Reflections on 15 Amazing Years...And Our Next 5

James Chisholm, June 2, 2011

A big milestone for our business – our 15th anniversary – is fast approaching this summer and we thought it would be fun to reflect on the past and look ahead to the future.

It’s fascinating to look at our industry’s growth through the lens of conversation.   From 1996, when the words “games” and “executives” were not to be uttered in the same sentence, to today when “gaming” seems to be everywhere, we’ve been lucky to be a part of many different and wonderful conversations.

1996–2000: “Games for executives … you’re kidding me, right?”

Ah, the good ole’ days! I remember, quite vividly, hauling a 40 lb. projector and 10 lb. “laptop” into a meeting with a top-tier global consulting firm and being told, most graciously, that games were not something that executives did. At least it wasn’t something their executives did.

Greg and I had a lot of those meetings. And we got pretty good explaining “why” simulations were a great way for leaders to learn. But we may have been a little ahead of the curve. Thankfully for EP, we did meet a number of people who shared our vision for the future of business learning, and we started to build a wonderful client base, one conversation at a time.

Era Highlight: Launch in 2000 of ExperienceChange: GlobalTech – the world’s first web-based simulation for leadership development.

 2001–2005: “I’m a gamer at home … how can gaming help me at work?”

If the business environment was not exactly welcoming during the early 2000s (dot-com bubble burst, 9/11, SARS, Iraq war), the introduction of the Playstation and Xbox helped hasten a societal change that helped our business. Games were not just for kids anymore and the rise of gaming in popular culture created a different kind of client conversation and a broader enthusiasm for the use of games in business learning.

We built many simulations during this period of all shapes (single-user self-directed, team-based facilitated) and sizes (30 minutes to multiple days) and forms (web-based, paper-based, CD-ROM). We created and delivered a lot of different learning designs and in the process received real-time feedback about what worked and … well, what didn’t. And while we continue to learn and refine our craft every day, this period was quite formative in terms of our current approaches to learning, design and gaming.

Era Highlight: Several high profile custom engagements with hundreds of learners simultaneously working through realistic sales / negotiation challenges.

 2006 – 2010: “How can we use games to practice? And can you create one specifically for our situation?”

During the last 5 years, gaming has gone mainstream with the casual games, mobile games, and even apps that add gaming layers to real world interactions. In conversations with clients, we’ve seen a shift from “gaming” towards “practice” and an increased desire for “custom solutions”. With the benefit of perspective, this shift in conversation seems to reflect a general acceptance of the method (games) as a valuable approach to addressing a latent need (opportunities for leaders to engage in deliberate practice).

We’ve also learned that, while custom simulations were (and are) a popularly expressed need, what often motivated this desire was a belief that greater fidelity (scenarios that mapped directly to the client’s current situation) would translate into better application and transfer of learning – which is not necessarily the case (a scenario that’s “too close to home” risks trapping learners in their own biases). Over the past five years we’ve put a lot of energy into closing the knowing-doing gap through designs that encourage practice and direct application of the frameworks, terms and techniques that are taught.

Era Highlight: We partnered with celebrated design firm, IDEO, to create Design Thinker (now ExperienceInnovation).  Design Thinker is a Gold Award winner of the 2011 Edison Award for best new product in the Living, Working and Learning Environments category.

 2011–2015: “How can we use games to solve problems?”

To help peer into the future, we’re listening carefully and observing (and helping) some of our “extreme users” push the boundaries on what’s possible. These clients are realizing that gaming may offer more than just a great learning methodology.

A glimpse of the future might be found in a recent example of a Fortune 50 company with a mandate to save $100m. The project leaders organized their problem-solving initiative around a simulation experience and provided all of their global participants with a shared experience and a framework for thinking about the problem (ExperienceChange). The simulation gave the project teams a safe place to work through group process and gel. The teams were then presented with the $100m goal and challenged to apply their collective talents to collaborate and compete to come up with the best solutions.  From the client’s perspective, the simulation created a shared experience that aligned engaged and focused their people in a very short period of time.

As a result of this experience, and others like it, we’re expecting the question, “how might gaming help us to solve this business problem?” to be a key conversation over the next 5 years.

Thanks for your support over the years. We’re always open to any type of conversation and would love to hear from you.

What are some of your memorable EP experiences from the past 15 years?  What are you looking forward to?  What will be the biggest challenges you anticipate?  Please share them with us below.

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