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Rather than focus specifically on your company, focus on your whole industry. Participants end up with a better understanding of the issues and the reasons behind the management decisions – and will be better prepared to respond when the problem changes

In this Gotchas Series I’m writing about the top 12 ways a business acumen simulation can go wrong. Near the top of the list is excessive navel gazing — here’s why.

Encourage buy-in and critical thinking

You want to create an understanding of your business, so the simulation dynamics should reflect the key dynamics of your industry.  However there is still the question of how much the simulation should model the particulars of your company. If the simulation focuses on a range of strategies, learners come away with the ability to understand, and contribute to, your corporate strategy. If it focuses on a single strategy, learners may not understand the reasons behind it, and may not support it.

A custom business simulation or game can be a finely detailed (and accurate) model that describes a problem and outlines a prescribed solution. This creates organizational alignment but it gives little room for creative decision-making. When the problem changes, or when the learner moves on, the learning loses its applicability.

Working with a generalized model

The alternative is to work with a more generalized model. You can still customize the game to model the fundamental dynamics of the industry (e.g. cost structure and competition) and the fundamental aspects of business (managing separately for both cash flow and profit). This kind of simulation will not present a ‘correct’ response to the problems that arise in the game (or in the real world company), but it will offer various strategic directions, any of which could be successful so long as it is managed well by the team… and any of which will fail if managed badly.

In this approach people will not necessarily arrive at the same answers as higher management, but they will have a better understanding of the issues and the reasons behind the management decisions. And they will be more responsive when the problem changes. They will also be better able generate a wide range of creative responses and be better decision-makers themselves.

So before you choose a business acumen development solution, ask, “is the simulation appropriate for my industry? Does it encourage understanding of the strategic options within the industry?” If the solution is too specific to your company, it probably fosters too much navel gazing.