Ronald Reagan

Thomas Jefferson

3rd President of the United States
March 4, 1801 – March 4, 1809

Thomas Jefferson - Want to predict the future? Play a game.

Fun Fact:

Do you like ice cream? Mac ‘n’ cheese? French fries? Jefferson was quite the foodie, and he loved fine French food. He also enjoyed these simpler creations. Can you guess which became more popular?
Meeting with civil rights leaders Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (left), Whitney Young, and James Farmer in the Oval Office in 1964

Corps of Discovery meet Chinooks on the Lower Columbia, October 1805 (Charles Marion Russel, c. 1905). Epic as it was, the Lewis and Clark Expedition is hardly the whole story.

. . .

Explore the Louisiana Purchase! The family board game.

. . .

Congratulations!

You’ve just purchased the entire watershed of the Mississippi River – aka “Louisiana” – for $15 million from France. But just because you’re the proud owner of 828,000 million square miles of wilderness doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods (Ha! Get it?!) This is 1803. The only maps of the area are woefully inadequate – you have only a vague idea of what you just bought: Its resources, its geography, and the people who already live there. What’s worse, just because you don’t need to worry about France trespassing on your land, you can’t say the same for Spain, Great Britain, and Russia. This is an exciting time, filled with adventure and promise … but you had better act fast to take advantage of the opportunity and secure your new borders!

Game Objectives

You’re setting out on the greatest adventure of your life. As a key member of one of the exploration teams commissioned by President Jefferson, you’ll need to plan and execute a successful mission. The stakes are high! Succeed, and you’ll be memorialized as an early hero of the brand-new United States of America. Fail, and you won’t simply lose out on the adoration of your country, you might never make it back alive. Still interested? Here’s what the President is asking you to do:

  • Improve the maps: Rivers are the most important immediate objective; the watershed defines the territory, so you’ll need to find the headwaters of each tributary to the Mississippi River. But more than that, you’ll need to create reliable maps of key landforms, resources, and obstacles to provide the best trade routes and land for settlement.
  • Make scientific discoveries: Much of the interior of the North American continent is unknown to science. What new animals and plants might be there that could provide scientific (or commercial!) value?
  • Make a positive impression on local people: Remember, you’re not truly “discovering” much of anything. Indigenous people have lived in this area for thousands of years, and there are a lot more of them than there are of you. Establishing trade relationships will jumpstart economic activity … and prevent future conflicts. Tread carefully!

While you’re there, President Jefferson has a few other foreign policy objectives for you and your expedition:

  • Tell the British they’re no longer welcomed! British traders have been dominating the fur trade (with impunity) since the end of the Revolutionary War. Your job is to confront them and tell them to get out.
  • Deescalate the antagonism with Spain. Good fences make good neighbors, but no one knows where the fences should be. You’ll probably run into some local Spanish territorial governors who didn’t get the memo that Spain gave the territory back to France, and that France sold it to us. In other words, this could get sticky. Best to avoid them entirely until we have better maps.
  • Watch out for the Russians. If you’re anywhere near the Northwest corner of the territory, you might see the Czar’s representatives. It’s unlikely, but you should keep an eye out for them. We need to know if they’re heading down the coast from their Alaska territory.

Oh, and by the way, it’s dangerous out there! The summers are hot, the winters are terrifying, the storms are epic. There’s even this hellish “funnel storm” the Spaniards have written about. Even the toughest adventurers have hundreds of ways to die a horrible death in the wilderness. But even worse than the elements, you could get lost, get captured, and humiliate the United States at a time where it can ill afford a bad reputation on the world stage. And even worse than that – there are schemers and manipulators all around you, and some of them are your own countrymen!

There’s no backup, no hope for rescue, and no forgiveness for mistakes. You’re on your own. But if you make it back successfully – and especially if you make it back quickly – you can publish your findings. Your reputation (and your finances!) will be set for life.

Still up for it? Great!

You can join one of four explorer teams. Let’s meet them.

