Bio


Sutton's research focuses on the links (and gaps) between managerial knowledge and organizational action, organizational creativity and innovation, organizational performance, and evidence-based management. He as published over 100 articles and chapters in scholarly and applied publications. He has also published eight books and edited volumes. In particular, Sutton (and Jeffrey Pfeffer) wrote The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Firms Turn Knowledge Into Action (Harvard Business School Press, 2000), which was selected as Best Management Book of 2000 by Management General. His most recent book is Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation (The Free Press, 2002), which was selected by the Harvard Business Review as one of the best ten business books of the year and as a breakthrough business idea.

Academic Appointments


  • Professor, Management Science and Engineering

Professional Education


  • PhD, Michigan (1984)

Current Research and Scholarly Interests


Sutton's research focuses on the links (and gaps) between managerial knowledge and organizational action, organizational creativity and innovation, organizational performance, and evidence-based management. He as published over 100 articles and chapters in scholarly and applied publications. He has also published eight books and edited volumes. In particular, Sutton (and Jeffrey Pfeffer) wrote The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Firms Turn Knowledge Into Action (Harvard Business School Press, 2000), which was selected as Best Management Book of 2000 by Management General. His most recent book is Weird Ideas That Work: 11 ½ Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation (The Free Press, 2002), which was selected by the Harvard Business Review as one of the best ten business books of the year and as a breakthrough business idea.

Journal Articles


  • On Stepping Down Gracefully HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW Sutton, R. 2011; 89 (6): 40-40
  • The Boss as Human Shield HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW Sutton, R. I. 2010; 88 (9): 106-109

    Abstract

    As employees strive to do their jobs, they face threats to productivity from all quarters-disruptive technology, meddlesome superiors, senseless organizational practices, and abusive clients and customers. Sutton, of Stanford University, reminds us that the best bosses identify and slay those dragons, thereby protecting the time and the dignity of their people and enabling them to focus on real work. Self-awareness is the key to defending employees effectively. Good leaders resist their own tendency to exercise power: They keep meetings short, listen to their followers, and make it safe to disagree with the boss. They also work to reduce outside distractions by, for example, championing mornings free of e-mail or streamlining performance-review processes. When their own bosses are the problem, they occasionally defy orders. Once in a while, they encourage their people to overtly comply with misguided demands from on high without actually buying in to them. Good bosses fight enemies. They take the heat for their teams. They have their employees' backs. Stepping on to this battlefield requires humility, intelligence, and bravery. In leading the charge to make the workplace safe and productive, however, you may risk martyrdom. Don't lose sight of the need to retain your own political power as you defend against the institutional forces that threaten your employees. And remember that preserving your own well-being will ensure that you have the energy to fight the good fight.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000281093900025

    View details for PubMedID 20821970

  • How to Be a Good Boss in a Bad Economy HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW Sutton, R. I. 2009; 87 (6): 42-50
  • Moon Shots for Management HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW Sutton, R. I. 2009; 87 (6): 107-107
  • How and Why Theories Matter: A Comment on Felin and Foss (2009) ORGANIZATION SCIENCE Ferraro, F., Pfeffer, J., Sutton, R. I. 2009; 20 (3): 669-675
  • What's the Best Strategy for Astrigo? HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW Stybel, L. J., Peabody, M., Dormann, J., Sutton, R. I. 2009; 87 (3): 38-40
  • Suppose we took evidence-based management seriously: Implications for reading and writing management ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT LEARNING & EDUCATION Pfeffer, J., Sutton, R. I. 2007; 6 (1): 153-155
  • Demanding proof INDUSTRIAL ENGINEER Pfeffer, J., Sutton, R. I. 2006; 38 (6): 43-47
  • Management, half-truths and nonsense: How to practice evidence-based management CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW Pfeffer, J., Sutton, R. I. 2006; 48 (3): 77-?
  • Evidence-based management HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW Pfeffer, J., Sutton, R. I. 2006; 84 (1): 62-?

