Review: Business War Games–How Large, Small, and New Companies Can Vastly Improve Their Strategies and Outmaneuver the Competition

5 Star, Budget Process & Politics, Change & Innovation, Decision-Making & Decision-Support, Force Structure (Military), Future, Games, Models, & Simulations, Information Society, Intelligence (Government/Secret), Intelligence (Public), Leadership, Public Administration, Strategy
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Ben Gilad

5.0 out of 5 stars Core Reference Introducing Hindsight Games

January 11, 2011

Not a single one of the other reviews mentions “hindsight games” which come at the end in Chapter 12, where Ben Gilad, whom I know and admire, properly lists Helen Ho and Matthew J. Morgan as the authors.

At the age of 58 with 30+ years as an intelligence professional behind me, very little catches me by surprise but this is one of those exquisite “ahas.” For me, the insights into hindsight games as a means to retrospectively identify strategic, operational, tactical, and technical junctures, where participants can reflect on what they knew, what they did not know, what they had wish they had known, and how they might advise the next generation to state its intelligence requirements differently–for me this is an intellectual gold strike.

I have never heard of any of the war colleges or strategy centers or major corporations or NGOs doing hindsight games. This for me is HUGE, and Ben Gilad’s integrity is high-density–although the plan of the book properly puts the chapter at the end, after his concepts and doctrine and methods for business war games are outlined, this is the chapter that every one of the eight tribes (academic, civil society, commercial, government, law enforcement, media, military, non-profit or non-governmental) should be thinking about.

Hindsight games are a perfect means of both debriefing out-going executives and mission area specialists, and of transferring lessons learned from one generation to another in a super-professional manner.

I am reminded of Kristan Wheaton’s still relevant book, The Warning Solution : Intelligent Analysis in the Age of Information Overload, and believe that would make an excellent HindSight Game pre-read, pulling in seniors and mission area specialists to talk about what proper warning and better intelligence might have allowed them to do these past twenty years.

Ben is one of a tiny handful of commercial intelligence professionals toward whom I genuflect–Jan Herring, Leonard Fuld, Babette Bensoussan, Diane Webb are among others. His earlier books, Business Blindspots: Replacing Your Company’s Entrenched and Outdated Myths, Beliefs and Assumptions With the Realities of Today’s Markets and Early Warning: Using Competitive Intelligence to Anticipate Market Shifts, Control Risk, and Create Powerful Strategies remain classics in the field, not least because they document how badly informed most senior executives are.

In this book, a slim and easy to read volume, there is a Zen simplicity to concepts and doctrine and methods. Here are a few notes.

01 War gaming is about self-analysis–it helps people with real expertise see themselves and see others in new ways.

02 War gaming is not expensive, should include players from all levels and all mission areas relevant to the challenge.

03 War gaming is about human on human interaction, not computer on human or human on computer interaction.

04 War gaming can help existing experts (largely isolated from everything outside their narrow world) anticipate change; pressure the emergence and testing of new concepts & doctrine; encourage innovative evaluation of emerging threats & opportunities; and–this is NEW to me and therefore HUGE in my own mind: help the most senior leaders understand and “buy in” to bottom-up innovation that would never be briefed to them by the chain of command.

Ben uses the acronym REALISTIC as a memory aide for everything a war game should be: Realistic, Empowering, Accessible, Lots of Fun, Inexpensive, Simple, and Transparent.

In my experience, even the best war games are not empowering, not lots of fun, and ultimately not as transparent to those not attending as they could be. A wargame has to be more than a one-page memo to the CEO–it has to EMPOWER everyone participating and everyone affected by the new insights of those participating.

Most organizations, including most government organizations, are simply not qualified to engage in war games because their management fails to meet the two criteria for a successful war gaming engagement:

1. Management must have an open mind and accept the possibility, even the likelihood, that they are doing the wrong things the wrong way; and

2. Management must allow full and free access to and exchange of information within the war game, pulling no punches.

As someone who built a non-profit around H. G. Wells’ book, World Brain (Adamantine Classics for the 21st Century), I am stunned to learn in this book that H. G. Wells was a gamer, and published H. G. Wells Floor Games: A Father’s Account of Play and Its Legacy of Healing (Sandplay Classics series, The)in 1911 and Little Wars; A Game for Boys From Twelve Years of Age to One Hundred and Fifty and for That More Intelligent Sort of Girl Who Likes Boys’ Games in 1913.

Other notes:

War gaming strategy is about imagination, not scripting.

War games help test and temper intuition, emotions, over-optimism, and myopia. I personally think that “true cost” war games and logistics war games could meet huge demands in the future.

I make a note to myself, having once–at great expense to CIA (roughly $3,000 in books and $3,000 in motel courses)–studied decision-making under conditions of uncertainty, with one book sharp in my mind, Ambiguity and Command: Organizational Perspectives on Military Decision Making, that war games are a perfect means of addressing ambiguity and helping individuals experience, dissect, address, and survive ambiguity.

Ben believes that the best war games consist of no more than six teams, each team having no fewer than 3 and no more than 8 players. Since I am a believer in Harrison Owen’s Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, I suspect there is a hybrid mix of open space and war gaming that can be developed in the future.

Quite a bit of the book is devoted to game schematics, timelines, key points and so on, hence a book worthy of retention as a memory aide.

One final key point that I would stress more than Ben does in this book: Ben says no assumptions, use intelligence, demand intelligence. I agree with that, but I am so enthused by the concept of hindsight games (and such a critic of the $90 billion a year we spend on secret intelligence to produce “at best” 4% of what the President needs to know and not much at all for everyone else (commanders, policymakers, acquisition managers) that I see HUGE possibilities for using war games to develop hindsight intelligence requirements that can be fast-forwarded to help today’s decision-makers who often do not know what questions to ask (or are not interested because they feel, in Madeline Albright’s immortal words, “like gerbils on a wheel.”)

This is a solid piece of work, with the cautionary observation that it will be appreciated only by people with open minds and a good grasp of how much they have to lose by doing what Russell Ackoff calls “the wrong things righter.”

With my two remaining links that Amazon allows, I offer these two other gems for further study:

Designing a World That Works for All: How the Youth of the World are Creating Real-World Solutions for the UN Millenium Development Goals and Beyond (Volume 1)

Very Special Intelligence

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