Ability to “see the big picture” is a much-used expression, but does it really express ability to think holistically and perceive the dynamics holistically? In other words, when we see the whole picture (let this be a company, for instance), will this be enough for making effective decisions? Or at least, will we be able to make accurate analyses? What I am questioning is not the competence of the decision maker, what I am questioning is the picture metaphor. How adequate is this metaphor for expressing the dynamics of a company?
When a group of trial subjects are first shown a picture of a person throwing a stone, and then one of a dog running, they may infer that the dog is running away from the stone. However, when the same pictures are shown to another group of trial subjects in reverse order, they may think that the person is throwing the stone to send away a dog that is attacking him. That is, our brain actually processes data by taking account of the time dimension. This is very natural, since life is not a picture. A visual created by immobilising time can be a work of art, but it does not reflect life as it really is. Or for now, we may at least agree that the spectator leaves the time dimension of pictures to his imagination.
In that case, perhaps it is not a picture that we need, but a film. Our concept is also to see the big film. If you agree, I will also order genetically modified popcorn for you to enjoy. What kind of illusion is looking at a screen and believing we will be able to understand life? When we hear the idiom “viewing life”, we also feel that this means we do not experience life. This idiom gives the message that controlling our lives is out of our hands. This is not a good feeling. The captain of a ship caught in a storm does not look at the sea as if he were watching a film; he does not eat his genetically modified popcorn and wonder excitedly about the fate of his ship. He does not make a good luck charm and pass the time hoping that his ship will be saved. Why not? Because even though he doesn’t have the chance to choose the cards that are dealt, he has the freedom to decide how those cards will be played. How will they be played? Played. Play…a game. Could this be the concept we are seeking?
Neither pictures nor films can completely explain the level of perception we need to manage companies. Pictures do not encapsulate the concept we system thinkers call the ability to think in terms of changes. As for films, they are things in which we can have no effect on how the scenario develops. The future of firms that are content just to read the written scenario is not in their own hands. Those that are more successful carry out scenario planning. In fact, they also play a game like the captain does: a serious game.
Playing games is very natural and we know that when we were children, if our parents presented us with games with which we could improve ourselves, we considered ourselves lucky. Every game teaches us something, some teach us things that are useful, others things that are not useful; some teach us good things, others bad things. So, how do games contribute to our achievement of lasting success in our work lives? The effective ones should have the following features:
- They should be designed for developing thinking skills rather than solutions that are encountered in certain situations and that can, in fact, also be learnt by reading from a book, or more precisely, that can be learnt by rote.
- They should bring participants up to a level at which they can adapt the experience they acquire to their own special cases. They should not offer conventional solutions. In other words, they should not hand out the fish, they should teach how to catch the fish.
- The feedback process which enables the learning and development cycle should go beyond the theory, and should be adapted to the situation experienced and to the person or team.
- Whilst no information to do with leadership says “be reactive”, participants should be able to take the trouble to develop proactive strategies in the business simulation as well. That is, participants should not react only to external changes. While teams are managing the virtual companies, they should be in a position where they are influenced by the system they find themselves in and at the same time, where they can, within limits, influence this system; in other words, they should belong to microworlds that include cyclicality.
- When the same simulation is played again and again, it should not be possible to achieve success with simple solutions that are always valid. Instead, once their strategies have become consistent with each other, it should be possible for the participants to discover different ways of achieving success. Therefore, however many times they play it, it should not descend into an internet cheat sheet.
- In the same way that pilots develop their skills with flight simulators before they fly, managers, too, can manage virtual companies and improve their strategic thinking skills within a simulated reality. Business Simulations with computers are serious games. Therefore, instead of a comparison with the “Big Picture”, I believe that a comparison with a game will be more suitable: Big Game. If you still haven’t played it, you can ask those who have played it or get in touch with our experts, who can provide answers to any questions you have in mind.
Dr. Erden B. Akkavuk