    Abstract

    For the most part, managers looking to cure their organizational ills rely on obsolete knowledge they picked up in school, long-standing but never proven traditions, patterns gleaned from experience, methods they happen to be skilled in applying, and information from vendors. They could learn a thing or two from practitioners of evidence-based medicine, a movement that has taken the medical establishment by storm over the past decade. A growing number of physicians are eschewing the usual, flawed resources and are instead identifying, disseminating, and applying research that is soundly conducted and clinically relevant. It's time for managers to do the same. The challenge is, quite simply, to ground decisions in the latest and best knowledge of what actually works. In some ways, that's more difficult to do in business than in medicine. The evidence is weaker in business; almost anyone can (and many people do) claim to be a management expert; and a motley crew of sources--Shakespeare, Billy Graham,Jack Welch, Attila the Hunare used to generate management advice. Still, it makes sense that when managers act on better logic and strong evidence, their companies will beat the competition. Like medicine, management is learned through practice and experience. Yet managers (like doctors) can practice their craft more effectively if they relentlessly seek new knowledge and insight, from both inside and outside their companies, so they can keep updating their assumptions, skills, and knowledge.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000234246500006

    View details for PubMedID 16447370

  • Prescriptions are not enough ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT REVIEW Ferraro, F., Pfeffer, J., SUTTON, R. I. 2005; 30 (1): 32-35
  • Economics language and assumptions: How theories can become self-fulfilling ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT REVIEW Ferraro, F., Pfeffer, J., SUTTON, R. I. 2005; 30 (1): 8-24
  • Breakthrough ideas for 2004 HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW Khurana, R., Florida, R., Slywotzky, A., Coutu, D. L., Christensen, C. M., Kurtzman, J., Sutton, R., Simester, D., Pink, D. H., Fuller, J., Fryer, B., Meyer, C., Ibarra, H., Morse, G., Quadir, I., Peebles, E., Shirky, C., Stewart, T. A., Buchanan, L., Kurzweil, R. 2004; 82 (2): 13-?
  • Weird ideas - That spark innovation MIT SLOAN MANAGEMENT REVIEW Sutton, R. I. 2002; 43 (2): 83-?
  • The weird rules of creativity HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW SUTTON, R. I. 2001; 79 (8): 94-?

    Abstract

    For at least the past decade, the holy grail for companies has been innovation. Managers have gone after it with all the zeal their training has instilled in them, using a full complement of tried and true management techniques. The problem is that none of these practices, well suited for cashing in on old, proven products and business models, works very well when it comes to innovation. Instead, managers should take most of what they know about management and stand it on its head. In this article, Robert Sutton outlines several ideas for managing creativity that are clearly odd but clearly effective: Place bets on ideas without much heed to their projected returns. Ignore what has worked before. Goad perfectly happy people into fights among themselves. Good creativity management means hiring the candidate you have a gut feeling against. And as for the people who stick their fingers in their ears and chant, "I'm not listening, I'm not listening," when customers make suggestions? Praise and promote them. Using vivid examples from more than a decade of academic research to illustrate his points, the author discusses new approaches to hiring, managing creative people, and dealing with risk and randomness in innovation. His conclusions? The practices in this article succeed because they increase the range of a company's knowledge, allow people to see old problems in new ways, and help companies break from the past.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000170678800012

    View details for PubMedID 11550634

  • Building an innovation factory HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW Hargadon, A., SUTTON, R. I. 2000; 78 (3): 157-?

