taking design thinking back to participant’s organizations are reinforced Perry Klebahn and Jeremy Utley ‘s d.school team in the afternoons. For example, Claudia Kotchka, who led Procter & Gamble’s efforts to spread innovation, shares scaling lessons such as “go where the suction is, which is often where people are desperate for help” and “Start with yourself, where you are right now, and with what you have and can get right now.” And Klebahn and Utley give scaling homework to the 60 or so executives who attend CFI homework: they commit to specific steps for developing and spread designing and later report their successes, failures, and lessons learned.
This story about how Huggy and I became obsessed with scaling is just one of thousands that wouldn’t have happened without the d.school. Each of us have our own private d.school – we each have different experiences and learn different things. Yet the d.school is for all of us in certain crucial ways: It helps us see the world differently, to live through some mighty instructive failures, and to do unexpected things that make us proud.
by Bob Sutton
Please check back in a few days for Part 2 of this series…