We have now run 30+ sessions and two pilot certifications on the three Strategy Board Games. What did we learn? Just don’t call it a game.
Strategy Tools Stories II
Guangzhou, China, February 2002.
The group was not very big. Perhaps 18 – 20 people or so. But they were very focused. Motivated. Eager. The participants had flown in from all over the world. Sweden, South Africa, Australia, Norway, US and beyond. As core members in the global community SKA, or Sveiby Knowledge Associates, the 20-odd people were gathered for an annual SKA summit in the innovation hotspot of South West China.
Central to the program was the topic of knowledge development, learning and building better knowledge-driven organizations. Over the course of days, the topics were explored in great details, with thoughtful speakers, impressive research and behind-the-scenes stories.
But one thing stood out. The use of business simulations in the shape of board games created an entirely different learning experience. Combined with excellent facilitation, notably by James van der Westhuizen from South Africa, the participants soaked up knowledge, stories, insights and expertise from “gamifying learning” rather than simply sitting and listening. The first seeds of curiosity around experiential learning were born.
Fast-forward 17 years and three months.
London, UK (pre-brexit), May 2019
“Quite Brilliant”, the Dutch-born, London-based consultant and Digital Transformation expert summarized.
A long and intense day was just coming to its end. With nearly ten hours of active certification workshop, followed by hours of equally intense brainstorming in the local pub in East London, the group of eight had clearly run its due course of available intellectual energy. The beers (pints) had helped, but only up to a point.
“What if we pool all our brainpower and really try to think about this in a collective way” had been the perfect rallying cry. Over beers, sketches, papers, visual designs and loud discussions (the music was very loud), the group had sketched out how to best take three strategy simulation kits (Board Games) and get them out into the world.
“I want to reinvent my teaching around this”, said the London-based lecturer teaching entrepreneurship and strategy. “This needs to go into executive education programs” (worldwide), said another with years of experience in designing and supporting executive education worldwide.
“We should find a way to teach ALL entrepreneurs and first-time founders this”, said another one, as he recognized the potential impact to help 1000’s of startup and scale-ups build critical skills to successfully grow their companies.
“I see this going into a lot of corporate strategy programs and teams”, said one of the two ex-Cisco leaders. Having seen first hand the challenges of developing and implementing strategy in large, global organizations, Transform! could really help build skills, insights and – importantly – a shared understanding amongst diverse and distributed strategy and business development teams.
“Do you think most Top Management teams even know these things?” asked someone suddenly. The table (in the pub, with the loud music), went quiet for just a moment. “No”, was the reply from one of the most senior business leaders around the table. “They should, they might even think they do, but deeply, genuinely, no, they don’t,” he continued.
A dog barked. (Yes, in East London, they have dogs, four of them, running around inside the pub, one led by two four year old girls). The group quickly sketched further. More beers were brought to the table. New ecosystem designs emerged, and another jolly round of cheers went around the table.
Earlier in the day, East London
The group of eight was just arriving. They had flown, trained and traveled from all over the UK. Consultants, innovation advisers, business school faculty, ex-oil & gas director and business developers; they had all come together for a one-day pilot certification program.
Their shared goals; get hands-on introduction to Supercluster! Scale Up! & Transform! The three strategy simulation kits developed by Strategy Tools – a newly emerging Strategy Platform. Based on research and development by Christian Rangen and his team, the full-scale Strategy Platform was only just launched in open beta a few days earlier that very same week.
Offering 40+ Strategy Tools Canvases, a cloud-based Strategy-as-a-Service software, multiple training and learning programs, three strategy simulations (board games) and a global community of strategists, the platform was starting to connect people from all over the world in their shared interest and passion of shaping the future of strategy.
Scale Up! the Entrepreneurship Simulator
After kicking off the day in East London with a brief introduction, the group of eight quickly got into the first strategy simulation, Scale Up! With Harvey Wade taking the first turn as “facilitator-in-training”, three teams of two competed to build their startup into a successful scale up, including raising an investor syndicate of 35 Million.
Quickly getting into the booms, busts, ups and downs of startup life, the teams started realizing that there was more to the “game” than initially met the eye. After 30 minutes, one of the teams pulled the infamous Google Venture Investor Card and decided to accept the investment offer that was on the table. Not fully realizing the consequences of their actions, the team dove head first into quick investor negotiations and the complex dimensions of cap table math.