    Abstract

    New ideas are the precious currency of the new economy, but generating them doesn't have to be a mysterious process. The image of the lone genius inventing from scratch is a romantic fiction. Businesses that constantly innovate have systematized the production and testing of new ideas, and the system can be replicated by practically any organization. The best innovators use old ideas as the raw materials for new ideas, a strategy the authors call knowledge brokering. The system for sustaining innovation is the knowledge brokering cycle, and the authors discuss its four parts. The first is capturing good ideas from a wide variety of sources. The second is keeping those ideas alive by playing with them, discussing them, and using them. Imagining new uses for old ideas is the third part--some knowledge brokers encourage cross-pollination by creating physical layouts that allow, or even force, people to interact with one another. The fourth is turning promising concepts into real services, products, processes, or business models. Companies can use all or part of the cycle. Large companies in particular desperately need to move ideas from one place to another. Some will want to build full-fledged consulting groups dedicated to internal knowledge brokering. Others can hire people who have faced problems similar to the companies' current problems. The most important lesson is that business leaders must change how they think about innovation, and they must change how their company cultures reflect that thinking.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000088059100017

    View details for PubMedID 11183977

  • Knowing "what" to do is not enough: Turning knowledge into action (Reprinted from The knowing-doing gap: How smart companies turn knowledge into action) CALIFORNIA MANAGEMENT REVIEW Pfeffer, J., SUTTON, R. I. 1999; 42 (1): 83-?
  • Perspectives on developing management theory, circa 1999: Moving from shrill monologues to (relatively) tame dialogues ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT REVIEW Elsbach, K. D., SUTTON, R. I., Whetten, D. A. 1999; 24 (4): 627-633
  • The smart-talk trap HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW Pfeffer, J., SUTTON, R. I. 1999; 77 (3): 134-?

    Abstract

    In today's business world, there's no shortage of know-how. When companies get into trouble, their executives have vast resources at their disposal: their own experiences, colleagues' ideas, reams of computer-generated data, thousands of publications, and consultants armed with the latest managerial concepts and tools. But all too often, even with all that knowledge floating around, companies are plagued with an inertia that comes from knowing too much and doing too little--a phenomenon the authors call the knowing-doing gap. The gap often can be traced to a basic human propensity: the willingness to let talk substitute for action. When confronted with a problem, people act as though discussing it, formulating decisions, and hashing out plans for action are the same as actually fixing it. And after researching organizations of all shapes and sizes, the authors concluded that a particular kind of talk is an especially insidious inhibitor of action: "smart talk." People who can engage in such talk generally sound confident and articulate; they can spout facts and may even have interesting ideas. But such people often exhibit the less benign aspects of smart talk as well: They focus on the negative, and they favor unnecessarily complex or abstract language. The former lapses into criticism for criticism's sake; the latter confuses people. Both tendencies can stop action in its tracks. How can you shut the smart-talk trap and close the knowing-doing gap? The authors lay out five methods that successful companies employ in order to translate the right kind of talk into intelligent action.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000079984100015

    View details for PubMedID 10387575

  • Averting expected challenges through anticipatory impression management: A study of hospital billing ORGANIZATION SCIENCE Elsbach, K. D., Sutton, R. I., Principe, K. E. 1998; 9 (1): 68-86
  • Technology brokering and innovation in a product development firm ADMINISTRATIVE SCIENCE QUARTERLY Hargadon, A., SUTTON, R. I. 1997; 42 (4): 716-749
  • Organizational performance as a dependent variable ORGANIZATION SCIENCE March, J. G., SUTTON, R. I. 1997; 8 (6): 698-706
  • The virtues of closet qualitative research ORGANIZATION SCIENCE SUTTON, R. I. 1997; 8 (1): 97-106
  • Brainstorming groups in context: Effectiveness in a product design firm ADMINISTRATIVE SCIENCE QUARTERLY SUTTON, R. I., Hargadon, A. 1996; 41 (4): 685-718
  • Consequences of public scrutiny for leaders and their organizations RESEARCH IN ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR, VOL 18, 1996 SUTTON, R. I., Galunic, D. C. 1996; 18: 201-250
  • WHAT THEORY IS NOT ADMINISTRATIVE SCIENCE QUARTERLY SUTTON, R. I., STAW, B. M. 1995; 40 (3): 371-384
  • EMPLOYEE POSITIVE EMOTION AND FAVORABLE OUTCOMES AT THE WORKPLACE ORGANIZATION SCIENCE STAW, B. M., SUTTON, R. I., PELLED, L. H. 1994; 5 (1): 51-71
  • ORGANIZATIONAL-BEHAVIOR - LINKING INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS TO ORGANIZATIONAL CONTEXTS ANNUAL REVIEW OF PSYCHOLOGY MOWDAY, R. T., SUTTON, R. I. 1993; 44: 195-229

