The beer game

As you might have noticed (maybe not), the usual programming was suspended on Friday. The reason for this is simple, I was playing the Beer Game.

No, this was absolutely nothing like you thought right now. It was a sober educational foray into the wonderful world of supply chains and system dynamics. The idea is that the players are made to play roles in a rather poorly designed supply chain where they have to sell, stock and produce beer. None of the players knows anything about what their neighbors do and the input variable (i.e. demand) is unknown as well. Communication is not permitted, you just draw conclusions from what’s happening. And boy, is that interesting.

Let me recount the layers of awesomness encountered.

Firstly, professor Morrison and his manner of delivering the subject. And, no, this is not me sucking up, I passed the class last year. The jokes, the attention to detail. Cool.

Secondly, the way you can feel yourself slowly drift away from reason as you try to understand what the hell is going on. You attempting to react to what is happening makes others react to _your_ actions which makes the input to you even more erratic and so forth. It gets ugly pretty fast.

Thirdly, the sheer predictability of human behavior. MIT folks have played the game for 50 or so years and kept meticulous records. Apparently, the results do not depend on whether the players are 5 or 55 years old, from kindergarten or upper management. Both the behavior of the game variables and the people is very similar. Except kids apparently tend to have fun.

Then there is the astonishing speed at which reasonable people resort to the fundamental attribution error. It was pretty civilized for us but some of the stories the prof told…

The applicability of it all. In a nutshell, we were presented with a small-world model of what we see every day. Do we realize it or not, we are part of complex systems all the time. We have no idea what is actually going on, we try to react the best we can and resort to the tools we have been taught regardless of their applicability or usefulness. We play the beer game every day.

Finally there is the learning. I was in a team that either had played the game before or had read about it. So we were somewhat prepared. Well, no. We did poorly. The entire group did worse than the 50-year average and we were on a third place within that below-average group of four teams. Doh. As a reflection, in my case it was mainly because I went back to one particular learning from one particular assignment from last year and tried to apply that with considerable lack of success. The topic is complex, I need to look at my notes and lecture materials and read more. Otherwise I have no place blogging about this thing, right?

Anyway, I do intend to get back with some more system dynamics on Friday. Until then, enjoy System Dynamics in action as much as I have done!

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