Skip to main content

Are Serious Games The Future Of Executive Education Market?

Carbon capture laboratory at Imperial College London

The Financial Times posted earlier this week an interesting article authored by Helen Barrett. Titled Business Schools Take A Playful Approach To Leadership - From kidnaps to oil rig disasters, Serious Games are helping to train executives, the article is nurtured by the belief that “What the modern employer wants from cutting-edge business schools is less talk and more action” and out of which we have excerpted the following particulars:

“As the dean of a leading business school in the executive education market says, companies are less and less interested in paying for executives to sit passively in classrooms listening to experts.

The future of executive education, says the dean, lies elsewhere. What the modern employer wants from cutting-edge business schools is less talk and more action — or experiential learning, as it is known. It is hands-on, it is demanding and it forces executives to rely on their wits. Most of all, it is fun. The main challenge for schools is to think creatively about how to stand out.

Plenty of business schools are doing just that. Learning through experience at this level can mean competing teams of hard hat-clad managers learning to tackle a crisis — for example, an offshore oil rig disaster in the carbon capture laboratory at Imperial College London.”

Executive Education use the Carbon Capture Lab to engage executives in high impact, experiential learning in unfamiliar environments. They work with chemical engineers and program faculty to design different scenarios based on the specific learning objectives of the Executive Education program.

From Leadership to Finance, the scenarios are bespoke and are played out in an environment triggering decision taking in uncertainty, it alone, exposes executives to new learnings which they had not anticipated.

The FT article proceeds stating that role play is an excellent way to solve problems and the breakthroughs that come from role play can be much more significant, wide-ranging and measurable.

Grenoble School of Management (GEM), in France, is one of several business schools to offer deep experiential education: an entire laboratory dedicated to executive role play. Its Serious Games department encourages participants to solve specific management problems “in a playful way” — with simulations, virtual reality and even board games.

Since 2013, GEM has been developing and using its own Serious Games. The School regularly uses Serious Games with undergraduate and continuing education students.

Hélène Michel, the school’s senior professor of Serious Games, says the aim is to find ways to engage jaded executives in complicated, perhaps even boring, tasks.”

Hélène specialized in innovation management and started working on Serious Games in 2003. She runs seminars on innovation management using games to enhance the innovation process. Ten years ago she found that game was a great lever to empower people to innovate, having supported the creation of more than 100 projects (products and services).

“Renault, for example, invented a game to create better profiles of prospective customers in an effort to increase sales.

Disneyland Paris used the lab to help it crack a similar problem. For its third-party travel agents, selling a one-off family trip to the theme park was easy, but too many travelers saw it only as an once-in-a-lifetime experience. In the safety of the laboratory, agents could experiment with games that segmented the customer profiles. By asking families questions about what they wanted to do when they got there, the agents were able to customize holidays and, in turn, sell more to the same customers.

The model can even be applied to risk, says Prof Michel. One example is changing risky behavior among employees. Michelin’s human resources department invented a game to help it identify employees likely to take the type of risks that could lead to regulatory fines.”

The article concludes with the suggestion that for business schools, this demand for executive role play comes at an opportune time. The traditional executive education market is mature, crowded and it is difficult for providers to find growth. Which is why standing out could be just enough to keep you in the game.