The pressure is unrelenting. He took on this leadership position because he felt he could make a contribution, lead the team through the challenges ahead and enjoy the role. Now he is wondering if he is in way over his head. Alejandro Rodriguez gazes through bleary eyes at the streams of numbers displayed on the spreadsheet. “It isn’t making any sense,” he thought. “According to our projections, we should be much farther ahead.” He had been appointed Chief Creative Officer at Maxx Performance Inc., the global theme park and entertainment behemoth, only a short while ago, and it now felt like a century had flown by. The market segment analysis was showing splintering consumer segments, and the income statement and balance sheet presented by the Division Heads were turning his worst fears into reality. “What have I gotten myself into?” he mumbles.
Suddenly, Annabel Clayton, Head of the Retail Division for Cool Places, taps him on the shoulder and thrusts a divisional sales report on his desk. “Al, we have to talk about driving continued growth in Cool Places. We’ve expanded some of our stores, but we must accelerate this trend or we’ll lose our edge. Al, I need that capital investment quickly or our number one competitor will buy up the best locations in our target markets and we will never catch up.”
“Annabel, I am reviewing all options,” begins Alejandro, when Frank Christian, the imposing ex-football player and Head of the Toy Division, interrupted him. “Apologies for bursting in, Annabel, but Alejandro, we have a situation on our hands. I’m afraid we’ve had a close call with our top-selling toy. Some kid in Florida choked on a button that had come loose and he’s in the hospital. We’d had a warning about this very thing happening from one of our customers, and, well, the junior person who received the customer complaint ignored it. You’ve got to get Legal involved!”
“Okay,” says Alejandro, turning away from Annabel, who does not look pleased. This is the second meeting she’s had with Al that has been interrupted. She’s feeling fed up. Alejandro continues, “We’ve got to figure out our strategy on this with the press. And what about the toys that are still on the shelves out in retail? What will a recall cost?”
Suddenly the conversation stops. Then Frank, in a calm but clearly concerned voice says, “Alejandro, what would not doing the recall cost?” Clearly, he isn’t just talking about finances.
Alejandro’s stress builds and sweat appears on his brow. He hopes the others don’t notice. But Annabel has already left for a meeting with customers and Frank doesn’t care if Alejandro is sweating; he just wants him to make a decision.
As Alejandro scribbles some notes on the side of the spreadsheet, he hears the voice of Don Chan from Corporate Finance saying, “Look Al, the most important decision right now is the one you have to make about the Wild Experience Theme Parks division. It’s the core of the company; it generates the most cash and has been the emotional heart of the business since it was founded. But you know as well as anybody that the amount of capital it’s eating up in order to generate that cash doesn’t maximize our shareholder value and they are underwater on the ROI Waterfall Charts. We can’t waste time thinking anymore; we have to act, and we have an offer to sell it on the table now!” He pauses, but then adds, “But it’s a time-limited offer!”
Alejandro looks at his colleagues. “We’ve got six hours to get our report to the Chairman. We need to review all our options.” Alejandro is thinking, “Do we shut down Wild? What’s the fallout with the other Division Heads who sell their products and services through the Theme Parks? What about redeployment of the people? And how should I handle the capital investment in Cool Places? And that toy? Is the child going to be OK? Why didn’t we catch the consumer warning? Are we going to have a lawsuit on our hands? Can we afford a total recall? What a mess!” Alejandro looks around at the others in the conference room. The looks coming back are different now than when he stepped up to lead this company.
Welcome to the world of Maxx Performance Entertainment Inc. – Business Simulation Experience!
Fortunately for Alejandro and the 26 other leaders in the room, they are participants in one of exper!ence it inc.’s powerful behavioral business simulations— called “The Maxx”.
The Maxx is an immersive, complex and realistic experience that plays out exactly as participants direct. It is a 12-hour simulation spread over three days and three simulated years. The participants’ interactions, personalities and decisions determine the direction and outcome for Maxx Performance Inc. After each simulated year, they step away from the experience to dive deeply into a facilitated journey into what it takes to lead inside a world of increasing complexity and uncertainty. The expert e! facilitation team carefully but powerfully opens the participants to what really happened and helps them find meaning in the experience.
It’s much less expensive for these individuals to learn in simulation than in real life. Each of them leads important teams in their organization and they are here to draw a line between their leadership behaviors and hard bottom-line results. This is something they have to experience by having a mirror held up to the their behaviors, rather than hearing it from another lecturer or even making choices in a computer simulation. Behavioral simulations help identify the gap between what leaders say they know and what they actually do.