Team #1: Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark

When people think about the Louisiana Purchase today, the Lewis and Clark Expedition (aka the Corps of Discovery) is what they think about. The story was beautifully told in Stephen Ambrose’s 1996 epic biography Undaunted Courage. If you choose to join this team, you’ll set out with 45 men, the best scientific equipment available, and provisions for multiple years of travel over the interior of the country. Of all four expeditions, this is the one President Jefferson took the most pleasure in planning. Lewis was Jefferson’s personal secretary, and that position gave the team access to the immense library and knowledge collected at Monticello. But watch out! We know now that the Lewis and Clark Expedition was successful; it was by no means as sure thing at the time. Traveling Northwest was dangerous and largely unexplored. What’s more, Jefferson wanted the team to push beyond the “purchased” territory, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. No one knew what obstacles or distances lay between.

Team #2: William Dunbar and George Hunter

The Lewis and Clark team would head north and west. The Dunbar and Hunter team would explore the Southern area of the Mississippi River watershed, notably the Ouachita River (flowing from present-day Arkansas into Louisiana and meeting the Mississippi not far from the delta region.) However, this wasn’t the original plan. Warring indigenous nations led Jefferson and Dunbar to conclude that a trip to explore the Red River should be delayed, and that the Ouachita River was a reasonable alternative. There were even “boiling waters” that had fascinated explorers … could they really be the source of the “fountain of youth” legend? No one knew for sure! While not as expansive as the Lewis and Clark, the Dunbar and Hunter team had the benefit of proximity and a shorter mission. If you choose to join this team, you’re likely to make it back much sooner (perhaps within the year). But watch out! You’re getting close to Spanish forces. If they stop you, your team could be turned back, captured, or even killed.

Team #3: Thomas Freeman and Peter Curtsis

Historically, this is the expedition President Jefferson would rather forget. However, at the time, he called it the “The Great Excursion.” In “real” time, this group would head out after Dunbar and Curtsis, on the Red River journey they were supposed to undertake. It was ambitious – in many ways, just as ambitious as Lewis and Clark. (Today, people get confused between the northern Red River – flowing north into Canada from Minnesota, and the southern Red River – flowing largely west from the Mississippi River into the present-day states of Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. This is the southern river.) If you choose this 24-person team, you’ll get the best of both worlds: You’re closer to home than Lewis and Clark (like Dunbar’s group), but with a bigger scope (and potential for glory and prestige). In addition to the scientific and mapping objectives, you’re hoping to chart efficient trade routes to Santa Fe. In this era, it was important to get in on the ground level with speculative trading routes – this was the venture capital of its day. The risk should go without saying. The Spaniards are directly on your path!

Team #4: Zebulon Pike

You might notice this is the only team to feature one name and not two. Jefferson liked the team approach, but he didn’t directly commission this expedition. General James Wilkinson, the military governor of the new territory, served as the go-between. Pike was a young, brash, inexperienced military field commander looking to make his mark. Today, if people know about Pike at all, they consider him equal parts fool and traitor. That’s mostly propaganda and bad timing of his return. For now, it’s important to know that if you choose the Pike team, you’ll get to go on not one, but two expeditions – the first to find the headwaters of the Mississippi River, and the second to explore between the Red River to the south and the Missouri River to the north. (Basically, present-day Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico.) And because this was a military expedition planned by a military leader, you’ll have some reconnaissance to do as well. What is the strength of the Spanish forces? Who will the indigenous people ally with? Which European powers do you find attempting to trespass or trade?

Which team do you choose?

(Thinking about Lewis and Clark? Hmm. Careful. That’s a classic survivorship bias, meaning that we’re likely to choose that one because it turned out well.)

Made your choice? Good. Let’s give you a little more information about the territory and the other players.

(Side note: In my fantasy version of this game, if you had enough players, you could choose to play as one of the following characters as well … or even the natural environment. Think World of Warcraft, but with more interesting characters. For now, however, we’ll be content with considering them NPCs – or non-player characters.)

