Simulations reflect business realities

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am

Challenges encountered by players becoming more sophisticated as commerce evolves

Business simulation games are more pertinent now than ever as the commercial environment grows more complex and requires more diverse skills.

To reflect these changing realities, the Hong Kong Management Association's (HKMA) annual game event has grown more sophisticated to mirror the daily challenges most business executives face.

'A greater number of complexities and components have been introduced into the game in the past few years because the nature of business has changed so dramatically,' said Russell Morris, a consultant to HKMA, who has been developing business simulation games for the competition for more than 20 years. The original premise of the game, when it was launched in 1971, was to give participants an idea of how big businesses are run and an overview of the workings behind balance sheets and accounts.

But business has become much more focused on strategy over time. 'You need to think about the world context in which your company operates and also your shareholders, suppliers and customers,' Mr Morris said. 'There are many more facets to business now and it has become as much about psychology as numbers.'

'Fifty years ago, if you could add up a column of numbers, you were considered a good manager. Now you have to become a psychologist, too.'

Participants in the game will be told to form an imaginary company of a specific nature. Over the course of a few rounds they will be given fixed deadlines by which they must formulate responses to the challenges posed and e-mail their solutions to the organiser of the game. The winner will be the company that can best maximise profit and minimise costs.

Mr Morris, who is based in Denmark, supplies his business simulation games through his company, Universal Business Management Simulation. His games have been used in 25 countries, from the US and Australia to Sweden and the Canary Islands, over the past decade.

He became involved in game development almost 40 years ago after gaining experience in managing a game for a software company. 'The game was so basic that after I left the company, I started developing my own,' he said. To make the game experience more realistic and as interesting as possible, Mr Morris often introduces some form of a moral or ethical dilemma. That human angle could come in the shape of what to do about a popular manager who is bad at his job; handling a strike or managing losses as a result of some catastrophe.

One of the game's greatest benefits is the facilitation of team building. 'People from the same company but different departments, such as production, sales, marketing and finance, come together and get to see how complex running a big business can be. It helps them see the bigger picture and strengthens team building,' Mr Morris said.

This experience enabled participants to realise they were part of the same big machine and encouraged them to draw on each other's strengths to produce results.

The participants, who typically operate in teams of four, are not competing against the computer software, but against other teams.

In order to be successful, participants need to be aware of what their competitors are doing. Some of the competitors' information will be readily available, while additional and more in-depth knowledge needs to be bought by using paper money from the mock company.

Winning the game would not be easy, Mr Morris said, and success involved not just calculating the numbers, but taking some risks at times and making hard decisions.

'Participants should think about what they are doing. Don't just look at your team in isolation,' he advised. 'You need to think hard about what you are marketing, whether it be a service or a product.'

Over the years, he has seen participants in the game gain a competitive advantage in the real world.

'You might go to college and learn about business management, but that is often more theoretical. The business simulation game gives you real concrete training so even if you do make a mistake, it won't end up costing your company lots of money,' he said. 'In Australia, in particular, I know this experience is definitely considered a big plus for the employer.'

And what makes Mr Morris' games so unique is the fact that they have remained faithful to the core premise he started out doing: reflecting real events in the business world without focusing on any specific industry or one aspect of business.

'Other business games in the market are either very primitive or highly specialised, catering to specific industries such as logistics, for example. The benefit of this game is that it covers general business simulation and engages all aspects of management. And it gives a critical business overview, which helps people see that their individual jobs are one part of a bigger whole.'

Let the games begin

Winning team to be awarded four airline tickets to India and HK$25,000 cash prize

Application submission deadline scheduled for June 13

Conclusion of first six rounds scheduled for June 20

Final to be held on August 11

For further information, go to




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