We’re not sure what the first business simulation was, but when you research the topic, you’ll find ample references to the Beer Distribution Game. Unfortunately for some players, the “Beer Game” isn’t supposed to involve any drinking, just simulated distribution from frustratingly hard-to-manage inventories. It was developed in the early 1970s at the MT Sloan School of Management and is still used in academic and corporate settings.

Like other simulations, there’s an imaginary industry-specific task to the game (optimize inventory with distribution). The real learning, however, and the object of the experiential learning, happens at the 30,000 foot view: organizations see how individuals and teams solve problems and individuals experience ah-hah moments that inform how they can improve their performance in any area of their job.

…the one thing I think that people don’t realize about games is if they’re well designed, they can provide a really great “ah-ha” moment.—Karl Kapp in Forbes

Speaking of a 30,000-foot altitude, another venerable business simulation—one one that we market—is Paper Planes, Inc. in which teams compete to develop prototype jets in prescribed scenarios that can challenge and hobble progress.

Developed by Discovery Learning (now MHS Assessments), Paper Planes, Inc. has earned a reputation as an easy-to-implement and popular product. We’ve had a lot of experience with it and we’ve also documented excellent results with engagements at major corporations and governmental departments. It’s lively and fun, but also powerful.

Participants in Paper Planes, Inc. engage in an scenario where some failure is guaranteed. Learning from such failure in a safe environment is what good simulations and games promote.

Games really provide you this freedom to fail and we know from the research that we learn best after failure, not if we do something really easily. Then we don’t learn from it. But if we fail at something, we reflect on it and then we take action and do the right behavior. That’s where the most effective learning occurs and games are great for that..—Karl Kapp in Forbes

How Paper Planes works

Participants are employed by a plane manufacturing company that has the opportunity to sell as many planes as they can manufacture that meet specific quality standards. Each participant plays an individual role in the production process, i.e., inspector, tester, etc.

The simulation consists of three production runs. After each run, group members discuss and evaluate their efforts measured by production cost, quality, customer satisfaction, delivery time and worker satisfaction. After evaluating effectiveness of their efforts, workers are allowed to redesign the production process to their own specifications. Serial interventions from the manufacturing company’s customer complicate the work redesign and production process.

Organizations that use Paper Planes are often interested in team development, evaluating and enhancing innovation and/or preparing to confront change.

How business simulations work

Click to enlarge diagram. By Kokcharov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the most powerful learning engagements we’ve managed have used simulations. It’s experiential learning in which participants are actively involved focusing on processes that may be new to them. By immersing themselves in the game and the competition, participants are better able to objectively consider how they think, solve problem, communicate and interface the others. A qualified facilitator brings the lessons home with feedback while in process and at the end of the session.

Experiential learning is considered to be very effective for learning retention. The takeaways from a simulation engagement tend to be fundamental insights about better ways to work.

Would you like to talk to simulation users?

While we don’t have statistics on the number of organizations that relay on simulations, the training industry media cover the topic regularly and most learning organizations we know are using them to some degree. However, with Jamesson Solutions field experience, we can put you in touch with clients who have positive results from using business simulations. Contact us here.