    View details for Web of Science ID A1993KL13500007

    View details for PubMedID 19090760

  • ACQUIRING ORGANIZATIONAL LEGITIMACY THROUGH ILLEGITIMATE ACTIONS - A MARRIAGE OF INSTITUTIONAL AND IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT THEORIES ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT JOURNAL Elsbach, K. D., SUTTON, R. I. 1992; 35 (4): 699-738
  • APPLIED IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT - HOW IMAGE-MAKING AFFECTS MANAGERIAL DECISIONS - GIACALONE,RA, ROSENFELD,P CONTEMPORARY SOCIOLOGY-A JOURNAL OF REVIEWS Elsbach, K. D., SUTTON, R. I. 1992; 21 (4): 520-521
  • THE RESPONSES OF DRUG-ABUSE TREATMENT ORGANIZATIONS TO FINANCIAL ADVERSITY - A PARTIAL TEST OF THE THREAT-RIGIDITY THESIS JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT DAUNNO, T., SUTTON, R. I. 1992; 18 (1): 117-131
  • CHARISMA - LINDHOLM,C ADMINISTRATIVE SCIENCE QUARTERLY Galunic, D. C., SUTTON, R. I. 1992; 37 (1): 174-178
  • ORGANIZATIONAL IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT AS A RECIPROCAL INFLUENCE PROCESS - THE NEGLECTED ROLE OF THE ORGANIZATIONAL AUDIENCE RESEARCH IN ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR GINZEL, L. E., Kramer, R. M., SUTTON, R. I. 1992; 15: 227-266
  • BUILDING A MODEL OF WORK FORCE REDUCTION THAT IS GROUNDED IN PERTINENT THEORY AND DATA - REPLY ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT REVIEW SUTTON, R. I., DAUNNO, T. 1992; 17 (1): 124-137
  • EMOTIONAL CONTRAST STRATEGIES AS MEANS OF SOCIAL-INFLUENCE - LESSONS FROM CRIMINAL INTERROGATORS AND BILL COLLECTORS ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT JOURNAL Rafaeli, A., SUTTON, R. I. 1991; 34 (4): 749-775
  • ISOMORPHISM AND EXTERNAL SUPPORT IN CONFLICTING INSTITUTIONAL ENVIRONMENTS - A STUDY OF DRUG-ABUSE TREATMENT UNITS ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT JOURNAL DAUNNO, T., SUTTON, R. I., Price, R. H. 1991; 34 (3): 636-661

    Abstract

    Using institutional theory, we developed predictions about organizational units that moved from an environment making consistent demands to one making conflicting demands. Many community mental health centers have diversified into drug abuse treatment. The units providing those services face conflicting demands from the traditional mental health sector and the new drug abuse treatment sector about which clients to serve, how to assess their problems, and who should provide treatment. We propose that in response to such demands these units will adopt apparently conflicting practices. Also, isomorphism with the traditional sector will be positively associated with external support from parent mental health centers and other actors in the mental health sector. Results generally support those predictions.

