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Steven Spear

Steven Spear: Start with a ‘model line’ so that leadership can learn to see and solve problems

By Steven Spear, - Last updated: mercredi, février 5, 2014 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Becoming an exceptional organization, one capable of short term reliability and longer term responsiveness and agility requires building skills that accelerate feedback, correction, and learning.

The reliable mechanism is starting with a ‘model line’ incubator in which leadership is connected to creating and harnessing a problem seeing problems solving dynamic and then using that incubator as a developmental tool to propagate those skills broadly.


We get entranced by the difference in “performance altitude” between those who are exceptional and those who are typical. In doing so, we overlook the fact that superior altitude was gained through superior “climb rate.” Those who are the very best are the very best because they got better faster than those doing comparable work.

What explains the difference in climb rate? Given the starting point is characterized by relatively poor understandings of market need, solution configuration, and delivery generation and the higher the level, the better the actionable understanding, then the difference in climb rate is really a difference in discovery or learning rate.


Therefore, if leaders truly aspire for their organizations to be great, they have to develop and deploy the mechanics for high speed, broad based, sustained discovery.

These mechanics depend on what is for most a fundamental change in behaviors.

Designing work systems to reveal problems rather than suppress them.

Solve problems when seen rather than firefight and workaround them, often involving an escalation of the problem’s diagnosis and treatment.

Apply systemically what was discovered locally.

Manage others by developing these core behaviors.


The learning dynamic of seeing and solving problems and systematizing what has been learned is not just an individual undertaking but requires mastery as a collaborative effort. Like learning any group skill, better to start with a few people in a focused area and build out rather than trying with everyone all at once and hope that you get it right in the few discovery cycles that working at large scale allows.

This leads to the proven approach of picking a ‘model line’ application—some piece of work that is representative of key concerns but which can be tightly bounded, linking the small foot print model line through a long leg through several layers of leadership, and using the model line to practice new roles and relationships.


Exceptional performance depends on exceptional learning dynamics. Developing exceptional learning dynamics depends on building a platform on which those dynamics can be introduced and practiced. That platform is most effective when it is small, allows high speed, low risk learning iterations, with a representative process at its core, and representation from multiple layers of hierarchy in its membership.

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