In February, Singapore released a Labour Force Survey Supplement on Training: almost one third of the country's entire workforce received structured training to improve job skills in 2013, a proportion that has been rising in recent years.
On the other hand, the amount of training time for the lucky third has been shrinking rapidly: from 17.1 days in 2010, to 15.9 in 2011, to 13.9 in 2012, to 12.2 in 2013. Employers are finding it hard to send people away for a week of training, instead choosing to send them on a two-day program, or a couple of half-day workshops, and perhaps supplementing that with some online learning. But of course they still want the same amount of learning to occur.
The situation for Singaporeans (who have a remarkably diverse and well-integrated society) is shown in Lee Chee Chew's cartoon:
Even more than most training and education, Finance training can be boring, with hours of powerpoint and volumes of dense text, uninformative graphs and incomprehensible tables. And it can take weeks, even years, to develop a feel for what business is all about from the Finance Department's point of view. And weeks and years are just what Training Departments don't offer any more.
The reason for Finance being boring, and the reason for it taking a long time to learn, is the same: students are not usually provided with an initial big-picture understanding of what it is they are studying. With no context for the individual pieces (accounting, finance, costing, marketing, etc etc), they don't see how they fit together, they don't see their relevance for each other, they can't prioritize the different bits of information, they can't assess their value. It's hard to remember information until you can connect it in with other things that you know - then it's easy. It's hard to be engaged with information until you can see its relevance for your interests - then it's easy.
So Income/Outcome puts Andromeda at the forefront of Finance training in the world, because our simulation allows a very rapid understanding of all the component pieces of business in a single view: a gameboard that is simultaneously an operating company and the financial statements of that company. The board has equipment and inventories, and people on the site and in the offices, but - and - items are placed in such a way that you can also see all the Assets at a glance, and see your debt-to-equity at a glance, and see your cost structure at a glance, and see your cash flow at a glance. And by walking around the room and looking at other tables you can immediately see your competitive position in the industry, see which of your rivals are strong and which are weak, and why.
When everything about business is integrated into a transparent model, then all the connections are visible, and then all components are easy to understand and prioritize and remember. When all the learning is shown to be useful for trying to win a competition against other teams, then all the learning is engaging to the students, and they work harder and they remember the lessons better. And when the model is shown to be so strong that you can model any real-world company with it, from any mom-and-pop operation to the largest corporations in the world, then you have a thinking tool that will stay with students throughout their entire careers.
It is a thinking tool that is holistic: it embodies the internal Finance view of the company (cost structure, cash flows, capital investment) as well as the external Sales-and-Marketing view of the industry (client opportunities, competitor threats, pricing constraints). It provides a view that is bigger than any one Department, and shows the links between all Departments.
And that's how we can help Training Departments increase the learning while reducing the time away from work. By making the presentation of the learning holistic, and visually structured on standard accounting formats, we provide a memorable context for understanding what it's all about, how it works, and why the different bits are important. That is a true basis for learning. Without that, people are bored, unengaged, and it takes weeks and years to educate them.
But with an experiential tool like Income/Outcome, you can get there in a couple of hours to a couple of days. Even allowing time for bio breaks.
Robin Helweg-Larsen | Director | Andromeda Simulations International | +1.919.933.6555
The Lifeboat Foundation, an organization dedicated to the analysis and prevention of threats to human existence, has a blog post on the reduction of richness and complexity in language titled A Future of Fewer Words. It interests me because I feel that our learning methodology is unintentionally part of that process.
The areas of loss that they identify are:
- Dying languages. Thousands may disappear this century because of globalization.
- Communication is shifting from literary to audio-visual, with a reduction in vocabulary and in complexity of spoken expression.
- Written words are losing their magical authority.
- Neural structures are changing measurably to deal with increased visual complexity and reduced linguistic complexity.
- Machine translation reduces the need for linguistic skills, just as calculators reduce the need mental arithmetic.
At Andromeda Training we teach business finance through our Income/Outcome board games. We put with an emphasis on social interaction and the physical movement of colored objects as a way of discovering and understanding foundational concepts. We have very limited lectures, explanations and readings, and focus much more on direct experience. This learning methodology is much more effective than books and lectures - why should we argue against it?
But on the other hand, personally, I write poetry. I write deliberately language-rich verse, so packed with rhyme and complex phrasing that it is virtually unpublishable in the US and appears mostly in Ambit in the UK. What is the value of it? I don't know, but I find it essential. I like languages, and I like linguistic complexity, subtlety and beauty - at least for recreation, not necessarily for business communication.
