How Duke University Uses the Transform! Simulation to Help Its Master Students Translate Learning into Doing

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The University

Duke University is a private research university in Durham, North Carolina. The university also administers two concurrent schools in Asia, Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore and Duke Kunshan University in China. Duke University is ranked among the top universities in the United States. Undergraduate admissions are among the most selective in the country. 

The Duke Master of Engineering Management is a tech-savvy alternative to the MBA. Comprising a core management curriculum and variety of electives, it is interdisciplinary and flexible, with a focus on application and the student experience.


The Program

Professor Tony O’ Driscoll is an adjunct professor at Duke University – The Fuqua School of Business. He teaches courses and conducts research in areas of strategy, marketing, professional services and people management.

In the Master of Engineering Management program, he teaches Marketing and the Fuqua Client Consulting program. 

Tony is constantly on a lookout for ways he can help his students absorb their learning more effectively. 

“Students who are part of the Master of Engineering Management typically have a strong technical background with a few years of work experience in the industry. They join the program to learn the business side of the equation and eventually most of them will go on to take up a project or product management role,” he explained.

“They’re not afraid of numbers, they’ll go after it. But they’re also looking very much to understand how to be better managers, how to be better leaders, how to understand the finances of a business, how it is that strategic decisions are made, how negotiations happen. And that’s what we try to bring to our students.”



Teaching Strategy

Having been teaching and practicing strategy for over 20 years, Professor Tony was one of the founding members of IBM Strategy and Change Practice and has worked around the globe with upper management on strategy.

“Strategy is what brings it all together. Strategy sets the context for everything else, from my perspective as a strategy professor. In strategy, you have to understand both the external and internal environment, you have to recognize what makes you special and different, and you then have to understand how to allocate resources and capabilities to sustain your position of advantage. And that position is transient, so you have to keep moving.” said Tony.

“When students have learned all the different pieces through the various courses in the program, this course is where they see how it all comes together because now they’re looking at things through a strategic lens.'”


“The students loved it. They said, ‘wow, this is great. I’ve learned so much in such a short time.’ We’ve gotten positive feedback from the students and it’s been a great learning experience.”

Professor Tony O’Driscoll
Adjunct Professor, Research Fellow and Academic Director at Duke University

Bringing Transform! Into the Equation

Although strategy is where it all comes together and start making sense – the question remains – Can you teach strategy? Or do you learn it by doing?

“You might talk about the different components like external and internal analysis, financial value creation, organization, culture and more, you might have a little case study that talks about each piece, but that’s still not a synthetic,” quipped Tony. 

Having experienced the Transform! Simulation in a digital session run by Christian Rangen, Tony saw it as a great way to synthesize all the learning of his students. Through multiple discussions and planning, this eventually led to a seven-hour Transform! workshop co-facilitated by Christian Rangen, Hege Langaas and Enrico Maset.

Completely digital ,the workshop saw 20 students from the Master of Engineering Management program take the reins as leaders of a successful company facing disruption and strategize to reach a market cap of 50BN. 



Transform! in Action

“The question then was, ‘how do you teach smart engineering students about business in an efficient way?’,” said Hege, one of the co-facilitators. 

“Coming from an engineering background, the group was very keen to do it right, get the right answer, not make mistakes. They’ve been through 20 different strategy models and were preparing to apply these models to the simulation, but Transform! frustrated them a little by forcing them to act, think strategically, make choices now,” she observed. 

It wasn’t the first time that Tony had used a simulation in his teaching, but the experience was vastly different. Up until this year, he had been using a simulation in his marketing class that runs for seven weeks in a row. He soon realized that his students were figuring out how to game it after the third round, which in turn halts the learning process.

“The thing with Transform! is that it’s emergent. No two simulations are ever the same, depending on who decides to partner with whom and how the actual ecosystem is going to unfold. So in a way, it’s far more authentic to reality,” said Tony.

“You haven’t dumbed down the system to where students can figure out the rules and just mail it in. It’s the fastest seven hours of your life, because it’s like real life. Others have agency on you. If two teams decide they’re going to partner, that just changes the whole landscape for you so you’d have to go back to the drawing board. That’s how strategy is today,” he continued.

“20 years ago, strategy was relatively straightforward. You ran a couple of algorithms and you can figure out where to place your bets for four or five years and hang out. It’s not like that anymore. The fact that the students got to experience that, in their roles at that interface between technology and business, just having that understanding will make them better performing leaders.” 


Giving Students A Capstone From Their Year of Learning

Transform! worked as a way to help the students connect all the dots on all that they’ve learned throughout the Master’s program – the facilitation by Chris, Enrico and Hege, combined with the active input by their professor Tony made for a supercharged learning experience.

