14 Nov 2012

Interview with Brian Helweg-Larsen


categories: Business & Financial Acumen, Facilitation, Learning methodology, People, ProfitAbility Business, Simulations Solutions

How did you get into simulations?
I had a very rich and varied start in life, living in the Bahamas and Jamaica, then boarding schools in England, and a finally degree in Zoology from Oxford. The obvious start for a career teaching business acumen and financial understanding to the world’s biggest companies! Actually I came across a number of simulations very early in my career when training managers at GEC, and returned to them later when I realised how well they can be used to teach business principles. You can take a desperately tedious subject like finance, and make it come alive for people as they actually run a company in a highly competitive market; the only way to win the game is to understand how the financial aspects work, so people grasp them with both hands.

Tell me about ProfitAbility
ProfitAbility has been in business for almost 25 years, providing (mostly) tailored simulations to big companies like Nestlé, Ford, Volkswagen, and Pfizer to help their managers understand (a) how their company makes its money, and (b) how they can personally contribute to that process. By building the simulation to match not only the internal processes and jargon of your own company, but also the main drivers of success in your market, we totally avoid the problem of having to “bridge” the learning from the classroom to the workplace. Everything you learn from the simulation is already 100% relevant to what you do for a living.

The end result of making so many custom built programmes is that we have about 120 simulations on the shelf, covering 30+ industries from Aluminium to Zips, and a culture of innovation and client centred creation.

Why do you think simulations are so useful?
Simulations are a great way to raise engagement in the learning process, and they are without parallel in helping people learn to think in systems terms about their business, understanding the cause and effect links between everything they do and the company’s results. That is why they are so good for building business acumen. They are also great fun, so although many people would rather go to the dentist than do a “Finance for Non-financials” course, if they come on one of our simulations they ignore things like coffee breaks and lunch, because they get so engrossed in the simulation. And since the simulation is composed of 100% financial information, they learn it without noticing, and retain it for years.

What are you aiming for next?
First, we are in the process of taking that learning and moving it from physical simulations (like board games in the classroom), onto the web, to make it more widely available. That means that we can make it far easier for companies  to deploy simulations, because the computer takes 90% of the sweat out of running the exercise, and you will no longer need a long train-the-trainer process to get started. Another benefit is that some clients are really concerned to cut carbon emissions and cost, and a web-based training medium means that you can have participants scattered all over the map, participating and competing in real time in a live class. No travel and accommodation costs, no jetlag, and no carbon emissions. The cost savings may also mean that they can consider spreading high quality training to a wider audience.

Second, we are helping clients make a transition from thinking about training as something that happens in short events (2-day courses in the classroom), and which is mostly never applied – to thinking about a learning journey that happens over a number of months, using a range of learning inputs, and achieving both mastery and application of that learning in the workplace. Technology is making a huge change in the way learning happens in companies. Not only do people Google things on a daily basis to learn what they need, when they need it, but informal learning networks are becoming more and more important in spreading learning between peers. The trick for trainers is to use the best of the new technologies without letting the tail wag the dog. If you can get a class of learners to learn socially, using web based tools to share and consolidate their learning, add in the best of web based or classroom training, and build application projects into their approach so they actually learn by using it as well as by hearing about, or by practice exercises, then the long term benefit is enormous.

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