    View details for Web of Science ID A1991GD13300006

    View details for PubMedID 10128668

  • MAINTAINING NORMS ABOUT EXPRESSED EMOTIONS - THE CASE OF BILL COLLECTORS ADMINISTRATIVE SCIENCE QUARTERLY SUTTON, R. I. 1991; 36 (2): 245-268
  • THE SOCIOLOGY OF EMOTIONS - ORIGINAL ESSAYS AND RESEARCH PAPERS - FRANKS,DD, MCCARTHY,ED ADMINISTRATIVE SCIENCE QUARTERLY Rafaeli, A., SUTTON, R. I. 1991; 36 (1): 134-137
  • SWITCHING COGNITIVE GEARS - FROM HABITS OF MIND TO ACTIVE THINKING HUMAN RELATIONS LOUIS, M. R., SUTTON, R. I. 1991; 44 (1): 55-76
  • BUSY STORES AND DEMANDING CUSTOMERS - HOW DO THEY AFFECT THE DISPLAY OF POSITIVE EMOTION ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT JOURNAL Rafaeli, A., SUTTON, R. I. 1990; 33 (3): 623-637
  • ORGANIZATIONAL DECLINE PROCESSES - A SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE RESEARCH IN ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR SUTTON, R. I. 1990; 12: 205-253
  • REACTIONS OF NONPARTICIPANTS AS ADDITIONAL RATHER THAN MISSING DATA - OPPORTUNITIES FOR ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH HUMAN RELATIONS SUTTON, R. I. 1989; 42 (5): 423-439
  • DECREASING ORGANIZATIONAL SIZE - UNTANGLING THE EFFECTS OF MONEY AND PEOPLE ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT REVIEW SUTTON, R. I., DAUNNO, T. 1989; 14 (2): 194-212
  • THE EXPRESSION OF EMOTION IN ORGANIZATIONAL LIFE RESEARCH IN ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR Rafaeli, A., SUTTON, R. I. 1989; 11: 1-42
  • UNTANGLING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DISPLAYED EMOTIONS AND ORGANIZATIONAL SALES - THE CASE OF CONVENIENCE STORES ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT JOURNAL SUTTON, R. I., Rafaeli, A. 1988; 31 (3): 461-487
  • DETERMINANTS OF WORK FORCE REDUCTION STRATEGIES IN DECLINING ORGANIZATIONS ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT REVIEW Greenhalgh, L., Lawrence, A. T., SUTTON, R. I. 1988; 13 (2): 241-254
  • THE PROCESS OF ORGANIZATIONAL DEATH - DISBANDING AND RECONNECTING ADMINISTRATIVE SCIENCE QUARTERLY SUTTON, R. I. 1987; 32 (4): 542-569
  • HOW SELECTING AND SOCIALIZING NEWCOMERS INFLUENCES INSIDERS HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT SUTTON, R. I., LOUIS, M. R. 1987; 26 (3): 347-361
  • THE STIGMA OF BANKRUPTCY - SPOILED ORGANIZATIONAL IMAGE AND ITS MANAGEMENT ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT JOURNAL SUTTON, R. I., CALLAHAN, A. L. 1987; 30 (3): 405-436
  • CHARACTERISTICS OF WORK STATIONS AS POTENTIAL OCCUPATIONAL STRESSORS ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT JOURNAL SUTTON, R. I., Rafaeli, A. 1987; 30 (2): 260-276
  • EXPRESSION OF EMOTION AS PART OF THE WORK ROLE ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT REVIEW Rafaeli, A., SUTTON, R. I. 1987; 12 (1): 23-37
  • MANAGING ORGANIZATIONAL DECLINE - LESSONS FROM ATARI ORGANIZATIONAL DYNAMICS SUTTON, R. I., EISENHARDT, K. M., JUCKER, J. V. 1986; 14 (4): 17-29
  • FUNCTIONS OF PARTING CEREMONIES IN DYING ORGANIZATIONS ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT JOURNAL Harris, S. G., SUTTON, R. I. 1986; 29 (1): 5-30
  • WORD-PROCESSING TECHNOLOGY AND PERCEPTIONS OF CONTROL AMONG CLERICAL WORKERS BEHAVIOUR & INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY Rafaeli, A., SUTTON, R. I. 1986; 5 (1): 31-37

Books and Book Chapters


  • Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best... and Learn from the Worst Sutton, R. I. 2010
  • The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't Sutton, R. I. 2007
  • Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-based Management Pfeffer, J., Sutton, R. I. 2006
  • Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation Sutton, R. I. 2002
  • The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action Pfeffer, J., Sutton, R. I. 1999