Business War-Gaming Bibliography
Author: Mark Chussil
Mark Twain perfectly captured the essence and value of business war games: If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way. Mark Chussil says: If you learn things with war games you don’t have to learn them the hard way.
I am Mark Chussil, Founder of Advanced Competitive Strategies, Inc., and a four-decade veteran of competitive strategy. I have conducted many, many business war games around the world, in industries from airlines to vaccines. Some of those war games have helped real companies make or save billions of real dollars. Others, in management-development programs, have taught thousands of strategists — including me — to become better strategists. This bibliography introduces articles I’ve written on business war games, strategy simulation, and strategic thinking. It provides links to full text online. Unless noted otherwise, I wrote the articles listed here.
If you’re short on time (and who isn’t), start here
Here is a description of ACS business war games, including stories from actual war games. Why Business War Games Work: You Ask Better Questions, You Get Better Answers, Competitive Intelligence Magazine, October/December 2012.
Business war games, in my experience, provide outstanding insights that greatly impact bottom lines. But why? What is it about business war games that produce insights that evidently elude other approaches?
“Rally the Troops” and Other Business Metaphors You Can Do Without, Harvard Business Review, November 24, 2016
Perhaps it’s the language we businesspeople use. Capture market share. Steal customers. Defend position. Rally the troops. Establish a beachhead. Counterattack. Alas, the war metaphor even invades the business war games I conduct. I tried calling them “strategy games” but people looked at me as though I were a draft dodger.
Articles about business war-gaming
Business War Games, SCIP.Online, November 2002
Business war games can be hugely and dramatically effective, and yet few managers know how to design or select a business war game, or how and when a business war game can add value. This article presents key concepts and options for any company interested in business war games.
Don’t Let Your Mistakes Go to Waste, Harvard Business Review, March 1, 2016
We all know that our gotcha culture demands perfection. We all also know that mistakes are inevitable even as risk-taking is necessary. The solution is not to tolerate mistakes or avoid risk. The solution is to assume less and challenge more. That means we need more than opportunities to make cheap mistakes; we need to understand why we made the mistakes.
Honey, We Shrunk the Industry: An Automotive War Game, Competitive Intelligence Magazine, July/August 2009
A business war game. Five automotive teams: Ford, GM, Hyundai, Toyota, Volkswagen. One set of customer judges, one set of investor judges. Three market segments. Fascinating, unexpected results. The teams were smart and they wanted to win. Yet collectively their decisions subtracted value from the industry: four out of five would have been better off if they’d done nothing at all and repeated last year’s moves for two more years. The fifth team had problems of its own, appearing to be successful but leaving many billions of dollars on the table.
We’ve run it again: a business war game on the automobile industry. It was to demonstrate war-gaming, not to solve the industry’s problems. That said, it revealed a lot about what goes right and what goes wrong when people develop competitive strategies.
House, MBA: What Strategists Can Learn from TV’s Nastiest Doctor, LinkedIn, October 2019
What can we learn about the business diagnosis from TV’s nastiest doctor? Quite a bit. We take a look at Safeway’s and Supervalu’s pricing on our rounds.
Learning Faster Than the Competition: War Games Give the Advantage, The Journal of Business Strategy, January-February 2007
Business war games help managers anticipate, respond to, and even induce change. We need war games because the greater the change the more trends don’t hold, experience doesn’t fit, benchmarks don’t apply, and previous strategies don’t work. There is no universally accepted method of business war-gaming. This article discusses how to assess and implement a business war game for your company.
Question What You “Know” About Strategy, Harvard Business Review, July 30, 2016
Fortunes are made by noticing such practices and challenging the assumptions behind them. Companies are lost by hardening common practices into shackles. Fortunately, breaking rules is free. All you need is curiosity, attentiveness, and the courage to challenge conventional wisdom.
Taking the Stress Test: Not Only for Banks, The ACS Blog, May 2009
Don’t we all wish that the stress tests of banks had been done, say, a year and a half ago? Making the case for running our own stress tests on our businesses.
The Seven Deadly Sins of Business War Games, SCIP.Online, May 2003
Having conducted business war games for dozens of the world’s largest companies, we’ve learned a lot about what to do, and what not to do. This article (which includes a bonus deadly sin, for a total of eight) helps strategists design business war games that work.
