Scaling up excellence - to infinity and beyond!

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The adage holds that one bad apple can rot the whole barrel. At the core of Scaling Up Excellence there is precisely the opposite effect: seeding excellence from isolated occurrence to enterprise-wide belief system. As authors Robert I. Sutton and Huggy Rao put it, "This book shows what it takes to build and uncover pockets of exemplary performance, spread those splendid deeds, and as an organisation grows bigger and older -- rather than slipping toward mediocrity or worse -- recharge it with better ways of doing the work at hand."

The fruit of seven years' research into the phenomenon, Scaling Up Excellence takes the reader on a voyage of exploration into the concept of scaling up -- dubbed "the Problem of More" -- which deals with how to spread excellence "to more people and more places". Anyone who has worked in an organisation where good ideas don't get the airtime they deserve, from corporations to public service, will identify with this book and be enlightened and entertained by the authors' crisp, witty style as they invoke metaphors ranging from modern warfare ("It's a ground war, not just an air war") to religion "Buddhism Versus Catholicism: Choosing a Path"), engineering "Hot Causes, Cool Solutions: Stoking the Scaling Engine") and more.

This is the kind of business book that engages the imagination -- and expands the vocabulary, with such memorable concepts as "clusterfug", "the Watermelon Offensive, "squelch-free riding" and "the Goldilocks Theory of Bureaucracy". Naturally Scaling Up Excellence is packed with case studies from IKEA, Facebook, Apple, Google, the US armed forces, Pixar, and many more. Let your business add itself to the list!

Speaking of Pixar, the film studio that changed animation for everyone forever with colossal hits like Toy Story, Cars, Finding Nemoand others gets the limelight all to itself in Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull's account of how he took Pixar from dream to silver screen. President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, Catmull has delivered a thrilling ride that investigates how Pixar has so successfully allowed creativity to thrive, yielding the studio scores of accolades, including 27 Academy Awards, seven Golden Globe Awards, and eleven Grammy Awards, as well as untold wealth.

According to the New York Times, Creativity, Inc. "is quickly becoming the latest bible for the show business crowd" with copies on every desk at Disney and praise pouring in from all quarters. Amongst the highest praise has come from the creative colossus George Lucas, who said, "Many have attempted to formulate and categorize inspiration and creativity. What Ed Catmull shares instead is his astute experience that creativity isn't strictly a well of ideas, but an alchemy of people. In Creativity, Inc. Ed reveals, with commonsense specificity and honesty, examples of how not to get in your own way and realize a creative coalescence of art, business and innovation."

These two excellent books complement each other in many ways and repay being read one after another.

Scaling Up Excellence is published by Random House Business Books. Creativity, Inc. is published by Bantam Press. Both are retailing at R315.

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