The Game Board

Okay, it’s probably a good time to tell you what you actually bought. France controlled only a tiny portion of the Louisiana area (named for King Louis XIV in 1682). Jefferson purchased whatever meager fortifications existed, of course, but not much more in terms of physical structures. In European colonialism, what you really purchased was preemption.

The Louisiana Purchase was simply a signal to other colonial powers that whomever had control of that land could exercise its will over that area. That meant establishing trading rights, extracting natural resources, managing setters, and governing people living there – all free from the interference from other colonial powers.

You might be wondering: Hey, wait a second. Lots of people already lived there. Don’t they get a say in all this? You’re correct, of course. The watershed of the Mississippi River was inhabited by dozens indigenous tribes – some known, others completely unknown. Those people didn’t factor into the global geological calculation, but they certainly could impact how a territory was administered. We’ll talk about the role of the indigenous people a bit later, but for now, it’s enough to know that they controlled the land the explorers wandered through. If they wanted to trade, they could trade. If they wanted to fight, there was very little that a couple of dozen military officers, unfamiliar with the terrain, could do to stop them. In other words, you had better play nice.

In addition to the people already living there, the biggest issue to understand is the geography itself. Today, when we envision the Louisiana Purchase, we think of a map that looks like this:

However, the best map Jefferson had at the time looked something like this:

A few things jump off the map right away. First, the paths of the rivers are largely educated guesses. No one knew for sure. Because those often served as boundaries for preemptive claims, knowing the headwaters was a big deal – the owner of that land had the biggest incentive to find them. Other powers would like nothing more than to frustrate that process. Even if they played nice, border disputes were common because no one knew precisely where the line was drawn. Second, have a look at the distances. You can understand why Jefferson thought making it to the Pacific was an achievable goal – it wasn’t that far! And you could understand that provisions and supplies meant to last a shorter trip could become a problem if you misjudged the distance. Finally, have a look at the Rocky Mountains. Europeans understood that these were more rugged than the Appalachian chain that bordered the original 13 colonies, but no one quite understood what a barrier they were, or what impact they would have on topography and climate in the center of the continent.

You can start to get a sense for the importance of accurate maps – and the role of each expedition in creating better ones. In the world of preemption, the nation with the best knowledge wins.

However, a lack of knowledge of the Louisiana Purchase geography isn’t your only obstacle. Before you set out, you need to know a little about the other global (and local) power players.

Enemies, Friends, and Everything in Between

France

As the popular story goes, Emperor Napoleon was so desperate for cash that he sold France’s claims on the Louisiana territory for $15 million. In fact, this was a bit of a double-sided coup. James Monroe (yes, the future President) was authorized to spend only $10 million. When he returned to the United States with the signed agreement, Jefferson had little choice but to support the deal. In fact, Napoleon was lucky to be in a position to sell rights to this territory at all. As we’ve noted, the Louisiana territory changed hands quite recently. Spain won the territory from France a few decades earlier, and had only recently handed it back to France in a secret treaty. Spain didn’t imagine that France would turn around and sell it to the United States. Both Jefferson and Napoleon took advantage of the timing to deny Spain additional territory on the North American continent – Jefferson to nearly double the size of the United States, Napoleon to finance wars on the European continent. Spain was frozen out, and remains a bit salty about it. In short, don’t count on France for much support, though you may benefit from traders still in the area. 

Spain

In terms of territory, Spain had preemptive rights for huge swathes of the North American continent. But in terms of influence, Spain’s power had been waning since 1588 (defeat of the Spanish Armada by the British). Privateers (and pirates) had been harassing Spanish shipping for hundreds of years, weakening Spain on the mainland of Europe by denying it the benefits of empire. As you can see from the map, the Louisiana purchase shared an ambiguous border with “new Spain” (modern Mexico and several future states). Spain was not happy with this situation and didn’t want Americans anywhere near them. For the American expeditionary teams, encountering a Spanish military garrison is just about the worst outcome.

