Strategies For Starting, Sustaining, And Accelerating Virtuous Scaling Circle

24 May 2017 | “What I hear I forget, what I see I remember, and what I do I understand.” The quote is to remind that strategies are for actions, indeed thoughtful actions.

Sutton & Rao put 7 points on strategies for starting, sustaining, and acceleration virtuous scaling circle as follows.

1. Name the Problem
Gloria Steinem explained that, to generate collective emotion and attention around a cause, it is wise to “name the problem.”

2. Name the Enemy
Research on sports teams, combat teams, corporations, political movements, and warring countries shows that, when people feel threatened by an external threat, solidarity and cooperation usually shoot up. As celebrated social activist Saul Alinsky advised, “Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

The “name the enemy” strategy can be extremely effective. But it can also backfire. It loses its punch when you try it over and over and repeatedly fail to best your enemies. It can do more harm than good if your claims are seen as delusional or inauthentic. And it can be dangerous when people embrace it so strongly that they will do anything to destroy a rival.

3. Do It Where All Can See
Persuading people to take “public” actions that demonstrate a commitment to a mindset or a belief is a powerful means for stoking the behavior-belief cycle.

Public commitments foster especially strong accountability pressures in long-term relationships.

Mindsets spread further and are held more strongly when people have no place to hide.

4. Breach Assumptions
Social norms are often unspoken dos and don’ts that every group, organization, and society enforces. Norms can infect members’ souls so thoroughly that they are barely noticed even as they animate a host of feelings, thoughts, and actions.

Breaching experiments reveal the contours of unwritten social rules.

5. Create Gateway Experiences and On-Ramps
Gateway objects and experiences are equally valuable for paving the path to excellence— especially for guiding transitions to new behaviors and beliefs.

The right transitional experience can serve as a stepping-stone to scale up a new mindset and turn hope into reality.

6. New Rituals, Better Rituals
Rituals can serve as on-ramps for creating or reinforcing a mindset— especially when they are performed in front of others, done by all, and repeated over and over. Such public displays of commitment are difficult to revoke or reverse, and as people perform them over and over they become ingrained habits.

7. Lean on People Who Can’t Leave Well Enough Alone
Picking people who will jump at the chance to live the new mindset— and sidelining or even firing those who resist such change— is often the first step to scaling up a new mindset.

Cornell professor Shaul Oreg developed a “resistance to change”survey that reveals the kinds of people best—and worst—suited to embrace and live a new mindset. Four hallmarks of “change resisters”emerged from this research: 1. “Routine seekers”who agree with statements like “I would rather be bored than surprised.”2. People who have strong negative emotional reactions to change, those who become “tense,”“stressed,”and “uncomfortable”at the prospect of doing or dealing with new challenges and chores. 3. Short-term thinkers, those who agree with statements like “When someone presses me to change something, I tend to resist even if I think the change may ultimately benefit me.”4. People who are “prone to cognitive rigidity,”who agree that “once I come to a conclusion, I am not likely to change my mind.”

These are the kinds of people that you ought to exclude from your scaling effort, at least in the early days. They will slow the effort, and, worse still, their fear and foot-dragging can spread to others like a contagious disease. Instead, you want people who get bored with stable routines, don’t stress out—or, better yet, take pleasure—from new challenges, have a penchant for long-term thinking, and are prone to change their minds when new information comes along. You want people who—even when they express skepticism or outright disbelief—still can’t resist the temptation to try something new, to make things a bit better for themselves and others, and who don’t freak out and freeze up when confronted with the confusion and dead ends that are inevitable as we learn new ways of thinking and acting.

Every skilled executive, manager, and supervisor is both a “poet”and a “plumber.”The poetry part is mostly about communicating hot causes: creating beliefs via words, stories, ceremonies, mission statements, goals, and strategic plans to inspire and guide others. The plumbing part is mostly about cool solutions—especially the nitty-gritty behavior required to ensure that planes or trains run on time, widgets or cars are built, grapes are grown and put in bottles of wine, or in our case, students are taught and those books and papers written.

The art of scaling up excellence is very much about knowing when to create a tight connection between poetry and plumbing versus when to stretch, flex, or even set aside your most precious beliefs.


  1. […] Given this controversy, where is the best place to start a scaling effort? Our research suggests that the answer is anyplace you can. While arguments will persist over whether it is most effective or logical to first change beliefs or behavior, the two strategies are mutually reinforcing. So, as a practical matter, you can stoke the scaling engine by targeting beliefs, behavior, or both at once. The key is creating and fueling a virtuous circle. […]


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