Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Serious Games

My NLP contacts tell me that modelling desirable behaviours is an important part of our learning process. What does that mean in practice? When we have a target that we wish to achieve, we can look at those who have achieved the target in the past, determine the critical aspects of their winning performance, hone our performance to replicate those critical aspects, and then practice to replicate the technique. We may not be successful in achieving our quest, but we will certainly manage to raise our game. This is, after all, the basic business model of the tennis coach (football coach, cricket coach, etc., etc.).

We can also apply this technique to our work in the future. The basic aim of the scenario is to examine how, under a differing set of circumstances, various futures may evolve for us. If the scenarios are deductive (i.e. we focus on the end point), we have little opportunity to influence the final result. If, on the contrary, our scenarios are inductive (i.e. the focus on the pathways into the future), then we have the opportunity to explore the consequences of different decision sets upon a variety of future outcomes. This is the key to the serious game (also known as ‘corporate wargames’).

I had the pleasure of playing the Warm Game last year. This is a serious game produced by Z-Yen for the London Accord on Climate Change (more details). The game takes a simple model of climate change over the 21st Century and considers the implications of a number of possible policy stances of each of the six players. The base model examines the ‘free rider’ problem - if I reduce my Carbon emissions, you will benefit as much as me, but without any of the attendant cost - as it applies to the subject of climate change. As a simulation, the game does induce the same range of responses that we have seen so far on the subject of climate change, which implies that, although only a representation of reality, the game does produce some valid futures.

The issue of strategic foresight is currently towards to the top of the business news agenda. The impact of the ‘credit crunch’ can be interpreted as a monumental failure of strategic foresight by the monetary authorities in the UK. The first run on a bank in 150 years, the resultant nationalisation of that bank (dubbed as ‘the biggest bank robbery in history’ by its shareholders) and the loss of reputation that is being suffered by the City of London are the direct result of a corporate failure to join the dots to form a coherent strategy.

A key role within top management of an organisation is to assess the risks faced by that organisation. Future studies have a tool that can help to identify and weigh those risks – the process of scenario building. By using inductive scenarios, executives can use a behavioural model to explore how to react to a future state as it emerges. Not only can possible future states be identified, but how individuals (or teams) may react to those situations can be modelled.

In this way, teams of managers can learn how to deal with anticipatory crises. One wonders why so few managers do.

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