The research: An airline pilot and a corporate manager have many things in common. They control systems of great complexity. They shoulder nail-biting responsibility. And they must be prepared for the unexpected. But there is one significant difference between the pilot and the manager — no airline would dream of sending a pilot up in the real thing before he or she had had extensive training with a flight simulator on the ground. The simulator gives the pilot the chance to learn, to make mistakes, and to experience the unexpected without risk to passengers and aircraft.
John Sterman realized that managers are expected to fly their organizations into unknown skies pretty much by the seat of their pants, so he set about creating a computer-driven management “flight simulator” called The Beer Game. Functioning much as an aircraft simulator does, the software program gives students the opportunity to ‘fly’ a company solo. The user takes command of a virtual firm and pilots it from startup to success. More important, the simulator serves as a laboratory in which students can systematically explore the consequences of strategies without risking the fortunes of a real enterprise.