WHY SIMULATIONS WORK
Brain expert, Andrea Sullivan, M.A. Brainstrength.net
Leadership simulations provide an immense environment that requires our attention and brings all of our resources into play. They are by nature motivating, as we all want to do well, and this engages our very powerful emotional systems. In addition, the realistic scenarios activate pathways in the brain that process meaningful material, providing a strong foundation for memory.
The additional element of learning by doing brings the information into our entire brain and body, with representation in a great many brain regions. These pathways cement the learning in ways that conceptual knowledge does not. Simulations also spark creativity, as the rules for achieving the goals force us out of familiar ways of thinking and we must draw forth intuitive resources to navigate the unfamiliar waters. Novelty, uncertainty, anticipation, and a sense of urgency produce neurotransmitters, notably dopamine, which enhances both motivation and learning. In short, they are a wonderful way to provide an effective and engaging mode for gaining competencies and improving on-the-job performance.
To be effective in a challenging business world, we depend on tried and tested patterns. These patterns allow us to make a lot of decisions in a very short time span – with almost no real thinking involved. However, this extremely human way of acting also comes at a price: it makes it hard for us to change. Even when we agree with guiding principles, new strategies or new information that we want to implement, it can be very hard to change our behavior.
In a Leadership simulation, we work with a realistic scenario where the situations we manage and the people we relate to are similar to our own experiences. Best of all, the entire situation, the people around us, the competitive elements and the learning environment allow us to experiment without any real risk.
Simulation is only part of the experience. Each participant is given individual feedback and a chance to relate the experience to their own working life. The key to learning and changing behavior comes during the reflection points and debriefing, which provide a chance to stop and analyze our own behavior.
A simulation experience challenges us deeper than a normal meeting or interaction, and helps us to reach a more profound understanding of what we need to change and why. Due to the fact that they actually learned something, participants remember a powerful Leader simulation experience five or even ten years later.