Trappings of Expertise and the Pursuit of Failure
In the past, people learnt about dealing with complex situations through life experiences. With the availability of computer simulations, it seems feasible to supplement ‘life’ as a teacher to foster learning about the challenges of complex, dynamic, and uncertain realities. This paper describes a computer simulation of a business organization used with 20 groups of participants. Each group had three members and was expected to manage 24 months of the organization in 3 hours of simulation time. The simulation threw up some interesting behavioral patterns, and provided some insights into the typical errors in the planning and decision making behaviors of specialists. For example, it was found that despite a flood of analysts, several specialists seemed hesitant to apply yardsticks, make choices, and take stands. So there was a strong tendency to avoid or postpone action taking. It was also found that each group developed a routine for data collection. Using the metaphor of ‘control panel’, the paper examines how routinization channelizes the attention of the group in certain directions and away from certain areas. Several implicit assumptions were identified which blocked the learning of groups from experience. The paper discusses the behavioral patterns reflective of the assumptions. For example, there was a strong tendency to shrink when things did not go as planned. They key concern was found to be with minimizing mistakes. The concluding section discusses some of the self-reflective comments of the participants and the role of organizational simulation exercises for management training. An attempt has been made to explore the notion of strategic orientation as heightened awareness of the choice points that one encounters. A strategic mind develops better understanding of the functioning of complex systems, and retains its flexibility with respect to the choice points rather than getting entrenched in set behavioral patterns.
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