As for the future... we are just at the beginning of brain-to-brain communication without the intermediaries of speech or gesture. What will happen to language then? Will we be able to avoid thinking in words? Obviously it's possible - babies, animals and drunks do it all the time. What happens to language if we can communicate in this way? What parts of the brain will we develop, what will we neglect?
The least we can say is that existing trends regarding loss of languages and reduction in language skills will accelerate for the foreseeable future. If you want to resist that, read poetry to your children.
This month Andromeda Training exhibited at ASTD, the American Society for Training and Development's annual conference.
In the past our marketing of Income/Outcome was completely based on direct mailouts of brochures and attendance at trade shows. But nowadays our major clients come from word-of-mouth recommendation and from being found by online searches.
Given that attending a trade show can cost $10,000 for a single 10x10 booth, when you add in the travel costs for two or three people, the refurbishment of the booth, the creation of collateral material... is it worth it?
If your business has a 10% profitability (i.e. a tenth of your sales revenue ends up as Net Income for you), you may need to make fresh sales of $100,000 just to break even from attending.
On the other hand, are there maybe some more intangible benefits to attending? Recognition in the marketplace, being where your competitors are (and seeing what they are up to), increased web presence, general networking, training your new salespeople, generation of random useful ideas... all that must have some value.
But over the past 10-15 years it seems, at least in the training industry, that total attendance has fallen off, and the level of attendees has fallen from senior managers to a more junior level, there are more consultants and fewer Fortune 500 buyers - and exhibitors are buying smaller booth space.
We can thank Google for a lot of that, of course. But is there possibly an upside for the trade show industry, an opportunity hiding behind the problems? Because there is always supposed to be a hidden opportunity, isn't there? That's one of the core principles of business acumen.
Robin Helweg-Larsen, President
Some of my favorite quotes for training, and experiential learning in particular:
First, the famous one from Confucius, "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." (The first sentence may be more accurately translated as "I hear, I know" - but the meaning is better understood in the more common version.) This is the heart of learning. You can see it in children learning, whether physical skills or social roles - it is always the practising and the acting-out of roles and skills that gives the quickest results, especially through games.
Play allows all people (not just children) to assess their interest in various activities without investing their whole lives in them. It lets them broaden their experiences and their understanding, and find what is the most appealing. Confucius also said “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Income/Outcome uses business games, business simulations, to engage participants by having them compete against each other in teams. They learn through practicing the analytical and decision-making skills that give them the business acumen they need to run a business successfully.
The teacher, particularly in experiential learning, is really only a person who allows the students to learn. That skill in itself is very valuable. And one of the kindest comments for teachers comes from Lee Iacocca, one of the iconic businessmen of the 20th century:
"In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and the highest responsibility anyone could have."
People may worry about the cost of providing business acumen training. But, as the anonymous quote goes, "What happens if you train people, and they leave? What happens if you don't train them, and they stay?"
Robin Helweg-Larsen, President
The "Stop Online Piracy Act" (
There is a petition against it here.
Some of the most despicable people support SOPA. The most obvious is the elephant-killing CEO of domain registration company GoDaddy, Bob Parsons. Over 100,000 people have switched their domain registrations away from GoDaddy in protest. The step-by-step guide to do it is here.
The future of the Internet is at stake, and with it the future of everything that Andromeda Training stands for: intellectual freedom, rapid technological and cultural change, the thrashing out of ideas in forums like Wikipedia, the empowerment of the individual, the development of entrepreneurship...
I encourage you to investigate the issue, and take personal action.
One of our all-time favorite people, Ana Leiderman, is finding time in a very full life to get involved with Income/Outcome again. She worked for us in Chapel Hill as both a Salesperson and Facilitator for three years, and brought her college professor Helmut Hergeth into our network by selling him on Income/Outcome for his NC State undergraduates.
Ana has been with Adidas for several years, in the US, then Germany, and now her homeland of Colombia. She is married, and has a gorgeous little daughter. As Ana is still finding consultants and universities and businesses who need Income/Outcome, she is again becoming an active resource for the English and Spanish-speaking worlds.
She is a wonderful person, and we highly recommend her.
There are two fundamentally different approaches to looking at developing ‘business understanding’ using a business game.
