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Steven  Spear

Steven Spear

Innovation & Operational Expert


Steven J. Spear is a senior lecturer both at the MIT Sloan School of Management and in the MIT Engineering Systems Division, as well as a senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. He has won numerous awards for his written works, including the Philip Crosby Medal from the American Society for Quality (ASQ) for his book The High Velocity Edge; a McKinsey Award from Harvard Business Review for his article "Fixing Healthcare from the Inside, Today”; and numerous Shingo Prizes for Research Excellence. Read More >

Spear has demonstrated in theory and practice his expertise about leadership, innovation, and operational excellence and he is an authority on how select companies — in high-tech and heavy industry, design and production, and manufacturing and services — generate unmatched performance by converting inspiration into repeated, skill-based disciplines.

Spear’s articles “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 at the forefront of healthcare improvement. He has contributed to The Boston Globe and The New York Times and has appeared on Bloomberg TV and radio, CBS and elsewhere.

At MIT, Spear teaches in the Leaders for Global Operations Program and in Sloan School Executive Education Custom Programs, as well as the open enrollment course "Creating High Velocity Organizations," which is based on his research. He has guest lectured at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Medical School, Ohio State University and elsewhere.

His clients have included well-known corporations like Intel, Lockheed Martin, Intuit, Novelis, Alcoa, the US Army, and United Technologies and he has worked with healthcare providers such as Kaiser Permanente, Cedar Sinai, Massachusetts General, Brigham Womens and Memorial Sloan Kettering. At Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, he is on a patient safety advisory board and was recently named to an advisory panel on systems engineering at University of Texas. He is also a board member for the not-for-profit Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership and for the medical IT company Aceso. He is the founder of a business process software company called See to Solve.

Among other accomplishments, Spear’s “high velocity edge” concepts were the basis of the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative's “Perfecting Patient Care System.” That has been credited with eliminating horrible complications like central line infections, surgical site infections, patient falls, and so forth, thereby improving care quality while reducing cost. 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 cost for marketing processes, new product development, and software design. Spear also helped lead the development and deployment of senior leadership training for the Bluegrass Automotive Manufacturing Association ("BAMA"--Toyota's North American supplier network.) In that role, he is one of the few, if not the only ‘student’ of Toyota, to actually teach back into the Toyota system. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

2011 MHS Conference - Part 1

2011 MHS Conference - Part 2

2011 MHS Conference - Part 3

Achieving Tremendous Quality, Access, and Affordability in Healthcare

The High-Velocity Edge and it's Application to Healthcare

The High-Velocity Edge and it's Application to Businesses

Speech Topics

Making the Leap: How High-Velocity Organizations Get Ahead & Stay Ahead

Regardless of your industry or sector—whether civilian, military, high tech, heavy industry, manufacturing, or design—the difference between your organization being great and being average is having the knowledge to be great. In this engaging presentation, speaker Steven Spear explains that great organizations distinguish themselves through their ability to build new and useful knowledge, to innovate, and to bring new discoveries into useful practice. Read More >

Drawing from examples as wide ranging as NASA’s bid to put a man on the moon within a decade and a hospital’s failure to diagnose a problem well in advance, Spear shows how an organization can make the leap from average to great by using a “hop, skip, and jump” method. Just as the Mercury spacecraft—the “hop”—led to the Gemini spacecraft—the “skip”—which only then led to the Apollo spacecraft—the “jump”—organizations make giant leaps to greatness through many small steps.

Spear shares specific tips and examples to show your organization how it can make these small steps to stay ahead of the learning curve and thus become or remain great. Read Less ^

Leading in a High-Velocity World

We live in a world where even the most distinctive products or services become commoditized, seemingly overnight. At the same time, the complexity of designing, manufacturing, and distributing goods and services approaches unmanageability. The temptation for many companies is to outsource, restructure, and downsize as a way to “cheat death,” at least in the short run. Read More >

Speaker Steven Spear thinks this is wrong. He lays out the case for competing on the basis of high speed, sustained innovation across the span of determining market needs, developing products and services to meet those needs, and creating and running systems to deliver those items to market. The challenge is not so much to find a position, unhampered by competitors, but to simply outrun the field, propelled forward by new and ever better ideas, as they struggle vainly to catch up. Drawing on his rich experience with firms such as Toyota, Alcoa, and the US Navy, Spear shows how leaders can design and run fast, innovative, and adaptive organizations using new capabilities. These center on capturing and integrating knowledge around problems, swarming around and solving problems to build new knowledge, disseminating knowledge to the peripheries of the organization, and embedding these disciplines as part of the leadership mantra of the enterprise. Once you see these practices in operation, you will never return to the traditional management models we've grown up with. Run with the rabbits! Read Less ^

Improving Healthcare: Twice the Care at Half the Cost

As the debate on US healthcare reform reaches fever pitch, we risk losing sight of a basic problem: in the current healthcare system, Americans pay too much and get too little in return because care delivery is often mismanaged. Individual practitioners spend half their time and work compensating for malfunctioning systems rather than providing care. Read More >

Speaker Steven Spear believes that the American health system can do better. In his presentations, Spear lays out a path to providing much better care to more people than we currently do at less cost and with less strain on providers. How?

High-velocity medical providers are learning how to replace their old approach to management with a more sophisticated approach to designing and operating complex processes, improving them when flaws are found, and modifying the systems as appropriate when circumstances change. This continuous process helps healthcare organizations better manage their internal complex systems, identify inefficiencies, and quickly address them. As a result, in model institutions, hospital-acquired infections, patient falls, misdiagnosis, and other risks and injuries to patients have been dramatically reduced.

Steven Spear is at the leading edge of healthcare reform and offers tangible solutions for the industry’s most pressing challenges. His innovative approach to management has helped numerous healthcare providers improve safety, increase the quality of results, and drive down costs. Read Less ^

Don’t Be a ‘Zombie’ Organization!

Zombies are all the entertainment rage, mindless brutes in relentless pursuit despite all the obstacles hurled at them. The outnumbered human heroes nevertheless prevail because they are agile learners, assessing situations and adapting to them—seeing problems, developing new schemes—solving problems to clobber the mindless hoards. It's not just TV that has plodding zombies massed against agile, adaptive people. Organizations also display either zombie or agile hero qualities. Read More >

In zombie organizations, engineers, doctors, nurses, mechanics, or managers encounter problems, big and small, but instead of pausing to investigate and develop better solutions, they use “workarounds” to keep plodding forward. Zombie behavior is wasteful. Worse, it creates risk of catastrophe. 

Fortunately, failure is avoidable. In contrast, high-velocity learning organizations easily vanquish their foes with fewer people and fewer resources. They don't start with perfect products, services, or processes. But, they start by recognizing that imperfection is inevitable, so they constantly look for and find stumbles in execution that impede progress. They aggressively investigate and diagnose those low-level problems and then develop robust "treatments" to prevent recurrence. When they are really "on," they aggressively teach and learn, sharing discoveries organization-wide to get the maximum performance bang for the learning buck. And their leaders see critical part of their own mission-critical capabilities to include coaching, encouraging, and harnessing the capabilities of: (1) seeing problems; (2) solving problems; and (3) spreading discoveries. These organizations get far better, far faster, and their rivals cannot keep up. When these high-velocity learning capabilities are in play, nothing remains the same. Issues encountered on Monday are addressed on Tuesday, and by Wednesday new approaches are being tested and tried. Read Less ^