Senior Partner & Managing Director; Director of the BCG Henderson Institute
“Any man could, if he were so inclined, be the sculptor of his own brain.”
—Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the father of neuroscience
The world is more complex and dynamic than ever. The increased diversity of business environments, driven by the rate of technological innovation, is at odds with the way that many companies develop and deploy strategy. To endure and remain vital, companies are recognizing that a single approach to strategy and execution will not suffice, so they are cultivating the capabilities required to deal with each specific environment they face.
This entails mastering five approaches to strategy. (See Exhibit 1.) In combination, these allow companies to simultaneously overperform in their core business and develop sources of future growth.
To develop such a contingent approach to strategy, nurturing a diverse base of talent is essential. Understanding the different brain mechanisms that underpin strategic skills can help companies better assess, source, match, and deploy the right talent against specific strategic challenges. Neuroscience and gaming can provide the tools to achieve this.
There is a yawning gap between strategy and implementation. To connect theory with practice, understanding must be matched by experience and capability—practice makes perfect. However, practice implies a risk of failure, which often bears a prohibitively high cost in the real world. Games offer a solution to the dilemma.
To help bridge the strategy-implementation gap, the BCG Henderson Institute developed a mobile game simulating the five strategy approaches, unleashing the power of gaming to diagnose and develop strategic skills. The game features short rounds in which players need to execute the right approach to strategy to win against an algorithmic opponent in each environment. Strategy skills are measured and benchmarked, providing feedback to reinforce the use of the right thoughts and actions in the right situations.
To deepen our understanding of strategy skills, the BCG Henderson Institute partnered with pymetrics. Pymetrics has adapted a set of games from classical neuroscience tasks that assess distinct traits and an accompanying artificial intelligence algorithm to analyze patterns of 90 brain skills, including memory capacity and speed, learning skills, speed of reaction, risk aversion, planning aptitudes, and impulsivity. We hypothesized that traditional cognitive abilities—like focus and reasoning—would be related to success under predictable conditions. Conversely, speed and learning should be more relevant to dealing with dynamism and unpredictability. Our analyses of large amounts of game play data from both tools support these hypotheses, and a clear pattern emerged: success in each approach to strategy depends on a distinct and measurable set of brain traits. (See Exhibit 2.)
As companies revamp their approach to strategy and execution to match a complex business environment, games provide multiple checkpoints throughout the journey and help align strategy, talent, and capability building. Leaders can harness games in six important ways:
By applying games and neuroscience, companies can go a long way toward enhancing their pool of strategic skills in all steps of the talent cycle with increased levels of accuracy. Play may prove to be an important component of the future of work.
The BCG Henderson Institute is Boston Consulting Group’s strategy think tank, dedicated to exploring and developing valuable new insights from business, technology, and science by embracing the powerful technology of ideas. The Institute engages leaders in provocative discussion and experimentation to expand the boundaries of business theory and practice and to translate innovative ideas from within and beyond business. For more ideas and inspiration from the Institute, please visit Featured Insights.