Groupthink is a powerful enemy, creating complacency and a false sense of security among leaders who may not realize they’re operating in an echo chamber. And if they do know, it can seem like a daunting, time-consuming task to plot an escape. This phenomenon creates a vacuum in which leaders are developing strategies without diversity of information, leading to less effective decision making and missed opportunities.
Business leaders are looking for better ways to tackle this challenge, yet what most consultants throw at them are traditional strategic planning sessions that spend most of their time wordsmithing a goal or deciding between two key performance indicators. While that type of activity certainly has its place in developing organizational plans, it does not help leaders understand where the organization needs to focus on future success in a dynamic way.
Aimpoint Research®, a global, strategic intelligence firm with deep roots in military intelligence, is solving this problem by giving agri-food industry leaders one of the oldest and most effective tools for building creative thought – playing games.
Specifically, they are playing wargames. Colonel (Retired) Mark Purdy, Aimpoint Research Senior Vice President, and former Director of Wargame Operations at the U.S. Army War College explains.
“The military has a long history of using wargames to solve complex problems and Aimpoint Research brings that success to the agri-food industry. Innovation and thought leadership are essential to building resilient organizations that can be successful in any scenario, and wargames are an excellent tool to help leaders achieve that.”
This goal is bigger than simply serving clients. Aimpoint Research operates with a core belief that food power is vital to maintaining U.S. national security.
“The U.S. has taken for granted the power we have to both feed our citizens and produce enough surplus to feed nations around the world,” said Purdy. “When we look at the DIME (diplomatic, informational, military, and economic) elements of national power, the power of U.S. food on all four elements is huge. But there are constant threats to that power, and we want to help the U.S. agri-food industry ensure it remains competitive in a global market.”
Why Games Work
Games are powerful and can be a transformative tool. In 2011, researchers at the University of Washington decided to try something unconventional to solve a problem that had stumped scientists for over a decade. The structure of a specific AIDS virus enzyme was key to further research and development of life-saving drugs and treatments. The researchers put the puzzle on an online game called Foldit to see if players from around the world could make some progress. Gamers solved it in less than three weeks.
The importance of play in human development begins in infancy. Humans learn language, social skills, and develop fine and gross motor functions through play. And for centuries, cultures around the world have created games to help people learn new skills and practice strategic thought.
Jane McGonigal, game designer and author of the book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World explored the benefits of gameplay if applied to real-world work. She explains how online games motivate by giving players an awe-inspiring goal bigger than themselves and the opportunity to cooperate with other players to achieve it. This is done within an environment that feels safe to the players.
“Games create a place where the fear of failure doesn’t exist," said Purdy. "It’s amazing to watch how quickly creativity of thought grows in that kind of environment.”
Building Demand for U.S. Corn
In 2019, ongoing trade disputes and a large corn crop that outpaced demand had created an enormous challenge for the U.S. corn industry. At the end of the first quarter of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic kept people at home instead of driving cars, nearly collapsing the ethanol market and drove corn prices further down. Some analysts predicted U.S. corn farmers would see losses up to 89 dollars per acre, driving many of them out of business.
The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), an organization dedicated to building profitability for U.S. corn growers, met in June 2020 to discuss the urgent situation their farmer members were facing and to determine the organization’s strategies to support the industry.
“We were deeply concerned because U.S. corn farmers’ biggest markets, ethanol and animal feed, were completely out of balance,” said Neil Caskey, NCGA Director of Communications. “NCGA recognized we needed unconventional thinking to solve this problem, which is exactly why we went to Aimpoint Research.”
NCGA partnered with Aimpoint Research on a comprehensive, strategic intelligence program that included at least one wargame that would focus on short-term demand building for U.S. corn.
“This was my first wargame and based on what my colleagues had told me about them, the expectations were high,” said Caskey. “It exceeded my expectations. We came away with some really creative ideas and a new way of thinking about our industry.”
The next step for NCGA is to work with the Aimpoint Research wargaming team to put the finishing touches on the results of their strategic planning process, including the wargame, and share what they’ve learned with corn industry stakeholders so the strategies developed can be activated quickly and efficiently.
“Farmers have a profound amount of respect for our military and the creativity they bring to solving problems,” said NCGA Chairman and Iowa farmer Kevin Ross. “Our challenges may be on a slightly different scale than what’s tackled at the Army War College, but it’s pretty cool to apply that same mindset and approach to help the American corn farmer.”
Transforming an Industry
Since 2018, Aimpoint Research has hosted an industry-wide wargame annually with players from across the agri-food value chain, including members of competing organizations working toward a common goal. The game serves as both the culmination of a year’s work, as well as a guide that helps inform research and analysis over the course of the next year.
Brett Sciotto, Aimpoint Research President & CEO, believes nothing else offers the kind of engagement and diversity of thought this group brings to the game every year.
“Participants are there to challenge each other, but in a collaborative and fun way that builds on their wealth of knowledge and experience,” said Sciotto, who is also a former military intelligence officer for the U.S. Army. “The group is engaging with each other while tackling really tough challenges. The uniqueness of this experience is transforming the way participants see their industry and its future.”
The Industry Wargame was foundational to the development of Aimpoint Research’s unprecedented thought leadership platforms Farmer of the Future and NextGen Consumer. That work has taken the agri-food industry by storm, raising more than a few eyebrows, and spurring new conversations about what the industry will look like, or could look like, in the not-so-distant future.
The next Industry Wargame is in the planning stages and will be held in the fall of 2021. Aimpoint Research intends to continue playing for the foreseeable future because, to be truly transformational, they know the game is never over.
To learn more about wargaming and other Aimpoint Research capabilities, contact Sarah Tveidt at firstname.lastname@example.org.