Learn valuable Strategy & Techniques from this War Game to help you start & grow your business.
Topic, Situation, Winning Strategies, Co-opetition, Presentation vs Conversation, Prepared, Winning
Recently, I led a team from MIT in the second annual “strategy war game” with Harvard Business School designed to be an exercise in Starting a Business. The event was held in March in Cambridge, MA. I was a participant in last year’s battle (MIT won). This year, the battle was even more competitive. The judges were more critical in their assessment and opposing teams more “aggressive” in their questioning. However, much fun & learning was had by all. MIT won again.
Topic: “The Battle For Digital Entertainment Supremacy”. Basically each team had to devise strategies for a randomly assigned company (the companies possible were NewsCorp, Microsoft, Apple & Verizon). These strategies were then presented, while opposing teams asked questions, objected or otherwise critiqued the strategy. Judges chimed in as well with thoughtful (but pointed) questions to the presenting team. The judges were all “neutral” (no school affiliation) and from industry (IDC, Gartner, Yankee Group, etc.). After initial presentations, the organizers provided a “random but plausible” external event.
Situation: This year, the event was: “Dell & Wal-Mart have announced a partnership whereby they will jointly develop & offer a fully integrated entertainment system with Internet connectivity”. The task in Round 2 was then to respond to this event. What does any of this have to do with Starting a Business (which is the topic)? I’m glad you asked…
Strategy Battles & the Startup Game
- Even in Academia, Winning Strategies don’t always Win: Looking at the War Game objectively, most people could have argued that Harvard’s presentations & strategies were just as compelling & defensible as MIT’s. Many would argue that they were even better in some cases than those of MIT. However, I would presume that strategies don’t win competitions (neither in War Games or in real life), a persuasive Team wins.
- Think Co-opetition (= a combo of co-operation & competition): In the digital entertainment industry (and in many other industries), winning is not always about taking market share away from your competitors. The strategy in today’s market is much more sophisticated. From a startup’s perspective, success can often be built on picking the right partners & platforms. This is a case of competition & cooperation (hence the best selling book “Co-opetition” – which is well worth the read. Partnerships for starting a business are sometimes hard to establish, but often a great way to overcome early gaps your have. For startups, its critical to really look at each of the players in the industry (big & small) and figure out on what points you really compete – and on what points you can collaborate. I would further argue that almost nobody is just a “pure” competitor. There are always opportunities for collaboration.
- Don’t deliver a fancy Presentation; have a casual Conversation: Selling a strategy (to judges) is not unlike selling a product (to a customer). There are a few things to remember: 1) Customers are just people. Success is often a function of how much the audience/customer is impressed with your product. It’s hard to connect with your audience, if you’re doing most of the talking, and your PowerPoint slides are doing the rest. Pitches (sales, investment, strategy, etc.) are all about “telling a story”. MIT took a big risk in Round 2, and actually used no PowerPoint slides. Practically unheard of in this kind of setting (particularly since the task assigned was to “build a strategy presentation & deliver/defend it”). We ignored the task and focused on the goal. We had a conversation. (For the record, MIT scored the highest points of all teams on that particular round). Conversations win.
- It’s hard to fake Preparedness: Quite simply, the MIT team was by far much better prepared than the Harvard team. Everyone on the team knew everyone else. We had talked about the topic before “game day”, and discussed/debated the salient points. In our minds, we had already won before we even walked in the room. Winning was not about winning the battle (though that was certainly important). Winning was about learning about the topic & using our new-found “MBA skills”. So, in this case (as is the case with most Startup management teams), preparing is as much about knowing your team’s strengths, as it is about knowing your industry, products & competitors. And, much like startups, its important that you focus on the ultimate objective. Its not about “equal stage time” for all the participants. Its not about “fostering & growing” each of the employees. That’s a luxury that’s earned and must come later. In the early stages of your Startup, you’re leveraging your team strengths to survive. Having this team chemistry is about trust. Individual team members must trust each other to do “the right thing” – using their best judgement.
- Nothing Motivates Like Winning: This is going to seem obvious, because it is. Nothing motivates a team like winning (except perhaps losing, with a chance to come back). Once you have a win, it can bring the team together in unparalleled ways. It validates things you thought you knew. It encourages risk-taking (because most wins involve some risk-taking). And, it just feels good !!! Incidentally, the MIT team actually talked about what it meant (for us) to win. We didn’t just want to “beat Harvard”. We wanted to represent MIT admirably and “create value for the participants”. We wanted to be creative. We wanted to say something meaningful for everyone in the room (including representatives from Microsoft & Verizon). As author Seth Godin would say, “We wanted to do something remarkable”.
Conclusion: My compliments to the smart people from Harvard – you played an exceptionally good game. I was worried the whole time. Just like being a CEO, credit for winning goes to the Team, responsibility for failure goes to the leader. I’m just glad I’m graduating and hence won’t be participating in next year’s game. I’m sure Harvard will be coming back with a vengeance. I know I would.
Comments: Have you ever played or thought of way to play a War Game with another company to sharpen your skills?
from On Startups.com 3/16 enhanced by Peter/CXO Wiz4biz