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Nate’s Notes 81: Bob Sutton | “The Knowledge That I’ve Got Enough”

By July 20, 2023No Comments

Bob Sutton

Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University

Stanford Engineering Professor Bob Sutton | Stanford eCorner

I love the lessons Bob shared today.

First: Embrace the attitude of wisdom. Two of the best leaders Bob has ever known, John Hennessy, the former president of Stanford, and David Kelley, the founder of IDEO, have strong opinions but look for signs that they’re wrong. They make strong arguments but then listen, ask questions, and listen some more, often changing their opinions. When David Kelley reorganized IDEO, he symbolically demonstrated the attitude of wisdom by shaving his mustache. He didn’t pretend like he had all the answers and recognized that they could iterate if they needed to. A great example of the attitude of wisdom: acting with knowledge, all the while doubting what he knew, confident but not really sure.

Second: The best teams engage in constructive conflict. At Pixar, Brad Bird, the director of The Incredibles, and John Walker, the producer of The Incredibles, argued endlessly about everything. But in their words, they worked in loving conflict every day. It was never personal, compared to Stanford, where too few people know how to argue constructively and instead resort to passive-aggressive tactics. The worst teams engage in personal and emotional conflict. But the best teams engage in constructive conflict…they argue as if they’re right, but then listen as if they’re wrong.

Third: There’s a disease Bob sees in successful people. No matter how much fame, money, status, power, or even lovers they have, it’s never enough. When Kurt Vonnegut said to Joseph Heller, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel ‘Catch-22’ has earned in its entire history?”, Joseph Heller responded, “I’ve got something he can never have. The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”

Bob has spent 40 years learning and achieving, which makes the three lessons he did share all the more meaningful: Embrace the attitude of wisdom, engage in constructive conflict, and know when you’ve got enough. All simple ideas. Please take them seriously.

Bob Sutton Bio:

Bob Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. Bob is co-founder of Stanford’s Center for Work, Technology, and Organization, the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, and the “d school”. He’s a New York Times bestselling author and has published over 200 academic articles as well as 8 books, which have sold more than a million copies.  Bob has served as an advisor to McKinsey, Bain, and Microsoft, as a Fellow at IDEO, and as faculty at the World Economic Forum, and he is currently a Senior Scientist at Gallup.

He has given keynote speeches to more than 200 groups in more than 20 countries and has been a guest on numerous radio and television shows, including ABC, Bloomberg, BBC, CNBC, Fox, NBC Today Show, PBS, NPR, Marketplace, and CNN.

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