Another 30 minutes, a second team was facing the complexities of negotiating and securing their first outside investors. New to the concept of venture funding, the two “founders” struggled with share price, company valuation and fully grasping the long-term consequences of their actions.
As Scale Up! The Entrepreneurship Simulator continued, the participants rotated in and out of the role as “facilitator-in-training”. With time, a growing number started to fully understand the massive strategy and leadership challenges facing a young startup team, and how strategy is fundamentally different for early-stage companies rapidly growing through the seven life stages.
After 2 ½ hours, the first team managed to build a valid investor syndicate, and successfully complete Scale Up! However, it was only in the debrief, calculating the equity positions, cap table and company valuations, it was beginning to dawn on the three teams what they had actually done – mostly without realizing the consequences at the time.
Scale Up Map, the Investor Map and the Long-Term Funding Roadmap, all Strategy Tools canvases and software solutions, were introduced in the debrief, enabling the seven participants understand how much learning remained to fully tackle the ups and downs of successfully building a Scale Up!
While wolfing down lunch, the group of eight buzzed and summed with learnings and insights. Most were leaning in the direction of, “it’s a bit shocking that I don’t know this better,” having realized that their strategic skills were severely challenged by their blind spots and knowledge gaps in building and funding a scale up company.
Transform! The Strategy & Transformation Simulator
The second round of the day, Transform! had the participants take on the role of established companies, in this case in the mobility space, facing a major transformation. Tasked with growing their public market valuation from 5BN to 50BN, the teams quickly got into the competitive dynamics of three companies competing on market dominance, business models and securing analyst blessings. “This feels more like a real monopoly game”, said one, a few minutes before he and his team got into some serious strategic dilemmas.
“Should our innovation strategy be Buy, Build, co-invest – or simply trying to acquire the others?,” wondered one team, as they just started to realize that a hostile take over might just be the way to go. The public markets proved tough; one team lost nearly 75% of their market cap in the first operating year.
“Should we invest in these new business models, or should we focus on generating cash from our old core?” kept coming up, as the teams battled into their second operating year. Much impact followed in the wake of the Super CEO, who helps teams overcome cultural wars, and change-resistant legacy companies.
“This really challenges our strategic thinking, too”, one stated, as he looked out over a growing competitive landscape. “It is really annoying that we can’t get clear answers, like what happens if we invest in this new area or not”, said the UK-based business developer, hoping that running a publicly traded company would give you easy-clear cut business cases underlying your investment strategy – if only.
The turning point came when one of the teams drew the powerful Boom Card, “hostile takeover”. Slowly building their strategy and resources to allow them to execute it, they kept their cool and suddenly sprung the trap on one of the opposing teams. “We acquire you!!” boomed across the table, as one of the ex-Cisco leaders delightfully announced their strategic move. The acquired team meekly tried to oppose it, but having failed to develop any poison pills, deep partnerships or strategic defenses, they were quickly swallowed into the new entity. Personally, I think the shock hit them hard, and it took many minutes before they fully realized what had just happened. I guess, if only the paranoid survives, they failed at their paranoia.
Now doubled in size, the acquirer quickly absorbed resources, cash and business models, allowing them to rapidly grow the valuation to a stunning 64BN, well over the goal of 50BN, securing themselves the #1 spot in Transform!
Supercluster! the Innovation Cluster Simulator
Last out, but most certainly not least in complexity and learning impact, Supercluster!allowed the three teams to take on the roles of the Chinese AI Supercluster, the Swiss Drone Supercluster and the Costa Rican Tourism Supercluster. “This is an entirely new field to me” stated several, as they jumped into the leadership roles of building global Innovation Superclusters.
From building global partnerships, recruiting stakeholder members and build the operating organization, Supercluster! took the participants through the ins and outs of an innovation cluster development phase. Looking at a project portfolio of small and large projects, each cluster quickly developed their own, unique growth strategy.
“This is totally different, in a fundamental way”, stated one of the participants, representing Switzerland, as the strategy simulation unfolded. Not knowing it at the time, he was on the verge of fully grasping the secrets to building a successful Innovation Supercluster.
