Gerry Farrell: Running a business is Rocket science

Playing Rocket will teach you how to create, build and deliver a successful business in a day
Playing Rocket will teach you how to create, build and deliver a successful business in a day
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On Monday between 11am and 2pm, I bankrupted a perfectly good ­confectionery business. A couple of hours later, I brought it back into profit. If I’d had another two hours, I’d have turned it into one of the most successful sweet-manufacturing companies in the world. Go me.

I tell you this with an air of jolly nonchalance because at no point was any money lost or won. Nor were any employees laid off or rehired. That’s because I was playing Rocket, the first-ever business training game that uses software to simulate the real experience of running a business – but in a highly compressed time-frame; there were two rounds, each lasting 26 minutes, with each 26 minutes representing 26 weeks of trading

The beach at Seafield before the clean-up

The beach at Seafield before the clean-up

If you’ve ever been removed from the comfort of your desk for the ­purposes of a “training workshop” or some “team bonding exercises” I can tell you now that Rocket is nothing like that.

At no point are you and your team invited to paddle across a muddy loch on a raft you’ve been forced to ­cobble together from rope, planks and oil-drums. Nobody tries to coax you barefooted across a bed of hot coals. Best of all, there are no bullet-points, no PowerPoint slides and no lame summaries like Key Messages, Key Learnings or Key Outputs.

Instead, like eight elite soldiers, we’re parachuted into a toiling sweetie-making factory on a desperate mission to transform them into global confectionery kings.

A “Dive! Dive! Dive!” klaxon sounds and dive we do, deep into a frantic bad day at the office. Our hearts pound and our pulses race, as a steady stream of potential new customers blips up on our laptop screens. We barely have time to think before we have to assess their value and creditworthiness, process the sales, quiz the finance director and get the orders rolling into production to be manufactured, delivered and invoiced at breakneck speed. There’s a lot of shouting and pointing. The clock is not our friend. Suddenly that klaxon sounds again. Our attention is called to a giant screen with some simple sums and a graph. Its jagged line has plunged through the floor. Our entire operation has been tracked and costed, minute by minute, “week” by “week” and the outcome is not surprising. We’ve gone bust.

The tyres are gone thanks to the volunteers' efforts

The tyres are gone thanks to the volunteers' efforts

Rocket is the first of a series of business simulation games invented and run by Edinburgh-based start-up Games Without Frontiers. It’s the precocious brain-baby of veteran Scots corporate troubleshooter Tim Dew and business simulation expert Stuart Laing.

It’s these two who step in now and help us to figure out what we did wrong and how we could do better in Rounds 2, 3 and 4. (Well, we could scarcely have done worse.) This is the stage where our enablers quickly point out that we’re allowed to change virtually everything we were doing so we can do it better. Just as well, as some of these so-called “team players” are starting to turn on each other like weasels in a sack.

The Rocket crew promise they can teach any team to create, build and deliver a successful business in a ­single day. One financial director called back the day after her company’s session to say that she’d stopped having to chase invoices – her team had billed £25,000 worth overnight.

The game had us on the edge of our seats, flying by the seat of our pants but simultaneously learning fast how to get the critical decisions right by working with our colleagues rather than conspiring against them. So if you want to stop making sweeties and start making your fortune, stick a Rocket up your enterprise.

Feeling tyred and emotional after a day out at the Messplanade

Back in March my blood was boiling at the state of one the city’s seaside promenades, turned into an ugly rat trap by criminal flytippers.

Marine Esplanade is the romantic name given to the road that runs alongside the Firth of Forth at the back of Seafield in Leith. In reality, Marine Esplanade isn’t the least bit romantic. They should rename it Marine Messplanade because it may well be the ugliest road in Edinburgh.

To the council’s great credit, they do their best to stop the flytipping, putting up a sturdy, steel-link fence as a barrier. The council’s environmental wardens did their jobs too, prosecuting the guy we photographed heaving smashed kitchen units out of his van on to the road. At the time, we vowed to come back in the autumn and finish the job and last Sunday we did.

If there was a car bumper sticker for clean-up groups it might say Volunteers Do It For Nothing. But that would be far from the truth. Thirty-five people turned out for Leithers Don’t Litter on one of the sunniest Sunday afternoons this year, not because they had nothing better to do, just because they wanted to help.

We knew we were asking a lot – there was half a mile of walkway and road to clean, from Albert Road to the far end of Seafield Sewage Works. That was straightforward litter-picking. But the real eyesore was the beach, a final resting place for illegally dumped tyres, mattresses, safes, fridges and three-piece suites.

Our volunteers sweltered in the baking heat. Altogether we shifted four tons of stuff off that beach, as well 70 old car tyres. We collected 100 sacks of rubbish. By the time we’d finished, the beach was looking lovely – a place fit once again for walking a dog, pedalling a bike and breathing in the sea air. It felt great to have been a part of such a back-breaking effort. I’ve rarely seen people so happy in a paid job, never mind something they’d all just done out the goodness of their hearts. We feasted on biscuits and coffee from Poundland, with folk we’ll stay friends with for life.

Back home online, we found a document entitled The Draft Edinburgh Waterfront Promenade Design Code Consultation. It proposes the creation of 17km of continuous walkway/cycleway from Joppa to Cramond. It read as follows: “The construction of a high quality Promenade will be one of the key signature projects of the Waterfront Development. It will link communities along the coast with each other and with adjoining communities, providing a safe and attractive corridor for pedestrians and cyclists. The Promenade will be much more than simply a footpath and cycleway, as along the route a number of nodes will be developed that will act as destination points offering opportunities for recreation and entertainment facilities whilst respecting the coastline.”

That was nine years ago. We’re still waiting.