Don’t worry, unlike society in general our workplaces are not about to be invaded by men and women running around offices in the hope of discovering Pokemon.
Rather, what is being advocated are business simulation games.
It may seem like a frivolous concept. But actually the idea of experiential learning as a seriously important resource has its roots in the thinking of one of the world’s most-respected psychologists, Albert Bandura, who developed the theory of “Guided Mastery” as the best way to enable people to accomplish their goals.
Bandura became most renowned for his remarkable ability to enable people to conquer chronic phobias. Through a step-by-step process and repeated exposure, he was able to get people who had life-long fears of snakes to hold such reptiles in their laps and say things like “Look how beautiful that snake is.” They also ended up having less anxiety about other things in their lives too. They tried harder, persevered longer, and were more resilient in the face of failure.
By providing the opportunity for repetition, simulations are in many ways ideal for enabling experiential learning in a risk-free environment.
And the learning carries over into real life as strategies developed during repeated game play train the mind to re-enact similar solutions in the workplace.
Naturally it was the military who first funded technology to put theory to the test, and use simulations as a training tool.
“One of the first uses of simulation was in 1946, with the MIT Whirlwind project” says Helene Michel, Professor of Serious Games at Grenoble Ecole de Management. A post-war project to train military pilots, it led to the creation of the first digital computer, which calculated all the variables of individual decision-making in a global situation. “Learners could experiment and for the first time see the impact of making different decisions.”
Since then many industries have used simulations. People who regularly face complex dilemmas in their roles, such as pilots, astronauts, and military personnel, routinely use simulations to help them develop the skills and knowledge needed to cope with high-risk, high-impact situations.
Continuous technological advances, both in terms of modelling algorithms and in the behavioural sciences, mean it is now becoming increasingly possible to model not only how hard variables, such as price or the manufacturing capacity of a factory, influence product performance, but also how managerial skills come together in a business environment to drive performance and shareholder value creation.
With new technologies continually emerging we need to review and assess whether our current learning programmes are as memorable, engaging and effective as they could possibly be.
Here are five powerful reasons, beyond increasing resilience, why ‘Business Simulation Gaming’ should be an essential part of a long-term strategy for developing and enriching your people:
1. Enterprise competitiveness – training for Creativity and Entrepreneurship
According to many economists, we are rapidly moving toward the age of human capital, a new age where individual creativity, innovative capacity, and entrepreneurship are becoming the defining element of competitiveness and value generation within enterprises, even more so than financial resources or technological prowess.
According to a survey we recently conducted with more than 500 members of our LinkedIn group HR Jobs and Ideas, a whopping 94.7% of professionals surveyed felt that liberating the full creative and productive potential of their people was one of the most important strategies for remaining competitive in today’s economy. Only 2% felt organisations should focus more on selection and less on personal development.
But how do we train for creativity and entrepreneurship?
Just follow Bandura’s “Guided Mastery” process, says David Kelley, founder of legendary design firm IDEO. Kelley drives home this point in his 2012 TED talk ‘How to build your creative confidence’: “I realized that this famous scientist had documented and scientifically validated something that we’ve seen happen for the last 30 years. That we could take people who thought that they weren’t creative, and help them to bring out their creativity through a series of steps, kind of like a series of small successes. This transformation is amazing”.
2. Engagement and the bigger picture – building a deeper sense of purpose
Business games can also help address the need for wider understanding of the organisation as a whole, and how our daily work fits into it, leading to a deeper sense of belonging and purpose.
The opportunity to improve skills and learn more about the business as a whole, is often the most tangible way people have of experiencing their work as part of their wider career.
“Simulations are often cross-functional, so they offer a nice way for people to see how their input and role has an impact on the wider organisation,” says Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning & Development at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
3. Managerial training – developing the ability to take top-level decisions
Keijii Matsuoka, Representative Director at MI Associates Corporation in Tokyo, has used business simulation games to enable more agile business decision making in-house.
“There are not many opportunities for top-level decision making in daily work – business simulation games make that possible as they can simulate high-quality experiences which can’t be achieved by other means”
One major advantage with simulation games is that they enable participants to learn from their mistakes, in a safe environment.
“Effective learning can be gained from failure. But mistakes in the real world could cost you your job! In business simulation, you can fail many times, and learn from failure, without actual loss: risk-taking without taking risks. This is a key benefit of using the games.”
4. Memorable and rewarding training experiences – playing is learning
There are many advantages to using simulation games in the workplace, not least increased engagement with the training experience.
“Games can be seen as a fun approach, making it possible to increase motivation, as well as the individual’s perceived ability to deal with information,” says Michel.
“Players immerse themselves in the scenario and tend to concentrate intensely.”
Not only this, she says, but games can “re-enchant” learning for the participants. “In France, all major companies play games. I’d estimate most medium to large companies have between one to eight serious games in their training programmes. We tend to believe the learner will be more interested in the subject when it’s fun, and when they’re able to experience it first-hand. Increased interest and motivation leads to broader and more deep-seated learning processes.”
But not all subjects are exciting or fun to learn. Laura Haynes, Head of People & Talent at Urban Massage, suggests that it makes sense to do whatever possible to make dull facts interesting, as the individual is more likely to retain the learning. “With an increasingly millennial workforce, it is also a way to use technology and an approach people are comfortable with,” she remarks.
Michel concludes: “The really exciting trends in serious games reverse the classical top-down learning process. The best serious games don’t just facilitate knowledge transfer, they facilitate innovation too.”
5. Innovation in learning – an opportunity for HR departments to shine
By advocating the use of simulation games for learning, HR has a real opportunity to be strategic and cutting edge, rather than responsive.
“We should display the credibility to identify growing movements and bring business cases to our stakeholders, as opposed to waiting for others to catch on and bring the ideas to us,” says Laura Haynes. “We need to be making the case for developments like business games, and showing our stakeholders the positive benefits that can be gained and quantified in business terms.”
“Also, we would advocate moving from prescribed to a learning-centred approach,” Lancaster adds finally,“facilitating self-directed learning is a really powerful way for coaches to increase their impact – and simulations enable people to explore in their own way.”
And deploying the games successfully isn’t just about having fun. As Keijii Matsuoka notes, each individual needs time to reflect on what has been during through the experience. “After having played the games, I led a reflection session for participants to share insights and to connect learning from the game with real-life business situations”.
At all levels of professional life we are increasingly understanding how to integrate technology in our workflow to achieve more successful outcomes. If better business simulation technologies can also increase our well-being and deeper sense of engagement and involvement in our roles and companies, then they won’t haven’t come a moment too soon.
Any more thoughts about simulations and learning? I’d love to hear all about them in the comments! Also, if you have enjoyed this article please feel free to share it.
Keijii Matsuoka, quoted above, as well as many top companies such as EY and UniCredit, and almost 100 universities around the world have already used our simulation games.
This article was written by Lucie Mitchell for HR Upgrades. Alison Micklem, MBPsS at the British Psychological Society, was the editor for this article and is the Head of Research & Communication at HR Upgrades as well as the manager of the LinkedIn group “HR Jobs and Ideas”