Play War Games to Get Inside Your Competitor’s Head

We live in an era of disruption, with rapid changes in customer needs, technology, regulations, economic and geopolitical shifts.

In this age of the new economy, leaders need to act fast or risk becoming irrelevant. These changes are becoming more acute, and all are out of our control. 

But one thing is certain: the success or failure of your strategy hinges on what your competitors choose to do.

There are many companies who are struggling with growth. They have smart people, but the growth ideas they come up with tend to be "more of the same". They are all great things to do, but result in 2-3% growth—barely keeping up with the economy.

If this describes what is happening to your organization you need to change the game you are playing.

Got Information ... But Little Insight?

Most companies are collecting some form of competitive intelligence.

However, the information being gathered may provide little value when it comes to anticipating what competitors will do, and planning how an organization will react.

A few reasons why the information collected doesn’t translate into real competitive intelligence insight include:

1. Competitive intelligence gathered is focused on rudimentary information: the competition’s product and service offerings, quality, service, price, and capabilities, rather than anticipating their next strategic moves.

2. Leaders mistakenly believe that the competition thinks just like they do. They haven’t taken the time to get inside their competitors’ heads and determine what the competition’s leaders care most about, and how those decision maker’s predispositions, backgrounds, and incentives are likely to affect competitor behavior.

3. Leaders believe that competitors will act in a way they do. That is consistent with their stated strategic intentions, when in fact, the objectives of the competitor’s leaders are often quite different because they want and are striving for different things.

Your competition’s leaders do not have the same strategy, goals, objectives, resources, capabilities, thoughts, intentions, and motivation that you do.

As a result, they may act very differently from what you think they will do.

Play War Games to Gather Competitive Intelligence

The idea of war games is to create a hypothetical competitive situation, and then have two or more teams engage in battle.

People like games because people like winning. It feels good to prove we have the smarts to beat the competition. When behind in the game, we're hoping luck will intervene to improve our stance.

This simulated warfare helps you gain insight into how your competitors will respond, and how well your own strategic initiatives are likely to play out on the "battlefield".

War games can be a real eye-opening experience, especially when senior executives take on the roles of your organization’s competitors.

War gaming can be a fun, team-building exercise. When the players realize that they’re free to act as competitors, their competitive juices take over, and the output of the process can be pretty incredible.

Gathering your management team together to play a war game enables you to uncover blind spots regarding market realities, and competitor capabilities. As a result, you can better anticipate likely competitor actions and better plan for potential shifts in your market environment.

Through war games, you can improve the likelihood you will accomplish your strategic goals because your team has considered likely competitive scenarios.

Business war gaming provides vital insights into market dynamics and possible future scenarios. It is a great way to engage the organization in strategy formulation when the competitive environment is undergoing massive change.

"What If?"

When playing a war game you try to imagine what the next big thing will be.

You try to anticipate various crises and envision how your organization is likely to respond ... and how it should respond.

You and your company’s leaders can diagnose what rival organizations are up to, and what moves they are likely to make next—matching your strategic wits with the managers of rival companies.

A business war game always starts with a blank sheet of paper. The war game simulation is put together around a specific set of questions to which the business is seeking answers, such as:

  • Is the business model in our industry changing? Does this mean that we will lose control over our market? Should we embrace new models, defend the status quo or both?
  • Is our industry/product becoming increasingly commoditized? If and how can we still make money?
  • Should we focus on alternative business opportunities?
  • How resilient is our business? What happens if? Where is the next threat coming from? How much should we invest in countermeasures?

Playing a war game combines elements of human decision making, and the inherent level of uncertainty, with a set of quantitative measures that allow you to gauge “what happens if.”

The game allows managers to test existing or newly conceived strategies in a dynamic, yet safe, environment. In doing so, they can save time, money, grief, and gain confidence in their plans with a relatively inexpensive simulation when compared to the cost of executing a potentially flawed strategy in the real world.

Benefits of Playing War Games

War gaming can yield immense benefits. Through war games, you’ll be able to:

  • Arm your company’s leaders with better insight into the motivations, personalities, and tendencies of your competitors’ leaders. A war game can make this new-found intelligence more real, vital and memorable to your decision makers. With this insight, your team can make better decisions about where, when and how to compete.
  • Align your investments, capabilities, and organization around compelling and sustainable differentiators. Choose different areas of strength, and different target markets, from what your competitors have chosen.
  • Uncover your own management team’s blind spots regarding market realities, competitor capabilities, and likely outcomes.
  • Anticipate and plan for potential shifts in the market environment, such as new competitors, new technologies, new customer behavior or new customer industry structure.

Playing war games can be fun. Imagine the competitive intelligence and insight you'll gather when your team takes on the role of thinking like your competition.

More importantly, it is a way to uncover your organization's blind spots, think like the competition, anticipate what they might do next, and plan your next moves to win in the market.

Please contact me at to discuss how we can help you increase both your skill and your luck on the competitive playing field.


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