“Running Transform! with an active (internal) program co-facilitator delivered an improved experience. Professor O’Driscoll dug into the thinking process of the students and used the digital simulation as a platform to link multiple lessons and courses beautifully,” noted co-facilitator Enrico. 

“The students loved it. I could hear the lightbulbs going off during the workshop. They’ve learned how accounting fits in with finance, with design, with marketing, and how those different pieces cohere, synthesize, integrate.” said Tony.

Giving Students a Taste of Real World Strategy

Chris, Hege and Enrico embedded “live cases” that were happening currently into the 7-hour Transform! Digital workshop, which the students really found value in.

“The students were extremely motivated to work on fresh materials and experience something really close to the reality of our corporate world.” said Enrico.

“I think what Transform! has done is create a learning environment that really mirrors work so you can integrate and synthesize the different topics you’ve learn around a decision that needs to be made with incomplete information in a short amount of time. That’s very much like what a leader who’s leading a transformation would face,” added Tony.

A Highly Engaging Teaching Method that Delivers Impact

Despite it being in a digital format, scheduled on a Saturday, and lasting seven hours, many of the students remained very engaged throughout and even after the Transform! Simulation Workshop.

“We worked for seven hours without a break – these students didn’t leave – they were there for seven hours straight, picking up as much as they could. Even when we were finished, a few of them stayed in the session to give feedback and discuss with us what happened and so on, so definitely there’s engagement.” noted Hege.

“Tranform! is a digital internship on steroids. One where you fast forward into a role that’s beyond your existing one. It’s a stretch role and you get to feel what it’s like. Who wouldn’t want that as part of their developmental opportunity?”

Professor Tony O’Driscoll
Adjunct Professor, Research Fellow and Academic Director at Duke University

About the Facilitators

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Professor Tony O’ Driscoll

Tony O’Driscoll is an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and a Research Fellow at Duke Corporate Education. This dual-role affords Tony the opportunity to operate at the intersection of cutting-edge academic research and real-world business challenges faced by leaders.

At Fuqua, Dr. O’Driscoll played a key role in redesigning Fuqua’s Cross Continent MBA (CCMBA) program and served as Executive Director of Fuqua’s Center for Technology Entertainment and Media (CTEM), a research center dedicated to understanding the strategic, structural, and business-model issues associated with these vibrant and volatile industry sectors.

During his 18-year corporate career, Tony held several strategic leadership positions. He was a founding member of IBM Global Service’s Strategy and Change consulting practice where he consulted at the highest level with business executives on creating competitive advantage in increasingly complex environments. He also served as a member IBM’s Almaden Services Research group where he investigated the changing roles of leadership, innovation, and collaboration as enterprises become more global, virtual, open and digitally mediated. Tony also launched and led Duke CE’s Asia office, headquartered in Singapore.

Tony has authored and co-authored articles for business periodicals such as Harvard Business Review, The Financial Times, Strategy and Business, CLO Magazine and Dialogue. His current research examines how rapidly emerging technologies are disrupting existing industry structures and business models and focuses on how to develop leadership systems that enable organizations to adapt and evolve in increasingly unpredictable and turbulent business environments.

Dr. O’Driscoll holds an Ed.D. in Organization Learning and an M.S. in Management from North Carolina State University. His B.S. in Electrical Engineering is from Virginia Tech.

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Christian Rangen

Christian Rangen is a strategy & transformation advisor to companies, innovation clusters, and governments around the world. His clients span oil & gas, energy, technology, aviation, mobility, finance, consulting, and national governments. He is faculty/visiting faculty at multiple business schools in Europe. He has taught more than 20 different programs, including a wide range of Executive Education Programs, Executive Short Programs and Custom Designed Corporate Learning Programs in strategy, innovation, entrepreneurship, change and transformation.

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Hege Langaas

Hege Langaas has over 20 years of experience in business development activities, innovation and change. She has extensive experience from leading roles in corporations within change intensive industries like media, telecommunications and finance. Her special area of interest is tailoring development processes to the need of the client.

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Enrico Maset

Enrico Maset has a 10+ years experience on Performance, Efficiency and Transformation; he worked in Italy, Ireland and Belgium for multiple industries: Manufacturing, Banking & Insurance, Gaming, Energy and Telecommunication.
He recently moved from Internal to Consultancy where he is helping CSOs develop flows of sustainable growth.
He does that with a mix of foresight, strategy and innovation at SteepConsult, part of the Positive Thinking Company.

Learn more about SteepConsult here.

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