The War (Game) Metaphor: Or, My Discomfort with What I Do, The ACS Blog, November 2010
This is something I’ve learned from all those war games: Watch out for the war metaphor in your strategic thinking, and challenge it if you see it. The challenge doesn’t cost you anything. You can always go back to the war metaphor if you really think it works.
There’s a Mental Model in Your Head, Competitive Intelligence Magazine, January 2020
This article is about the reflexive, self-evidently true mental models that you, I, and every other businessperson on Earth use to make business decisions. It is about gaining competitive advantage by recognizing, challenging, and refining our mental models and the computer models based on them.
It matters because there is always a model when we make decisions. Always. That’s one of the five rules of models. We’ll meet the other four later.
A book with much about business war-gaming
The NEW Employee Manual: A No-Holds-Barred Look at Corporate Life, Entrepreneur Press (2019), by Benjamin Gilad, Ph.D., and Mark Chussil, MBA.
Ben and I disagree about many things. For example, he thinks The NEW Employee Manual is a book about careers and I think it is a book about competitive strategy. Also, we both conduct business war games, but we conduct them differently. Still, we agree that business war games — a major theme in our book — help people develop competing as a skill.
A strategy “tournament” about computer-based war gaming
The Top Pricer Tournament™ is a game, a war game, a strategy simulator, and a breakthrough in competitive strategy. Over 2,000 people around the world have entered the Tournament, and many of my HBR articles come from insights gained through billions of simulations from the Tournament.
You can enter the Tournament! It’s fun, thought-provoking, confidential, non-commercial, and free for individuals. It is also a powerful exercise for corporate and educational use.
Articles indirectly about business war-gaming
A Tournament Pits Strategists Against Each Other to See What Works, Harvard Business Review, June 8, 2015
It’d be helpful to run experiments. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a double-blind randomized controlled trial in business. What placebo would businesses take? What businesses would sign up to take it?
I’ve been working on a different approach. If we can’t experiment on real-life strategists running real-life businesses, how about if we experiment on real-life strategists running simulated businesses? We can find out how strategically people think and how well they perform.
Did You Win or Did They Lose? Thought Leadership Through Thinking, Vistage Research & Insights, August 23, 2013
One reason the incumbents lost was because they didn’t respond in time. The incumbents were thinking, but what were they thinking? They weren’t stupid; they didn’t say hey, everyone, let’s not respond in time. Tellingly, the stock price of at least one of the incumbents (Blockbuster) improved for years after its upstart (Netflix) took them on! It can be tough to argue against “look at the numbers, everything is fine” or “we don’t want to cannibalize our own products.”
Getting Smart and Not Predicting the Future, Competitive Intelligence Magazine, January 2020
We don’t know as much as we think we do. The sad proof is all around us. Think, for example, about the big-name companies that have slipped, slumped, and sunk.
Here’s one thing they have in common: None of them wanted to slip, slump, or sink. Here’s another: All of them were led by smart, motivated, data-rich people who wanted to soar. Like businesspeople around the world, they were well aware of the usual dangers — short-term focus, excessive cost-cutting, inattention to customers, and the dreaded “D” word — and they thought they knew what to do. And yet.
Gross Galactic Product: Growth Rates, Stock Prices, and Thinking Differently in a Crisis, The ACS Blog, October 2008
How big would Google be if its recent growth weren’t “as bad as some had feared”? We know growth doesn’t go on forever, but our quest for bigger and better every year leads to trouble. How can executives know when they cross the line from building up to propping up to puffing up?
How the Very Best Strategists Decide, Harvard Business Review, October 24, 2016
How did the plan get so far? The company didn’t have a death wish, and its strategists weren’t deficient. The problem was that their strategy development and internal reviews, like those in many companies, didn’t account for competitive dynamics.
I Didn’t Know You Could Do That: Disaster in Simulations Leads to Progress in Real Life, The ACS Blog, August 2008
The best insights often come from surprises, and the best surprises often come from simulations. Here we’ll talk about surprises in both business and crisis simulations, and actionable insights.
