Steven J Spear was the opening keynote speaker at the Lean Software & Systems Conference. He is a well-known part of the larger Lean community and has a new book out, called The High-Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition. Interesting to see OpEx in the subtitle.
The big message I got out of his talk is that the idea of competitive advantage - or greatness of a company - has nothing to do with the specific tools, technologies and techniques. It has to do with the ability of an organization to learn from what they see. This means they need to have the ability and opportunity to See Problems, Solve Problems, and Share Learning. Leadership's role within the organization needs to make space, make "not knowing" the answer be okay.
Spear used an example from the history of the US Navy's nuclear propulsion program and Admiral Rickover's leadership style. He was the kind of person to admit that he didn't know. He'd raise his hand to ask "dumb" questions. And it was never clear whether he really didn't know, or if he knew there were people in the room who didn't know, and they were too afraid to ask. This behavior encouraged them to (eventually) start asking those questions too.
Along with this example was the description of the "typical meeting," where everyone pretends to know what the speaker is saying, and no one admits to not having the answer or being surprised. When this happens, there is no opportunity to ask the dumb question - or to learn something.