Thinking inside the box: You can develop a personalized model of the business. Consultants come in and ask a battery of questions about the company, the industry, what drives the results, where the current problems are, what senior management would like to see in terms of learning and changes in behavior and improved metrics, and more; and then they prepare a finely detailed (and hopefully accurate) model that will ask all the questions, and provide all the answers.
This gives little room for creative decision-making, but you do have organizational alignment.
Thinking outside the box: The alternative is to work with a more generalized model. If it is a good tool, the simulation will model the fundamental dynamics of the industry (cost structure; the nature of competition; constraints on expansion) as well as the fundamental aspects of business (managing separately for both cash flow and profit; strategic positioning); and it will probably teach the essential financial statements (P&L or Income Statement, and Balance Sheet). It should allow participants an open-ended decision-making experience where they find their own way. It will NOT present a ‘correct’ response to these problems, but will offer various strategic directions, any of which could be successful so long as it is managed well by the team… and any of which will fail if it is managed badly.
From this you will have people who may not have the same questions and answers as the management; but they will better understand management decisions. They will also generate a wide range of creative responses and be better decision-makers themselves.
Income/Outcome business simulations are very clearly “Outside the Box” solutions. We rarely incorporate specific situations or problems in our finance training games (though it does sometimes happen). We focus on big-picture learning that breaks down the silos, and can be applied when the situation changes suddenly and unexpectedly.
In our workshops, managers (and other learners) are encouraged to think through the basic challenges of business… there are no ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ answers to strategic problems, only opportunities and threats that are constantly arising in a changing industry and marketplace.
In choosing a business game or business simulation for learning purposes, whether in a corporate or academic environment, the first question should be “Computer-based or board-game?” There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
Essentially, the computer-based simulation can be more detailed in its modeling, but lacks believability because its computations are hidden. If I type in 2 + 2, and the answer is 4, and I’m not happy with the answer, I may blame the computer program and not own the result.
The boardgame simulation will lack detail, but be believable. If I move 2 chips from here, and 2 chips from there, and I end up with 4, I know exactly where the result came from because I physically created it, and I know why I did so. I own the result completely, whether I like it or not.
What the board-game lacks in detail, it makes up for in clarity (if it’s a good simulation, and doesn’t look like a Mario Brothers pipe nightmare). It will be like a cartoon, having all the essential elements of business, and having them in their correct relationship to each other, but exaggerated for effect and shown in outline, not detail.
- Drive learning through detailed modeling
- Calculation of results is hidden in the computer program
- Computer program may be ‘gamed’ by wily participants
- May be team-based, or stand-alone
- May not need a facilitator
- May be cheaper
- Drive learning through simplicity of modeling
- Provide credibility of concepts (nothing hidden)
- Events cannot be ‘gamed’
- Need multiple participants in the same location
- Need a facilitator
- May be more expensive
Our recommendation is to use both types of simulation, as appropriate. Use a board-game simulation for creating clarity of the fundamental concepts (financial statements; the pressures of the market place; inventory control issues; the importance of innovation and improvement; the need to manage separately for profit and cash flow; etc). Notice that these cut across all departments: everyone in business is very familiar with one of these issues, but almost no one respects the importance and the difficulties of all of them. Finance managers actually have as much to learn as salespeople about business!
Then consider the more detailed modeling that can only be done on a computer, working to several decimal places rather than in simple numbers. But don’t go to the detailed complexity, until you are sure that your target audience has a clean, simple, big-picture overview of the conceptual structure of business itself.
Advancing business acumen requires a clear big-picture understanding first. This is the platform on which you can build the more detailed training and development.
Income/Outcome Business Simulations are board game simulations (though they have an increasing range of web-based support materials such as the contextuary). We have stayed with this format because it provides clear foundational thinking.
Finnish psychologist Antti Revonsuo believes that dreams have a primary function of allowing extensive safe training in escaping dangerous situations. His research (as reported in Psychology Today, Nov-Dec 2007), shows that two-thirds of all dreams are threat dreams, totaling 300 to 1000 per year.
Studies of humans in a primitive environment, such as the Mehinaku hunter-gatherers of the Amazon, show that they dream extensively of common dangerous threats, and ways of escaping them.
Sleep research at Harvard Medical School shows that people learning a new skill in the morning do not have improved results later the same day without practice, but do have improved results without practice after sleeping.
This may not be the only function of dreaming, but simulation-based training appears to be a massively important, genetically-established way for humans to learn.
But we knew that all along, didn’t we?