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MIT System Dynamics Seminar: Structural Simplification, Dynamic Stabilization, and Experimental Clarity

February 22, 2021 @ 9:00 am - 10:30 am EST

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You are invited to attend the System Dynamics Seminar Series being held on Monday, February 22nd from 9:00-10:30 am EST via Zoom. Our guest speaker will be Steven J. Spear (MIT Sloan) presenting Structural simplification, dynamic stabilization, and experimental clarity: Unlocking collective intelligence to solve important problems quickly (see attached announcement; abstract and brief bio below).

Please visit the MIT System Dynamics Seminars page for more information.


Some organizations are consistently better performers than their counterparts despite otherwise competing on a level playing field.   They achieve this superiority by simplifying the structure of the systems (e.g., processes) through which the contributions of individual experts are harmonized towards a common purpose and by adding frequent, granular feedback to dynamically stabilize those processes.  The combination of simplification and stabilization creates clarity (reduction in complexity and improvement in noise-to-signal rations) that enhances experimental productivity.

This experimental productivity is expressed at three distinct levels.  First, simplification makes the organization’s processes easier to design and improve because action-reaction relationships are first-order, not high order.  So, any tests of change on how the organization conducts its business involve fewer variables in play simultaneously, not more.  Also, simplification allows clean modularization, meaning tests of change can be conducted locally without disrupting the system as a whole.  Dynamic stabilization makes tests of change in enterprise processes easier too.  Built-in tests indicate early and often where perturbations are emanating, and rapid reaction prevents those local events from having systemic effects.  All this allows more individual and collaborative efficacy in improving flows of creative work.

That the enterprise’s processes through which individual contributions are expressed are less confusing and more reliable means that creative energy that would be otherwise expended by individuals as sense-making about the context in which they are operating can be used more productively instead.  In part, this liberated creativity can be directed at “objects” on the benchtop (e.g., the molecule being created by the chemist, the piece being formed by the machinist, the patient being treated by the clinician, the code being written by the engineer).  Also, in part, this liberated creativity can be directed at the equipment being used on the benchtop, in the work cell, the exam room to harness material, information, and energy towards manipulating the object of concern.

Being able to design, operate, and improve enterprise processes quicker easier so that collaborative creativity can be better expressed on scientific and technological problems may well be a source of competitive advantage.  This is especially true when rates of change are a threat vector to all, and when legacy approaches are rapidly made irrelevant by scientific advances (in particular ever more rapid flows of ever-richer information), and pandemic caused disruptions that invalidate legacy approaches to collaboration.

Examples of simplification and stabilization to increase experimental productivity will include new product development (jet engines) and drug development.

Brief Bio:            

Steve Spear DBA MS MS is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management where he teaches a core class in the Leaders for Global Operations Program and in executive education programs. He has advised some four dozen theses and is the principal investigator on a machine learning/medical care project.  He is also the founder of See to Solve LLC, a software company whose products support high-frequency problem solving and distributed learning in complex systems.  His work as an organizational theorist focuses on the design, operation, and improvement of business processes so their configuration best taps into the creative potential of the many individual experts whose efforts have to harmonize towards a common purpose.  Spear authored “Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System,” “Fixing Healthcare from the Inside Today,” other publications in Annals of Internal MedicineAcademic Medicine, and other healthcare journals. Ideas in his book, The High-Velocity Edge, have been the basis for the management system at utility DTE Energy, for the business system at aluminum maker Alcoa, and for the Navy’s high-velocity learning initiative; they have been tested in practice in a variety of other sectors.  Spear has been an advisor to the Director of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, the Chief of Naval Operations, a former Secretary of the Treasury, and some corporate leaders.  His degrees include a doctorate from Harvard, a master’s in mechanical engineering and management from MIT Sloan, and a bachelor’s from Princeton, where he studied economics.


February 22, 2021
9:00 am - 10:30 am EST
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