Play Is Serious Learning



Play Works 

You have heard it before - “Play is serious business”. You don’t need a major in psychology to figure that out. 

Children learn almost all essential life skills through the medium of play. And they have loads of fun doing it.

Does that work for adults as well? Current management thought seems to agree.

Writing in the Sept 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review, Martin Reeves and Georg Wittenburg list out ways in which Games Can Make You a Better Strategist.

“Just consider some the advantages games have over more traditional approaches in strategy education” they point out, “Books are great to foster intellectual understanding but are not interactive and do not reflect the reality of busy schedules and declining attention spans. Live pilots are highly realistic but costly, time consuming and risky. And coaching or mentoring approaches have great merits for personal development, but are hard to scale”

4 Reasons Why Games and Simulations Are a Smart Way to Build Competencies 

So how do games and simulations help build management competencies? Important among the benefits listed by Reeves and Wittenburg are:

  1. 1. Inexpensive, real-time feedback 
  • With near instant feedback through game scores and competitor’s behaviour, the learning is quicker than in the real world. 
  • “In addition,” say the authors “unlike in reality, failing in games has no costly downside. Games are testing grounds for strategies. They’re “sandboxes” where erroneous behaviors can be undone and different decision paths tried out”. 
  • Games and simulations provide a safe and non-threatening atmosphere where one can take risks, make mistakes and learn in the process
  1. 2. Interactivity and deeper engagement with ideas 

In the course of living through a simulation or playing a game, the participant has to analyze the environment, make judgement calls, execute decisions, and reflect on consequences. 

As the HBR article sums it up – “Stimulating aural and visual senses, games provide a much more immersive experience than written text or spoken words”

  1. 3. Structured analysis of executive behavior - Games and simulations turn the spotlight on “routes-not-taken”. Post game reflections and replays help managers appreciate the consequences of their actions and omissions.Such reflection and feedback can help rewind to a participant’s actions or view the game play from a competitor’s perspective. And score-keeping allows performance comparison with others offering insights
  1. 4. Risk free scenario testing – Games allow room for “what if” testing of scenarios both foreseen and unforeseen. In the authors’ words “Strategy games anticipate and amplify reality by acting like vaccinations”

Hard wire learning, through simulation

The insights from the article apply equally to every genre of games and simulations used for learning. Board games, for instance, have been a great source of learning through the growth years of children and have their origins going back to over millennia. Board based simulations are a great way to foster executive learning too

Play hard wires learning. Whether it is about 

  • getting a group of young high potentials to gain the corner-room perspective, or 
  • enabling an innovation mindset, or 
  • creating a crucible where diverse functions learn to appreciate and bond with each other, or 
  • helping people put their feet in the water in preparing them for change... 

simulations work …  like they always have, starting with generals in the war room strategizing their combat.

‘Live Experiential Learning’: The Secret Sauce of Board Based Simulations 

Board based simulations, in particular, facilitate a ‘live’ experiential learning, that stays with the learner. They involve real life interactions with other team members in the game, with rules that mirror actual conditions in the ‘touch and feel’ action points. All this in environs that encourages experimentation, trial and error. None of which will cost either lives or careers. 

So, the outcome is an unmatched, kinesthetic, immersive learning experience that gets hardwired as a takeaway.

 The full-length HBR article is here 

Did you know CELEMI Business Simulations are the fun way to help people learn and practice Leadership and Business Acumen at work, through a unique methodology that is sure to make learning touch hearts and minds?

Let’s help our people ‘Live it to learn it! To explore how CELEMI can be valuable in your specific context, ping nandini@mercuri-india.com.

To join the DISCOVER CELEMI Event at Bangalore on 23rd November 2023,register here! Your only investment is your time!1

Author Information

Martin Reeves is the chairman of Boston Consulting Group’s BCG Henderson Institute in San Francisco and a coauthor of The Imagination Machine (Harvard Business Review Press, 2021).

Georg Wittenburg was the main architect of the companion iPad game, Your Strategy Needs a Strategy, and is CEO and co-founder of Insightfully, an automated analytics start-up based in Berlin.

In Essence annotates published thought leadership articles and insights of value to the Sales Community. It is an effort to bring insights within reach of Sales Leaders in ways that enable quick assimilation and action. Mercuri International acknowledges the authors and the publications for the insights


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