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Listen to Chris Paton, Managing Director of Quirk Solutions as he joins business podcast co-hosts Jim Vaselopulos and Jan Rutherford of The Leadership Podcast for a discussion on the merits of business wargaming as an essential tool to mitigate risks and maximise success.
On this business leadership podcast, they discuss how the process works and why it’s becoming one of the leading strategy testing methods in business across the globe.

Listen to the podcast:

KeyTakeaways – see more on The Leadership Podcast Website

Full Podcast Transcript can be found here:

[3:21] In the Royal Marines, Chris co-authored an article on planning in fluid situations. That led to talks and consulting, and he realized he had something important to contribute to the corporate world. He left the military to create a business planning consultancy. At each point of a client strategy, Chris would pressure test it to find gaps and weaknesses. He would also pressure test the options he delivered.

[6:24] Chris started to have clients create more of the strategy, with more self-reliance; more responsibility for their own planning. Chris ‘blew on the embers,’ with pressure tests, to add the real value to the planning process.

[7:56] Military people go into business, aware that the consequences of getting something wrong are so catastrophic, that they don’t want to engage with it. Because of that, they spend a lot of time preparing to get it right for the actual action. Corporations sometimes just give it a whirl, to see what happens. Military will not do that, because the cost of failure is too great.

[11:05] Chris runs sessions three ways. The first is a pure pressure test. The second is to train the people to run their own tests. The third is to train the trainer, to do it independently. The pressure test is oriented around a Blue idea team and a Red critical team. The Red are the people who will be affected by the plan. Blue runs the ideas like game plays against Red team. An umpire facilitates the wargame.

[17:38] Matthew Syed, in Black Box Thinking, suggests an evolutionary process of trying and testing, failing, trying, and testing. Chris combines that with technical expertise, to start with a good initial plan. All affected parties are needed. Executives arguing against executives will not find all problems.

[19:54] One cause of organizational blind spots is always recruiting people to be a good fit. Over time they end up recruiting very similar people, who see things the same way. Another blind spot is wilful blindness, from fear of the awful consequence of failure. Chris insists organizations draw from their own experiences in solving these challenges, for buy-in, using him as a safety net.

[24:50] Representatives of every affected group are in the room, and the facilitator urges them to use their voice to discuss all aspects of the plan. It’s about giving people a platform to critique the plans positively, and be a critical friend: “I get where you’re trying to go, but if we did it slightly differently, we’d probably have more success.”

[26:17] A leader who is too controlling causes paralysis by fear among employees. By giving people permission to fail, leaders reduce the instances of failure. A leader can humbly say, “I don’t have all the answers; you’re going to have to help me. I will make the decision, but I need you to provide me with the expertise to help me make the right decision, at the right time, and in the right place.”

[30:44] Chris hires people who want to contribute and make a difference. To deliver the workshops they must be ex-military, but Chris also requires three years of challenging commercial experience before he will hire them. They need to have engagement, warmth and openness. They are connected, and engaged, and Chris rewards them.

[34:55] Chris has a story from his early business days that still makes his toes curl. One of the corporate Blue team members gaver a great presentation of his segment, but when challenged, was unable to defend it, because he didn’t have a good grasp of it. The Red team was recruited to generate ideas, and Chris learned that he needed to pre-qualify all the presenters for competence before pressure testing.

[39:50] Chris, 40 when he started, had no previous business experience, but had a mortgage and teenage children. He relies on his wife and family to sustain him in his entrepreneurial journey. Chris also asked clients for testimonial support, which they supplied freely. That was invigorating for him. Chris also finds strength volunteering at CHICKS, a week-long outdoor experience for disadvantaged children.

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