Cultivating an experimental mindset: Critical leadership skill and responsibilityMar 27th, 2012 | By steven_spear | Category: Featured Article, High Velocity Organizations
There are often huge disparities in performance among rivals that are otherwise similar by the products and services they offer, the markets in which they compete. Understanding and replicating the same phenomenon is the shared objective of lean, six sigma, TQM, process re engineering and the like.
The disparities in performance are across the board in terms of product and service quality, cost and production and delivery efficiency, workplace safety, time to market, responsiveness and so forth. They exist across the board in terms of industry type–high tech and heavy industry, service and manufacturing, and they exist at all stages from development and design through production and delivery.
A “snap shot” comparison between the leaders and the followers would suggest differences in tools and technologies explain the differences in performance. “Install” enough of the tools, and the performance gap should be closed.
However, the “snap shot” comparison is misleading. Market leaders have achieved their pre eminence through rates of improvement and innovation that can be matched neither in speed, breadth, nor duration by their counterparts.
Consequently, the differences between the leaders and followers are not tools, techniques, and technology, they are behavioral: providing capacity for relentlessly seeing problems, solving problems, and incorporating new found knowledge in products and services and the systems by which they are delivered.
It falls to leaders to cultivate the behavioral dynamic of relentless learning and discovery. Doing so requires that they discard the conventional notion that leadership is the domain of analysis, decision making, and resource allocation (including decisions to allocate resources to ‘purchasing’ and ‘installing’ lean tools) and accept that leadership means both cultivating and modeling an experimental mindset.
In “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System,” we reconciled an apparent contradiction between standardization and responsiveness by demonstrating that the standardization was not the end, but a means to an end: creating a stable platform on which bona fide experimental learning could occur. “Learning to Lead at Toyota” documents one managers internalization of such problem solving discipline, and “The High Velocity Edge” illustrates how such discipline in design for the purposes of unleashing discipline and power in problem solving was harnessed in the Navy’s nuclear program by Admiral Rickover, at Alcoa, at Pratt and Whitney in jet engine design, and as part of the regular work of senior leaders at Toyota.
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