Anomalies or Leading Indicators? Recent System Failures in IT Security, Manufacturing, and Natural Resource Extraction


MIT SDM Systems Thinking Webinar Seriesspear

Steven J. Spear, Senior Lecturer, MIT Sloan School of Management, Senior Lecturer, MIT Engineering Systems Division, and author, The High Velocity Edge

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Date: August 8, 2011

About the Presentation

In recent months, we’ve been awash in major system failures — BP, Toyota, a host of IT security breaches at the International Monetary Fund, Apple, Sony, Citibank, and elsewhere.

The purpose of this webinar is to explore two alternative explanations of why so many complex operating systems have failed so significantly in rapid succession The webinar will also offer insight into how complex operating systems can be managed for far greater success.

One explanation is that these are anomalies — flukes, ‘bolt out of the blue’ technological failures that motivate technological fixes.

An alternative explanation is that these events are “leading indicators”, signs of worse to come. The underlying logic is that these systems have steadily changed from simpler and more stable systems to increasingly complex and dynamic over weeks and months. What hasn’t changed is how these systems are managed — i.e., with approaches that, while appropriate for simple and stable processes are inadequate for those that are complex and dynamic.

By the end of the webinar, attendees will understand:

  • the distinction between simple and stable systems and complex dynamic ones.
  • characteristics of management approaches that are adequate for simple, stable system and how these approaches fail for complex, dynamic ones.
  • what approaches are required for managing complex, dynamic systems.

Through a combination of real time question and answer during the webinar and personal reflection, attendees should be able to:

  • characterize the systems on which they depend and for which they are responsible, in terms of simple, stable versus complex and dynamic.
  • critique the appropriateness of their own management approach
  • identify changes in management approach that can lead to greater reliability and responsiveness.

About the Speaker

Operational excellence and innovation expert Steven J. Spear is a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and is a senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. His book, The High Velocity Edge, has won numerous awards including the Philip Crosby Medal from the American Society for Quality (ASQ) in 2011.

Spear is an internationally recognized expert in leadership, innovation, and operational excellence, and he is an authority on how select companies in high tech and heavy industry, design and production, manufacturing and services generate unmatchable performance by converting improvement and innovation from the rare kiss of inspiration to repeatable, broad-based, skill-based disciplines.

Spear’s research has been exceptionally well acknowledged with five Shingo Prizes and a McKinsey award from Harvard Business Review. Spear’s Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System and Learning to Lead at Toyota, are part of the lean manufacturing canon. His Fixing Healthcare from the Inside, Today and articles in Annals of Internal Medicine and Academic Medicine have been on the forefront in health care improvement. He has contributed to the Boston Globe and New York Times, has appeared on Bloomberg TV and radio, CBS, and elsewhere. His clients have included well-known corporations like Intel, Lockheed Martin, Intuit, Novelis, Alcoa, General Electric, Memorial Sloan Kettering, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Among other accomplishments, Spear helped the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative create its ‘Perfecting Patient Care System.’ That has been credited with eliminating horrible complications like central line infections and thereby improving care quality while reducing costs. The Alcoa Business System, which he helped design and launch, is regularly credited with hundreds of millions of dollars in annual savings. Other clients have dramatically compressed time and costs for marketing processes, new product development, and software design.

About the Series

The MIT System Design and Management Program Systems Thinking Webinar Series features research conducted by SDM faculty, alumni, students, and industry partners. The series is designed to disseminate information on how to employ systems thinking to address engineering, management, and socio-political components of complex challenges.