Market Competition, War Games and the CIA - IEDP
  • Strategy

Market Competition, War Games and the CIA

From a CIA veteran and current professor of business intelligence


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The more you understand how the competitors in your market think and behave, the better your company can create strategies to stay ahead of them. Can the classic ‘war game,’ a competitive role play designed to give military strategists insight to enemy thinking and assist in developing tactics for the battlefield, work for corporate market strategists?


Paul Kinsinger, a nineteen-year veteran of the CIA and current professor of business intelligence at Thunderbird School of Global Management, recently took the idea of ‘war games’ - or competitive role play - and used it in a business setting for a client. His report on the experience is illuminating. It shows what is needed to run a successful war game, and signposts the conditions in which companies would benefit from war games in helping develop their market competitiveness.

During the Cold War, ‘Blue Team’ pilots from NATO countries and their allies often trained for air-to-air combat against what was called the ‘Red Team,’ a group of U.S. pilots using Soviet tactics and Soviet fighters. Companies may not usually face such high stakes in the marketplace, but sometimes when growth has slowed, market share is being lost and when competitors are aggressively trying to steal customers, market intelligence can be critical. Companies at these times, that don’t focus on their competitors’ strategies and tactics, may find themselves losing customers, accounts, key employees, and even being driven out of business.
This is how Professor Kinsinger’s Blue and Red teams deployed at Thunderbird:

  • Three rounds of market moves were made by the teams. Each round was judged for strategy and in each round a winner was declared.
  • Going through three rounds gave the team representing the client company the opportunity to revise and sharpen strategy for the next round according to the judges’ feedback and moves made by other teams. In the end - a winner was chosen.

The final sessions each day were devoted to a facilitated discussion. Participant feedback during the debrief session clearly showed that many had an “ah-ha” moment with regard to how important it was to consider competitors and broader market insight as they began to develop product line strategies. Many also acknowledged that they also now had a much better perspective on what drove their competitors’ strategies in the segments that were the focus of the games.

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