What would it mean to your organization experience a future challenge ahead of time? What would it mean to your operation’s performance, decision making ability, leadership success and safety methods? These are the questions of this new business era and they are critical for anyone in the energy business who needs to see things in advance. Imagine being able to play out a rig-fire-simulation or an oil company merger in advance. The cost in resources and lives of learning in simulation approaches zero when compared to the price of failure on the job. Think of what applications simulations will provide current and future oil and gas organizations!
These were all the questions that came to my mind, as I met, by chance, the CEO of experience !t, Don Jones of Ontario, Canada. Over Starbucks coffee, at the London Heathrow Airport, Don shared with me his simulation projects around the world. I thought, “Wow, the oil and gas industry has to get a hold of this!”
Experience !t, also known as e!, is the cream of the crop globally when it comes to these types of behavioral simulations, and the company works with global leaders in GE, Microsoft, Boeing, Whirlpool, and many others on five continents, in 22 countries and in 12 languages. They create completely original custom-designed simulated worlds that go far beyond the traditional computer strategy simulations to explore the heart of what it means to be a leader and manager.
“For the kind of learning that gets at behavioral competencies, you need people to interact powerfully with other people, not with a computer. And for that you need immersive, story-driven, complex, sophisticated behavioral simulations,” says Jim Rush, who hired e! to create this simulation when he was leading the Bank of Montreal’s renowned Institute for Learning. “The experience is profound, and it touches the leaders both intellectually and emotionally. Both are required for deep learning, retention and to support transfer and application.”
The OGM: How does experience !t work?
Don: The company was founded in 1988 just after the Olympics. I had been working in the Olympic movement, something I loved, but I wanted to try something new and independent. I went into the business with the simple idea that people can develop, grow and change—that individuals, teams and companies can learn to be and do better today and tomorrow than we did yesterday. With that belief, I started a traditional training and development company.
After about two years, I was looking to find a more interactive way to engage our participants than as a speaker at the front of the room. I designed my first simulation (which still exists in a new form today), loved the experience and dedicated myself to learning and designing experientially.
Now almost 25 years later, our simulation experiences are used all over the world. Our tools and our team have become much more sophisticated over the years, but the original belief still drives the success of our company. We can learn to do and be better—and now we add the words “through learning from experience.”
The OGM: What is the greatest project you have worked on to date?
Don: No one project was the greatest, but a couple come to mind that were exceptional. Boeing hired us to build a series of five-linked simulations for their middle management group. They wanted the simulations to really challenge and almost shock the participants across a five-day live-in program.
Boeing was opening a $90 million leadership center with three courses—ours for middle managers was one of the three, so the pressure to deliver an exceptional experience was high. We are quite comfortable designing traditional simulations and also very creative fantastical worlds—both have to have substantive learning outcomes for us to be interested, but either direction works for our team.
The Confederacy of Stars, which is about leading from the middle of the company, became one of the most powerful learning experiences at the Boeing Leadership Center in St. Louis. It went on to be used by about 4,500 Boeing leaders and has been used by over 30,000 leaders globally; each of the individual models can and are often “snapped out” and used independently. Right at this time, one of them is circling the globe for GE.
Project Delta was designed to save lives in the plants at Alcan, as it taught environment health and safety to thousands of leaders globally with an equally engaging simulation; Infinity was designed for Whirlpool as it strove to change the company on behalf of its customers, and The Idea Factory is being used by Microsoft leaders in the U.S., China and Europe to spark innovation cultures—”with any team, any time, any where” (is its motto). The experience itself is creative and engaging, of course, but the research behind it is substantial and really challenges what it takes to make innovation happen, right here and right now for the teams we work with.
The OGM: What is your self-expression and how do you actualize on that daily? What’s a day in the life of DON look like?
Don: I still run the company, but my love is design. So usually, my morning are filled with design when I am fresh and can get out the ideas that have been percolating in my head overnight, and the afternoons are spent by interacting with others in the company. We run a virtual company with a few employees in our office, but most of the people we work with daily are around the world. So staying in touch with those partners is really important and a part of the business I enjoy.
The OGM: Where is learning heading?
Don: It is going in many places, but we are excited by our distributed experiences that we are calling Immersive Reality Experiences. We are designing our first one now, and it will completely change the way people experience simulation, collectively and globally.
The OGM: Ultimately, what would you like to see being accomplished on the planet—in your lifetime?
Don: I would love to see every child on the planet having the opportunity to learn. They don’t all need admission to Harvard, but access to the tools, ideas, books, papers, authors, and the hope to make their lives better. We are on the cusp of a learning revolution; I am sure of that. We are changing the relationship between consumer and creators of “learning.” We are changing that for the better, making deep knowledge and resources available to others without the cost barriers and organizational silos that restricted its flow in the past. This change has started, and it will grow and its momentum will increase. Why shouldn’t every child on the planet have the access to information that we have; they would make the world even better—very quickly!
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