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Masters' Q&A - Klas Mellander

Experts Answer 5 Questions on Simulations - Klas Mellander

A hand holding a sign that says ask an expert.

This is the THIRD in my series of interviews with experts in our field of learning, development, performance, and business acumen. Today, it's Klas Mellander, co-founder and chief designer at Celemi, AB., the global provider of hands-on business learning, business simulations, and business performance improvement. Klas is also the author of the ATD award-winning book, The Power of Learning. His tools and designs are meant to inspire curiosity and unlock people's natural desire to learn. His work over the decades has influenced our industry in countless ways, launched careers, and improved the business performance of thousands.

DAN: Why do you think leaders at all levels get so much from learning in simulations?

KLAS: For once, they have simple (easy to grasp) but mature decision support. In my experience, leaders are often lonely wolves, and thus no one to discuss with when they have to make decisions. We all tend to act as a “lone wolf” when we lack a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.

A good example is the so-called “Volvo Dialog”, still regarded as one of the company’s most successful people-engaging initiatives. In the early 1980s, Volvo’s research revealed that more than 80% of the employees felt alienated. We developed a rather novel solution to build a sense of belonging, what some now call "engagement."

All employees (8,000 people) were invited to meet with their managers for half a day. In the meeting, they worked as teams to assemble a jigsaw puzzle, depicting a timeline of Volvo's past, present, and future. Through their interactions, they realized the puzzle itself was an engaging image that spurred business discussions and learning. As a result, they discovered for themselves that they had a lot in common, what Leaders saw in the bigger picture, and how they belonged.

Here's what it looked like:

DAN: How have simulation participants demonstrated their learning back on the job? What’s the return on this investment (financial or non-financial)?

Klas: Mainly by being more understanding and supportive. [That is,] a greater sense of purpose and belonging. [They also achieve a] higher degree of business acumen (decision-making) and greater self-confidence.

We have all heard variants of the phrase “profit is an opinion while cash flow is a fact." In times of heavy investments in long-term sustainability initiatives, this view has never been more apt. I think I have heard, firsthand, every conceivable argument for and against major investment plans.

Here are a few of the most common ones:

  • “Investors will go berserk.” versus “Investors do truly expect us to do this.”.

  • “Customers say they want it, but they are not willing to pay for it.” versus “Customers are definitely prepared to pay for it… if necessary.”

  • “That’s a lot of money, and, to be honest, the predicted cash flow is nothing but wishful thinking!” versus “… and we know for a fact what the future cash flow will be.”

Consider these business leaders' and authors' perspectives:

  • "It is not what we put into it, it is what the customers and the investors get out of it.” (Michael Porter)

  • Question: “What if we invest in people… and they leave us?”

  • Answer: “What if we don’t… and they stay?” (Jack Welch, then head of G.E).

  • Question: “What if we set the goals too high… and fail to reach them?”

  • Answer: “What if we set the goals too low … and succeed to reach them?” (Traditional).

DAN: What makes learning through a Celemi simulation experience unique and meaningful?

KLAS: In the real world, some can’t see the forest for the trees (co-workers & middle managers) some can’t see the trees for the forest (C-level). In a simulated world, the learners can do both.

They'll learn leadership AND "coworkership." What I mean is that there exists a fairly common state of mind:

  • Managers tend not to see the trees for the forest - and thus risk misjudging the impact of their decisions.

  • Co-workers tend not to see the forest for the trees – and thus risk prioritizing the wrong things.

Through a Celemi learning experience, they all discover that the forest and the trees are two sides of the same coin.

DAN: Some Talent Development Teams partner with Finance leaders, HR leaders, Project professionals, or even senior Operations executives on topics in their area of expertise. How have simulators been adapted in collaboration with these subject experts? What have been the results?

KLAS: On one hand, when we develop simulations we are always dependent on the client’s expertise and points of view. On the other hand, experts need to learn/understand how the learners understand the subject matter. The key issue is any expert (including myself) can be a lousy teacher of their own subject matter. Tacit knowledge is to blame.

For example: Suppose that you met someone who believes that the sky is a black blanket with holes for the stars. How would you act as an expert/teacher? How could that learner discard their own knowledge?

The Danish philosopher Sœren Kierkegaard put it nicely:

"If one is to truly succeed in leading a person to a specific place, one must first and foremost take care to find them where they are and begin there."

The solution is spelled EMPATHIZE – which of course is easier said than done.

DAN: What energizes you about your work?

KLAS: Primarily, my energy comes from reconceptualization. I just want to fully understand a subject. That was my main driver when I designed Celemi Decision Base. See the interview on our website. I have been energized by so many things over the years.

Many years ago: My ambition was to please the learners.

Later: My ambition was to please the facilitators.

Next: Nowadays, I love problem-solving through the latest tools and software. And of course, I will always love having serious fun!

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