Great Britain

The British may have lost the Revolutionary War, but that didn’t mean they respected the territorial claims of the new United States. Like Spain to the south, Great Britain retained preemptive rights over the northern regions (modern day Canada). In practical terms, that meant fur traders ventured far into the wilderness to supply a voracious desire in Europe for fur pelts of every description. It was inevitable they would venture south into the “Louisiana” zone. Furthermore, it was debatable that the average trader would know where the line was, and if they did, if they would care. But more than the northern lakes region, Great Britain had its eye to the west – specifically, deep water Pacific ports. If they could establish a foothold there, they could prevent the United States from reaching another ocean and threatening British command of the seas.

Russia

Russia is a minor player in this drama, but it’s not a completely insignificant one. The vast Russian landmass extended to Kamchatka, directly across the Bering Sea from the North American continent. It has laid claim to modern day Alaska in 1741, and by 1800, were beginning to work their way down the coast.

Native Nations

Indigenous people are the major force throughout the region, and most of them understand the European perspective on “territory” by this point. In this era, especially in the sparsely populated west, indigenous people saw the Europeans as trading partners and sources of manufactured goods. They respect strength, good trading opportunities, and gifts. It’s important to remember, however, that the native nations aren’t just one homogenous group. There are several groups living the Louisiana territory, all with complex political alliances and rivalries. Additionally, a strong relationship with one group might mean nothing to a group 300 miles away (who they don’t know), or worse, it might mean you’ve made an enemy. Tread carefully. There are lots more of them than there are of you.

Oh, there’s just one more thing…

The Wildcard!

Did we forget to mention the major twist in this plotline? The dramatic scoundrel in this drama is none other than the Vice President, Aaron Burr. To make a long story very short: Jefferson and Burr had ample reason to distrust each other. After that drama eventually led to the death of Alexander Hamilton at the hands of Aaron Burr in a duel, Jefferson had had enough. He would kick Burr off his reelection ticket in 1804, and even have him arrested later for treason. (Burr would be acquitted, but just barely.) Ever the schemer, Burr saw an opportunity to sooth his wounded ego by nothing less than carving out territory in the new Louisiana purchase for his own new country. He couldn’t do it alone, of course. He would need the help of the newly appointed governor of that region (remember Wilkinson?) as well as a backchannel with Spain. In short, Burr needed Jefferson’s explorers frustrated, slowed down, and ideally, turned back … except for the ones that could gather intelligence crucial to Burr’s new nation. None of the explorer teams knew about this, of course, but their fortunes would be changed by it.

. . .

Game Play

Now that you’ve got all the backstory, you’re finally ready to play the game! I’m not a board game expert, but from what I’ve been able to learn, my fondness for hours-long games such as Axis and Allies (a World War II strategy board game) and Oregon Trail (the original PC game) isn’t completely bizarre. Sure, it’s been a decade or two since I’ve had that kind of time (my children never quite saw the fascination), I can envision a fun evening. Stay with me here – I envision a three-part approach to game play mechanics:

Part 1: Choose your explorer team, invest in supplies, and get trained.

If you read the histories of each team, they didn’t simply walk into a bar (a la Pirates of the Caribbean) and wrangle up a crew. The leaders carefully selected each person for their outdoor skills, military prowess, ruggedness, and/or scientific expertise – if you could check more than one box, all the better. They also spent weeks (and sometimes months) training for the expedition. Because these were river voyages, knowing how to navigate a boat upriver was critical. Your average soldier didn’t know how to do that. If you made a mistake, it could mean death or dismemberment. I liked the system in Oregon Trail – based on your initial selections, you had a series of choices to make about the supplies you carried and people to join you. Resources weren’t limitless, and your choices had consequences during the expedition.