Millions of Pricing Simulations, The ACS Blog, February 2009
Have you ever seen 36,270 what-if’s on your strategy ideas? Have you ever seen your 36,270 what-if’s compared in a universe of 5,658,120 simulations? That’s what ACS did for over 150 strategists competing in the Top Pricer Tournament. Note: the 150 and 36,270 were accurate at the time the article appeared. Today’s numbers are over 2,000 strategists and 2 million what-if’s per strategy.
No One Can Think Outside the Box, Harvard Business Review, June 5, 2016
Agility is much in demand. It doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, merely mean hair-trigger reflexes. Something happened! Do something, quickly! Agility means doing something smart, quickly. Here are some get-smart-fast methods I’ve learned while war-gaming and simulating Fortune 500 companies. Each of them involves noticing and switching boxes.
Paying for Bad News, Competitive Intelligence Magazine, April-June 2012
I’m not saying the Closed Minds, Distorted Markets, and Stormy World themes are wrong. I am saying I don’t think the evidence establishes they’re right. They might be right, but they’re not right yet. Until they are right I believe it’s worth considering other perspectives.
Practice Makes Much, Much Better, Homeland Defense Journal, July 2007
Nobody ever intentionally makes bad decisions, yet bad decisions get made. Nobody ever writes a plan that they expect will fail, yet plans fail. We have a choice: We can learn from experience, or we can learn before experience. We can learn where it’s dangerous, or we can learn where it’s safe.
Putting the Lesson Before the Test: Using Simulation to Analyze and Develop Competitive Strategies, with David J. Reibstein. A chapter in Wharton on Dynamic Competitive Strategy, George S. Day and David J. Reibstein (editors), John Wiley, 1997. Putting the Lesson Before the Test was reprinted by Competitive Intelligence Review and Marketing Research.
Simulation can play a powerful role in developing and analyzing competitive-strategy options. Using simulation, managers have developed successful strategies, anticipated events that later occurred in real life, and learned about strategy, and their own businesses, at each step of the simulation process. Simulations give managers something that athletes have always had: the ability to practice before facing actual competitors.
Resisting Change: Overcoming Impediments to Creativity, The ACS Blog, July 2008
As human beings we are all familiar with the dig-in-our-heels sensation of resisting change. How do we know in which changes we ought to invest our time and treasure?
Strategy Cyborgs and Ten Gigasims, LinkedIn, November 2019
Everyone who enters the Top Pricer Tournament thinks their strategies will work. We know that because no one says, “I’ve got a good strategy and I’ve got a bad strategy, I think I’ll use the bad strategy.” But performance in the Tournament has varied widely. Note: It was ten gigasims at the time I wrote the article. Now it’s twelve gigasims, or even sixty gigasims when necessary.
The How-Likely Case: When the Most-Likely Scenario Isn’t Likely at All, The ACS Blog, May 2010
Strategists commonly analyze best-case, worst-case, and most-likely scenarios before making a significant strategy decision. That covers about 0.000007618% of the possibilities. I am not making up that number.
The Imagination Multiplier, LinkedIn, December 2018
The key step is to focus less on post-mortems and more on pre-mortems. There’s limited value in second-guessing “what happened” in retrospect. There’s far more value in multiplying our imagination in advance, when we can raise the quality of our decisions and the astuteness of our bets before we bet real money.
Tripling Sales: A Conflict, The ACS Blog, June 2013
Due diligence may not protect you from frenzies of advocacy. At its worst, it’s like signing an ill-advised legal document because the spell-check said it was okay. Think it doesn’t happen? Remember that no one invests in a strategy or business expecting it to fail, yet somehow smart people invest in strategies and businesses that fail.
True-Due Diligence: Or, Avoiding Failure When Due Diligence Says You’ll Succeed, The ACS Blog, November 2010
The outcome was not only to resolve the classic conflict of top-management stretch goals versus product-management practicality. It was also to preclude the equally classic conflict that comes later, the one about underperforming versus over expecting.
“We Are Fully Prepared”; Or, Why Plans Fail, Crisis Times, April 2006. Reprinted in Contingency Planning & Management – Global Assurance, March 2007.
We often ask – especially after a disaster – how we can hold people more accountable or get rid of those incompetents who failed to implement the plan. But maybe, to quote former Intel CEO Andy Grove, “That is not the right question.” Maybe the right question, therefore, is why did people believe we were prepared when we were not? And how can we do a better job of preparing for crises, or even preventing them?
