How to Use Games to Drive Adult Learning | Income OutcomeEveryone who works makes business decisions.

College deans approve faculty. Distribution managers decide on appropriate inventory. Even the teenager cutting grass decides how much to charge.

Since they all make business decisions, shouldn’t they understand how business works?

A great way to gain that understanding is through a business game like Income|Outcome.

In the game, you build a company from scratch; it reflects a real company with all the departments.

Each person can see their role reflected on the board (sales, operations, finance, etc.) as well as the other functions; and they make decisions across all the departments — including the ones they don’t normally have to worry about.

The players see how their everyday decisions affect bottom line results and how they impact the ability of other people in other departments to make good decisions.

In short, the players actually learn about business.

One of our Senior Facilitators, Ana Leiderman, has been leading large companies — both English and Spanish-speaking — through our workshops for 15 years. She specializes in Adult Education; that specialty, combined with her global experience as a Master Trainer, made her the perfect person to approach about why games are perfectly suited to drive adult learning.

Ana told us that Income|Outcome Business Simulation workshops drive learning because they incorporate four essential elements. Her conclusions are summarized below.

1) People learn when they are emotionally engaged

How to Use Games to Drive Adult Learning | Sweet Fish MediaIncome|Outcome is a business simulation.  It uses a competitive market as the ‘hook’ to draw people into the game. When we draw emotions out of people, they learn—because they want to win.

We see two main types of competition in our workshops:

1) Some players just want to beat the others. (Not surprisingly, a lot of salespeople fall into this category!)

2) Others just want to make a profit. You don’t have to be the most successful team in the classroom.  For a lot of people, winning means simply having a profitable round after several rounds of poor results. (Sometimes it is not even that—we once had a couple of Zen Buddhists play as a team; they decided they didn’t want to make a profit, and they played accordingly. At the end of the game they had no debt and no profit, so they succeeded—they won.)

While players can have different goals, the principle is the same: if you’re emotionally engaged, you absorb the material.

We give away gold and silver ‘acumen’ for winning teams. Several weeks later, a manager might take his ‘acuman’ to a meeting to remind other people of his business acumen. The token speaks for itself.

How to Use Games to Drive Adult Learning | Sweet Fish Media

And the pursuit of that distinction keeps people engaged.

2) People learn what they need to know

We design our simulation dynamics to make teams dig themselves into a hole. When they want to get out of the hole we offer them a financial planning or analysis tool.  Because they want to succeed in the game, they learn the tool.

And often the tool is useful in their real world jobs.

A manager from a high-tech company left the classroom to go back to his office to review the operating report he’d been measured on for 12 years. He sent a note to us later saying, “Thank you; I finally understand what I’m reading.”

Similarly, people are often irritated or put off by budgets. But in the workshops, teams must use budgets to gain control of their business.

By the end of the workshops, they become budget-friendly. They no longer see budgets as malicious traps laid by the financial department.

They want to win.  In order to win, they have to learn the concepts. So they do.

3) People need to apply the learning or it does not stick

The simulation uses iterative cycles so people have an opportunity to use the tools they are learning.  Each workshop comprises 3-6 playable rounds, because the knowledge usually sticks around the third time through

How to Use Games to Drive Adult Learning | Sweet Fish MediaIt’s all iterative: the game is structured so that each round builds on previous rounds and reinforces the learning.

Each time around, complexity increases and we introduce new tools. The players produce new results, then we compare the rounds.

The first time they complete financial statements, some people get it and some people don’t.  By the third instance, most people are whizzing through the exercise.

The same thing happens with forecasting and budgets, supply and demand, pricing, and key ratios.

We see this amazing light switch turn on in the players’ eyes.We realize they understand the tool: they know what it does, they know when to use it, and they know why it’s important.

4) People learn more when they can relate the new material to what they already know

The game focuses on the way that adults learn.

Unlike with children, who are blank slates, people working in business already have a lot of information. The game simply gives them a framework to utilize what they already know — we make new connections between the different bits of information and get them to use that information it in a different way.

Take cash flow forecasting, for example.

Very simply, forecasting means figuring out what you’re going to do and how much money you’ll need to do it. A lot of people think it looks foreign, but we remind them that they already do this at home.

When they plan a trip to the Bahamas, they look at how much money they have. Some goes to the mortgage, some to child care, and so on. Depending on how much is left over, they can say yes or no to the trip. They can also squeeze around some money to make it work, by using a credit card or dipping into savings.

How to Use Games to Drive Adult Learning | Sweet Fish MediaThe game takes that everyday knowledge and formalizes it. It provides an environment where common knowledge translates to business knowledge.


Business acumen learning solutions can have multiple learning objectives:

  • To teach people how business works.
  • To demonstrate the relationship between the business, the customers, and competitors.
  • To teach KPIs, what they mean and why they’re important.
  • To get employees to see beyond their particular function and understand how they fit into and affect the performance of the whole company.

It’s a lot of learning. Using a game to drive the learning will help the learning stick.

For a more in-depth look at what our particular game encompasses, here’s a step-by-step guide.