Part 2: The Expedition (aka most of the game)

The original game of Life is a good model for this stage of play. As you progress along your route, your first job is to continually improve the quality of your map, search for natural resources, and make scientific discoveries. Those would get added to your in-game inventory of accomplishments. Along the way, depending on the path you chose, you would increase (or decrease) your chances of encountering European powers or indigenous people. When you did, you would need to select your strategy … and perhaps … roll the dice to see what happened. Finally, I envision an element of randomness (usually, the “land on a square and draw a card situation”) for weather, disease, or mutinies. Oh, and one last thing. Reaching your objective (e.g. the headwaters of a river) is only the first goal. The second is to make it back … alive.

Part 3: Publishing your findings and reaping the rewards.

Most games struggle with this part. In many of them (Life is a good example, but there are many others), simply “getting home” or “getting home first” or “getting home with the most accomplishments” would mean that you won. However, if we’re talking about a true geopolitical game, the “win” isn’t as important as the “marketing” of the win. How people perceive your accomplishments is as important as what you accomplished. Not only do you need to make it home, you need to avoid problems along the way and head of usurpers and treachery when you get back. Again, if you read the history of these groups, you’ll find several unsung heroes. They didn’t know how to publish their findings. That means that you better have invested in keeping good records, collecting eye-catching specimens, and setting yourself up for lucrative trade deals. To my knowledge, this would be a completely new aspect to a board game; something only a marketing person would think up, but it adds a level of realism to the game that better matches how the world truly works.

. . .

The “Real” Game Results

I’ll bet you’re wondering how this all turned out for the explorer teams. Although my version of the game might yield different results, I won’t deny you the joy of some closure. Here’s the short version:

Lewis and Clark

I hardly need to mention them, do I? They are the quintessential explorers – fearless, courageous, humble, and determined. They accomplished all Jefferson’s objectives, contacting numerous indigenous tribes, crossing the continental divide, dipping their toes in the Pacific Ocean, and returning all but one of the 45 explorers back home safely (Sergeant Charles Floyd died of disease three months into the journey). Fun fact: Those looking to follow in the footsteps of the expedition need only search for droplets of the heavy metal mercury. At the time, it was used to treat venereal disease in men, inserted into the urethra, and expelled as the men urinated along the way. (Try not to think too hard about that phrase in the middle.) However, what most people don’t know is that Lewis and Clark were nearly captured by Spanish forces. How did the Spaniards know the expedition route? Well, Wilkinson, of course. During this time, he was a double agent for the Spanish, feeding them intelligence about the Americans and conspiring with Burr to carve out a little chunk of heaven for themselves. And yes, you read that right – the top American general, in charge of half the country’s territory, was a traitor.

Dunbar and Hunter

It’s hard to claim any of the four expeditions was easy or luxurious, but Dunbar and Hunter’s trip up the Ouachita River to the hot springs or modern-day Arkansas might just qualify. As the group traveled upriver, they found a robust and interconnected series of existing relationships between European traders and indigenous groups. They even found groups of people who had traveled to the hot springs themselves for therapeutic and medicinal purposes – the team even stayed in cabins built by visitors to the region. Although the results proved less spectacular than Lewis and Clark, they did have the benefit of returning first, bringing with them new maps and knowledge of the area and its resources. And with such a short trip, they had little time to run into Spanish resistance. Others wouldn’t be so lucky.

Freeman and Curtsis

Remember the exciting promise of this “Great Excursion?” It was not to be. Despite a well-equipped and meticulously planned expedition of over 50 people to find the headwaters of the Red River, their native guides alerted them within days that the Spaniards were pursuing them. They started their journey on May 2. By July 28, at a spot now known as Spanish bluff, about 600 miles up the river, they met their pursuers. That the Spanish and Americans were not at war was the only thing that saved their lives; the force of more than 200 could have easily overwhelmed the explorers. Planning for this contingency, Jefferson instructed them to turn back in the face of a Spanish challenge, which is precisely what they did. Despite a journey of barely a summer, the team charted what it could, cataloging over 250 plants and animals.