What If? How to Create a Great Strategy, Competia Magazine, December 2002
What if you could answer your what-if questions before you make a key strategy decision? What if you could realistically and rigorously test your options before you committed real money? What if you could raise the odds that you’d make wise decisions and create a great strategy? As this article describes and illustrates, that’s what strategy simulation is for. So: what if you investigated strategy simulation?
What We Know That Ain’t So, Crisis Times, February 2006. Reprinted in CSOonline.com, NAMIC online, and in NAMIC’s In magazine. NAMIC is the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies.
This is the true story of how a multinational company successfully avoided a business crisis. The moral of the story applies as well to the government as it does to industry. An event that threatens a business’s survival is a crisis. Not every crisis arrives with a neon light announcing “Crisis! Crisis!” Sometimes, like a cancer, it grows slowly. Did Sears pay attention when Sam Walton opened his first store? Did General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler worry when Japanese econoboxes came to America in the 1970s? Based on results, apparently not. Today Wal-Mart is seven times the size of Sears, and GM, Ford, and Chrysler are desperately fighting for their lives.
When I Was Wrong, The ACS Blog, November 2008
This essay starts with a shocking pricing tournament and proceeds to the challenges faced by President-elect Obama and the titans of industry. All of us are human and so all of us will be wrong. What’s important is when we make our mistakes.
With All This Intelligence, Why Don’t We Have Better Strategies?, The Journal of Business Strategy, January-February 2005
With all our skills, data, enthusiasm, opportunities, knowledge, motivation, and power, why do we produce strategies that fail? This article discusses the inherent shortcomings in conventional models and human thinking that make it easy for even the best strategists to fall into bad strategy decisions. It concludes with practical advice to help strategists improve creative thinking and decision-making.
Would You Play Reverse Russian Roulette with Your Money?, Vistage Research & Insights, January 26, 2016
It takes sober effort to ponder uncertainty, and startups are not sober. They are giddy with hope, enthusiasm, and adrenaline; they are motivated. People who warn against the something-else perils I mentioned earlier, cognitive biases et al., are scorned as naysayers who drown future glory in cold water. I know because I’ve tried.
I was involved in a startup…
You’ve Got the Data. Now What? A chapter in Starting a CI Function, Ken Sawka and Bonnie Hohhof (editors), The CI Foundation, 2008
Most strategy challenges cannot be solved — emphasis on solved, not merely “responded to” — with data and information alone. Instead, they must be solved by combining intelligence (knowledge) with intelligence (human decision making). This book chapter discusses hidden traps that bedevil strategy decision-making: conventional tools, overconfidence, innumeracy, monsters, and obviousness.
About the Author
A highly rated and entertaining speaker who can run a billion simulations before breakfast, Mark conducts workshops about strategic thinking in corporations, at conferences, and in business-school programs. A pioneer in business war-gaming and strategy simulation, and a 40-year veteran of competitive strategy, Mark’s technologies have won a patent and a best-in-class award. He has designed strategy simulations and conducted business war games for dozens of Fortune 500 companies, in many industries, around the world.
Mark’s business war games and simulations have helped ACS clients add billions of dollars to their bottom lines. His programs on strategic thinking have helped thousands of strategists become better strategists.
Mark has written three books, chapters for five others, and numerous articles in the Harvard Business Review online and elsewhere. He has been quoted in Fast Company, Harvard Management Update, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. His most-recent book, co-authored with Benjamin Gilad, is The NEW Employee Manual: A No-Holds-Barred Look at Corporate Life. Harvard Business School has given Mark’s book Nice Start: Questions Only You Can Answer to Create the Life Only You Can Live to alumni returning for reunions, and had Mark address two HBS reunions.
Mark earned his MBA at Harvard University and his BA at Yale University. He was elected a Fellow of Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) and the Council of Competitive Intelligence Fellows. He taught as an Adjunct Instructor at the University of Portland, served on the Board of Directors of Friends of the Children, and chaired the pro bono Community Partners program of the Harvard Business School Association of Oregon. Prior to ACS, Mark worked at the Strategic Planning Institute (The PIMS Program), where he became Director of the Business Strategy Research Program, and at Sequent Computer Systems, where he was Manager, Strategy Development.
Advanced Competitive Strategies, Inc.
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