Simulations, Modeling, Elevating Collaboration

Posted on by Brandon Klein


Creating a future is extraordinarily difficult to do without experiencing it. You can’t know how to drive a car until you drive one. Humans have a hard time thinking through how a complex system will work.

“One basic error accounts for all the catastrophes [described in the book]: none of the participants realized that they were dealing with a system in which, though not every element interacted with every other, many elements interacted with many others. They dealt with the entire system, not as a system but as a bundle of independent minisystems. And dealing with systems this way breeds trouble: if we do not concern ourselves with the problems we do not have, we soon have them . . . A number of psychological experiments have demonstrated that an incapacity to deal with nonlinear time configurations is a general phenomenon.” --Dietrich Dorner, The Logic of Failure



A simulation is a test drive. It is a model of reality in the same way as a physical model. Simulations can force a group to confront issues or discover previously unnoticed things. In fact, if we know what will come out of a simulation then we should not do it.

To see how things “play out” and the ramifications that are driven by decisions – play them out! Simulate the future/system by:


· Strategic future exercises (Digital) - Accelerate time and have the group wrestle with the implications of their decisions on a strategic level.

· Operational playing out of decisions (Abbott, Genentech) - Create a board game sort of event that replicates the sorts of decisions and implications that the group will have to deal with in the DesignShop. This can be done in groups, like the Genentech game, or in a big swirling agglomeration, like the Wal*Mart or Abbey national marketplace simulations, where large groups of ‘customers’ have to select which provider of services or products they will patronize. We have also employed Senge’s Beer Game, a ‘Sim-Supply Chain’ exercise.

· Tactical walkthroughs (Lilly, Enron, Sprint) - Particularly with information systems, a ‘paper computer’ walkthrough, sort of a very early Conference Room Pilot, can serve to highlight missed handoffs, scope issues and test the system.

Taking the future on a test drive provides a model or better context for solid design work. Highlight the implications of decisions, exercise process handoffs or data elements, or flag danger points. These must be identified to be incorporated in a later design or solution.

Simulations are very powerful stage setting devices for the Scan day, or design tests for the Focus day. However, they take much more time to create than the ordinary design challenge. Do not attempt to write a simulation the evening before it will be run! Make several iterations, and allow ample time for the knowledgeworkers to become familiar with it.