'MMO is a cookbook in the field of management'

May 9, 2013

MMO did not only bring Dirk Jan Bolderheij and Axel Vieth much knowledge and insights in the field of management and organization. It also laid the foundation for their company Simulation Experience, specialized in ready-to-play simulations and games oriented towards management- and organizational issues. “A good simulation or game offers awareness with impact, which is ideal to initiate a learning- and change process.”

Dirk Jan Bolderheij and Axel Vieth The passion for simulations and games began for Dirk Jan Bolderheij (left in the photograph) and Axel Vieth at the TIAS School for Business and Society. The two alumni became acquainted in 2008 during the Executive Master of Management and Organization (MMO). “Professor Jac Geurts explained in an impressive way during his first lecture what ‘gaming’ means to him. It triggered something in me, the way he spoke of gaming and the exercises that he let us do”, says Bolderheij. Axel and Dirk Jan played two games during the training program, but they did not become truly inspired until they spoke with Geurts while writing the Master thesis. “We had to draw up a plan for regional development in Nijmegen and Geurts challenged us to use the technology of ‘strategy tables’: a participative method with which to have those involved interactively create an image of what they want”, Vieth explains. The two alumni then observed the dynamics that came about in a group as a result of this interactive method.

Following his studies, Bolderheij decided to give up his job at the Municipality of Rotterdam and to start a company of his own. “Starting a company of my own had been an option for some time, but MMO did play a decisive role in that respect.” He decided to focus on familiar grounds - process management and public affairs on the one hand - and on simulations and games on the other. “I attended numerous (inter)national conferences, went to summer school and I took a course on serious gaming at the TU Delft. Little by little, I discovered that there are fantastic, ready-made simulations and games available, but that these mostly never left the shelf, scarcely found their way to players and customers and that these games scarcely crossed the national borders.”

Awareness with impact

Vieth: “I was working as an interim HR-advisor. Dirk Jan spoke of interesting simulations and games. As an HR-advisor, I found the use of games to be interesting. “It so happens that a good simulation or game offers awareness with impact and is ideal to initiate a learning- and change process.” What's more, participants enjoy it and it hugely appeals to their imagination."

The two alumni came to observe that game-developers apparently prefer to focus on developing the next game, rather than introducing the previous game on the market. Bolderheij: “At the same time, we recognized that made-to-measure is no always necessary and that it is even often better if a simulation or game is somewhat out of context. After all, too little distance from reality may distract one from seeing the essence of a learning process. It is our experience that many trainers and companies believe that you can only dispose of simulations and games if you have these developed made-to-measure. That is expensive and time-consuming. They are therefore not used often (enough) on balance to our taste. We put the idea that games are expensive and time-consuming behind us by - particularly through training- and consultancy agencies - aiming for more easily accessible, quick and therefore broad opening up and with a varied selection of ready-to-play simulations and games for professionals and managers.”

Critical door policy

That was the start of Simulation Experience. Bolderheij and Vieth meanwhile have nine simulations and games in their portfolio. “We observe a critical door policy”, Bolderheij explains. “The game has to have already proven its strength in practice, it must be ready-to-play, based on management theories and must concern organizational and management issues of a more general nature, such as, for example, team co-operation, change management, leadership or customer-orientedness”, according to Bolderheij. Vieth: “For example, we are asked to breathe new life into deadlocked challenges in organizations using a simulation or game. We then often see people - who do not understand one another in practice or who beat around the bush - get to talking with one another fundamentally during game play about their ‘mental model’. It is fantastic to see how it works every time. The most important part of the game, however, is the follow-up discussion. This is where that which one has learned is to be secured. Depending upon the learning goal as agreed upon during the intake, we then discuss in detail how the game progressed and what one learned, in order to subsequently make a link to reality and one's own management-, learning- and/or development agenda.”

After a year and a half of hard work, Simulation Experience meanwhile has an impressive list of clients, such as the Municipality of Amsterdam, the Ministry of I&M, the Erasmus University, Alliander and Thales. Last March, the Senior Executive Program of TIAS could be added to the list. But ‘SimXP’ focuses mainly on equipping training- and consultancy agencies that want to use simulations and games within a broader framework. “Trainers and consultants can now readily access various simulations and games through us. We offer ‘train-the-trainers’ under the supervision of experts, so that trainers and consultants can work independently with certain gaming tools or we work to co-create with them”, Bolderheij explains.

Knowing what's what

Not only did the MMO program lay the foundation for the company, Bolderheij and Vieth still apply the theory everyday. 'MMO is a cookbook in the field of management. We learned a lot across the board and examined some disciplines in depth. We feel we now know what's what. We can really use that when seeing through and ‘scouting’ simulations and games”, says Bolderheij. Vieth: “And during the talks that we hold at companies and organizations, of course. Theory and practical experience make us well capable of projecting ourselves in the field of influence and dilemma’s in teams and organizations. And we then let them experience the essence of this in a unique and unforgettable fashion.”

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