Pike

Originally, I had planned to write this entire entry on the little-known story of Zebulon Pike and his two expeditions. I love an underdog story, and Pike certainly fit the bill. Ultimately, however, his story – alone – doesn’t do justice to the sweeping arc of the Louisiana epic. Nevertheless, I enjoyed learning about him and his travels. Of all the explorers, his team was the smallest, the least skilled, and the most poorly prepared. At most, he led a dozen men. While other expeditions received the best equipment science had to offer, Pike had in his toolkit – no joke – basically a compass and a watch. Despite this, he (very nearly) found the headwaters of the Mississippi River in modern-day Minnesota. (One can be forgiven for thinking Upper and Lower Red Lakes are the headwaters. Lake Itasca is teeny.) He parlayed with Chief Wabasha. He negotiated an agreement for the land for a future Fort Snelling. He returned all his men safely. Oh, and did we mention he made this trip in the winter? Remember, part of the mission was to catch British fur traders trespassing, and most trapping and trading happened in the winter. That meant traveling up the river at the worst possible time. No, the maps he drew weren’t great, but c’mon. He wasn’t yet 30, he and had little training and equipment. On Pike’s second expedition, he struck out to the west. Heard of Pike’s Peak in Colorado? It’s named for him. No, he didn’t climb it, but that’s only because his men could barely continue in the cold and the snow. It was on his way back from this trip that events conspired to seal his fate. He and his small party were captured by Spanish forces. But even this wasn’t completely unplanned. Remember Wilkinson’s plans – he was a double agent, he had told Pike that he wanted him to “spy on” Spanish fortifications, populations, and armies. Pike dutifully did so, making notes as he was brought south into Mexico and finally back to the New Orleans area. Surprisingly (but not so surprisingly given Wilkinson’s scheming) Pike was treated very well by his Spanish captors. When Pike returned, he began to learn about the Burr-Wilkinson conspiracy and the traitorous plans. Worse! He was implicated in them! Although the young officer was able to disentangle himself (he likely knew little of what was really going on), his career would never be the same. He died, honorably, in a British sabotage of a powder magazine explosion in the War of 1812.

With the spectacular success of Lewis and Clark, who would ever care to remember Pike? Or Dunbar? Or Freeman?

We tend to only celebrate the winners. We only remember those who succeeded. We like to forget those pawns sacrificed for the great objective. In retrospect, Jefferson was smart not to pin his hopes on just one expedition. He didn’t make one bet. He made four bets.

Jefferson was playing a game too.

Each of these stories is an epic. In a way, I feel bad for shortening them to a few pithy statements at the end of the description of a geopolitical game. I don’t mean to trivialize their importance – to the people who undertook the risk, to the people (especially the indigenous people) whose lives would be changed, or to the impact of the United States on the world stage.

But I think the game metaphor is a useful tool here. It reminds us that these stories didn’t need to turn out this way. The results were not inevitable. Had the group traveling a little faster (or slower), had the leader slipped off a ledge, had a native nation decided to kill the intruders, Ambrose might have written about Dunbar or Freeman, or even Pike.

Ultimately, I think this is where the study of history limits our ability to think about the future. The history, as we’ve shown in the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase, charts only one path through an infinite set of possibilities.

Perhaps it’s a failure in how we learn history. Because we read about it after the fact, we think it must have turned out that way, as if the author crafted it that way from the very beginning.

We read history like a story, when it’s truly more like a game.

. . .

 

If “games” can be more useful for predicting the future than “history,” why don’t leaders use more of them?

. . .

Let me ask you a question: At your company, have you ever played a game? No, I’m not talking about a game of Sudoku on your phone while you wait for a meeting to start, or the office March Madness pool, I’m talking about a strategic game.

In this type of game, you attempt to role play what might happen in the future for a product line, a market, or your company. Your “competitors” are other “players” in this game – usually played by other employees. Often, these exercises are run by professional facilitators with rigorous gameplay rules. (If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons, you sort of get the idea. The game leader is your DM. If you don’t know what a “DM” is, consider yourself fortunate.)