Back at the pub, a few buildings down the road, East London
Left, on one of the sketches were three (later five) use cases, how can we apply the Strategy Simulation Kits in our settings?
1. The basic teaching setup
Outcome: Basic introduction to Entrepreneurship, Corporate Strategy or Superclusters.
Play through the game – Brief debrief
Time required: 3-4 hours
Wile this would be fully possible. Everyone around the table agreed this would be a major oversimplification, and would only scratch the surface of the potential and learning.
Outcome: Deep dive role play into Entrepreneurship or Corporate Strategy
Strong focus on deeper learning, understanding and insights
Teaching module on Strategy Tools Canvas A (select amongst a range for preferred A,B,C)
Teaching module on Strategy Tools Canvas B
Teaching module on Strategy Tools Canvas C
Each teaching module would run from 2 hours to one day, and cover theory, tool, case study and easy use case (mini-simulation).
Run the Strategy Board Game (Scale Up! Or Transform!) – one full day
Debrief of class content & experience
Time required: From three days to multiple weeks.
3. Teaching with extensive case study
Outcome: Use a case study (advanced case study) and let the participants take the role of management over the duration of a course or a teaching module (one week, one month, one semester).
Introduction to program and course
Introduction to case study (including roles and expectations)
Let the groups work on the case study as the course evolves
Teach modules (choose 1-5 modules, per your design)
Run the Strategy Board Game (Scale Up! Or Transform!) – one – three full days
Based on the outcome of the Board Game, bring the new facts into the next 1-3 teaching sessions)
Conclude the case-based teaching with final presentations by each team.
Debrief of class content & experience
Time required: From five days to multiple weeks.
4. Corporate Strategy
Outcome: Get the entire strategy team or strategy network aligned around your new strategy foundation. Bring in new tools, perspectives and mindsets to your strategy journey. Strengthen collaboration, team work and team dynamics amongst your team. Effectively, wargame the hell out of this!
Three day workshop. Ideally off-site.
Introduction to the program. Expectations and roles.
Teams. Company cards. Company preparations. Develop a strategy.
Start Strategy Board Game (Transform! or Supercluster!)
Break-out reflection and strategy mini-sessions for every annual year.
Coach each team of possible futures, strategic moves and ways to compete.
Spend enough time to introduce the teams to the six Strategy Tools embedded in the Board Game.
Plan for two day inside the Strategy Simulation itself, including debrief.
Spend the last full day on “new tools, insights and learnings”; what does this mean for our actual, real-life corporate strategy? Make sure to get an in-depth working session on the real strategy while the new insights still are fresh.
Time required: Three days. Can be completed in two days.
5. Company Development, strategy and growth
Outcome: Use Scale Up! Supercluster! or Transform! To learn and build a new, real life growth strategy.
Start Board Game rather quickly
Have the teams play through it. Debrief well.
Only afterwards, introduce the various Strategy Tools Canvases they experienced during the simulation.
Shift the conversation away from the Board Game and onto their actual companies.
Get them started on 1-3 selected Strategy Tools Canvases that fit them well.
Work in-depth on the selected Strategy Tools Canvases.
Introduce the Strategy Tools software Platform.
Shift them from working on the paper-based canvases onto the digital solution.
Start mapping out strategy, listing investor prospects or anything else that fit their need.
Build their ownership to the software app. Make sure they experience WOW! Benefit.
Discuss how they build the software app into their daily leadership and work flow.
Set targets and responsibilities.
Time required: From one to three days.
Outbound flight from LHR the following day…
Those five were just many, many options and use cases we sketched out over beers in that London pub. From executive education, entrepreneurship, high-level corporate strategy work, accelerators, incubators, national innovation agencies and more; the group of eight had plenty of ideas.
One thing was clear to all of them: just don’t call it a game.
Transform!, Scale Up! & Supercluster!
Combined, they make up the current portfolio of strategy simulations available at Strategy Tools. Learn more at Strategy Tools.
Want to get an early experience with the Strategy Simulations? Join us for one of the upcoming one-day pilot workshops, held worldwide.
Are you interested in using the Strategy Tools in your educational programs, accelerators or corporate strategy programs? Take a look at our Train-the-Trainers program or global network of Strategy Tools Solutions Providers that. First step, get in touch.