Learning: the key to continuous improvement – Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

From MIT SMR Custom

Certain companies continually deliver more value to the market. They do so with greater speed and ease than their rivals, even when they lack the classic elements of strategic advantage: locked-in customers, dependent suppliers and barriers that keep competitors at bay. Absent such structural advantages, you would expect parity. There are, however, still those companies that regularly outscore the competition. Toyota, Intel, and Apple are among them, as are many lesser known but no less disproportionally successful ventures.

The source of uneven outcomes on otherwise level playing fields? Learning, at which the very best organizations excel. They are far faster and better at discovering what to do and how to do it, as well as at refreshing the set of problems to be solved and solutions to be delivered faster than the ecosystem can render their relevance obsolete.

For sure, learning is not simply training. Training involves accepted skills with an accepted application, and then using an accepted approach to deliver those skills to the organization. Learning, on the other hand, involves converting ignorance and a lack of capacity into knowledge, new skills and understanding. It requires recognizing what you do not know and finding new approaches to solve new problems. This, in turn, requires critical thinking and a willingness to challenge accepted practices, even when those practices are perceived as successful.

Challenge—even respectful challenge—is not a natural act. When something has worked well, complacency and inertia accumulate and interests get vested in sustaining what is familiar, even if it is not optimal. Challenging historical approaches goes along with challenging the emotions, status and prestige associated with those approaches. That is not typically welcome.

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Preparation is key for snow or terrorist acts — Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

From The Boston Business Journal

The brief foul weather last month, and the near-miss this past week gave Bostonians one last reminder of 2015’s record snowfall and the shutdowns and disruptions that resulted, and probably left many wondering, “How vulnerable are business and public agencies to any emergency?” Read More »

Steve Spear and Anders Wallgren interview at DevOps Enterprise Summit 2015 — Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

From DevOps Enterprise Summit

MIT Sloan’s Steven Spear speaks with Anders Wallgren at the DevOps Enterprise Summit about how high-performers in different industries stand out from the competition. These companies tend to be constantly learning, allowing them to deliver value even in hypercompetitive markets.

Watch the full video on the DevOps Enterprise Summit YouTube channel. 

Steven Spear is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and at the Engineering Systems Division at MIT.

Ready to win: What police, companies and the rest of us can learn from the Patriots — Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

From The Conversation

More than a week after becoming football legend, the Super Bowl’s last-minute interception continues to prompt second guessing: did Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll make a bad call when he ordered Russell Wilson throw the ball? Did the quarterback pass poorly?

Or are we focusing on the wrong things altogether?

First, let’s look at the now (in)famous play.

Running the ball, like many Monday-morning quarterbacks have advocated, would have resulted in a massive pileup at the line, and the receiver Wilson spotted in the end zone didn’t appear well covered.

That is until Patriots defender Malcolm Butler emerged as if out of nowhere for the game-saving and Super Bowl-winning interception.

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How Bob McDonald can (really) fix the VA’s health care system — Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Steven Spear

From Fortune , August 8, 2014

The former Procter & Gamble CEO recently confirmed to head the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs must go beyond government reforms that Congress recently struck and address how the troubled agency measures performance.

On Thursday, President Obama signed into law a $16.3 billion measure to help overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs, an agency that in recent months has been plagued with criticisms for long wait times for health care and manipulation of records. While the extra funds are substantial and may be necessary for a system that serves some 8.5 million veterans each year, it won’t be enough to fix the problems at one of the nation’s largest health providers.

Newly-confirmed Veterans Secretary Bob McDonald, a former CEO of Procter & Gamble, must create a new dynamic if the reforms are to succeed; he has to go beyond Congresses’ prescriptions and change the agency’s internal dynamics by focusing on what is measured, why it is measured, and what is done in response to the results.

One of the reasons for the VA’s current crop of problems has to do with the way the VA measures performance. The metrics that former administrators focused on pushed people in the direction of highlighting (sometimes exaggerating) what was going right and playing down what was going wrong.

Consequently, systemic problems — which might have been addressed early on before they caused harm — built up until they caused a crisis. It didn’t help that many of the metrics, such as wait times, were beyond the control and influence of the managers being evaluated, so there was even more incentive to game the system.

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