The trade name for this type of game is a “Competitive Simulation,” although the term “War Game” also is popular because of the game’s military roots. The armed forces learned decades ago that it could not plan for one possible outcome in a military exercise; it must plan to succeed in multiple possible scenarios. If they didn’t plan that way, people could die. The stakes may not be quite as high in the corporate world, but although lives usually aren’t at stake, livelihoods certainly are.

Military planners swear by the effectiveness war games. Often, its these same experts who enter the corporate world to train business leaders how to conduct them as well. Simulations are perhaps the most effective future scenario planning tool available – superior to historical accounts (for the reasons we discussed in the Jefferson entry above) and also past data (which is simply another lens on history, albeit a less-prone-to-bias lens).

War game experts expect that corporate leaders will see the same benefits as their military commanders and make the necessary investments to simulate multiple possible futures so that they can plan (and execute) more effectively.

They would be wrong.

Most businesspeople will never participate in a simulation exercise in their entire careers. This, despite all the evidence that they are effective. After writing my essay on Jefferson’s multi-pronged approach to exploring the Louisiana Purchase, I began to wonder why not.

I brainstormed a few reasons:

  • Corporate leaders don’t know how to run a simulation.
  • Simulations are too complicated or time consuming/expensive.
  • Leaders are afraid of what they might learn.
  • The word “wargame” is getting in the way – this is a “military” thing and not applicable to “corporate” culture.

I’ll admit, I was stumped. All those reasons seemed reasonable, but they didn’t quite get at the underlying psychology standing in the way. For help teasing apart what was going on, I turned to an expert.

Tim Smith is a retired military expert in war games. He also holds an MBA and a JD. If there is anyone who understands both military and corporate culture (and how to weave them together), it’s this guy. (Full disclosure: I know him, and I’ve have worked with him. He’s a great guy.)

While he agreed with my initial four reasons, he was able to shed some light on some deeper issues:

  • Business leaders often don’t want to share the knowledge (and outcomes) with their own staff – aka “trust issues.”
  • The amount of prep work required to have a good game is considerable. Many leaders won’t invest the time.
  • Leaders don’t know what they don’t know, creating blind spots that prevent them from seeing the urgency in finding out.

Additionally, experience with competitive simulations is no guarantee of future use of the technique:

  • Many times, leaders see the game simply as a “morale building” experience that failed to generate concrete/actionable deliverables.
  • The process lacked rigor and rules – participants were told to “develop a strategy” with no guidance. The results, as you could guess, are underwhelming.
  • The simulation yielded results … that were perceived as “wrong.”
  • The simulation yielded results … that were perceived as “correct” … but leadership didn’t follow through. (Would you do another one?)
  • The process is yielding results, and the team is getting good at it, but then they have one bad experience. That’s often all it takes to counter all the good work.

I can’t disagree with anything Tim said. In fact, I’ve seen similar psychological issues derail all sorts of valuable techniques and initiatives – wargames included. But if there is anything a study of history has taught me, it’s that history didn’t need to turn out that way. What we see as “history” is simply the only outcome left standing. It’s only visible in retrospect. It has preciously little predictive power.

History is important. Data, as a lens on history, is important. But alone, no amount of either can predict the future. And that’s what business leaders want. Desperately.

The competitive advantage goes to leaders willing to accept a wide variety of possible futures … and plan to succeed in all of them.

. . .

Books and Reference Materials

Thomas Jefferson- The American Presidents Series- The 3rd President, 1801-1809
Thomas Jefferson: The American Presidents Series: The 3rd President, 1801-1809

By: Joyce Appleby

Thomas Jefferson- The Art of Power
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

By: Jon Meacham

Undaunted Courage- Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West
Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West

By: Stephen Ambrose

A Wilderness So Immense- The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America
A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America

By: Jon Kukla

Memorials and Official Sites

Monticello Official Site

White House Official Site

Miller Center

Smithsonian: How the Louisiana Purchase Changed the World

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