"While serving in the Air Force in 1974, I was assigned to take over a finance division ranked dead last -- number 27 of 27 -- in SAC (Strategic Air Command). My boss called it a garbage pit, and told me I was the new garbage pit Colonel...I decided to adopt a kick ass philosophy."
So goes a conversation with Dr. Walter Einstein; often colorful, always memorable. His refreshingly straight forward manner is completely devoid of sugar-coating. In short - he calls 'em like he sees 'em.
At MSI, we've known Walter since he first began using our Capstone® Simulation in 1999. Since then, we've come to realize there are quite a number of business professors who tell us they either know Walter personally, or know of him by reputation. He's made a strong and lasting impression on the business education community.
Every year, teams of Walter's students rank in the top five in our open "Challenge" competitions, involving hundreds of teams from universities all over the world. So I wasn't at all surprised to learn that his troubled "garbage pit" division attained number 1 of 27 ranking in a subsequent assessment from SAC headquarters.
We recently posed a series of questions to Walter:
How would you summarize your approach to teaching?
"I always seek to inject as much reality as possible into every course I teach. Simulations are an excellent way to achieve that aim. Students have to take ownership of a company and make all the decisions, absent perfect information. Problems are solved by making hard choices - just like the real world."
Do you add any twists to the standard simulation scenario?
"Before the simulation begins, I have each team self-select a company president. The president gets company ownership authority, including the right to fire other members of the management team. Students who get fired by their team president get to work for me.
Those situations happen with some regularity, and provide us a chance to deal with crisis management. For example, we once had a case where a fired student objected to her "termination" as unjust and unfair. So we brought in the university legal department, and they convened a mock court proceeding. The fired student was able to present her case to the 'court.' In the end, the termination was found to be warranted and just.
But the episode gave our business students, and our law students -- every one of whom attended the 'hearing' -- a chance to deal first-hand with a situation they may very well encounter on the job."
What other techniques do you use to liven up your courses?
"I teach a front-line supervisory course on managing people, and I like to show movies that present some type of dramatic leadership event. I've used 'Norma Rae', 'Lean on Me,' 'Miracle,' 'Twelve O'Clock High', and others. Good movies provide a much more engaging platform to study leadership than, say, a text about some business figure who turned around a big corporation."
What advice do you have for first-time simulation users?
"Don't lower your expectations. We (UMASS – Dartmouth) recently had a first-time simulation user, Professor Chris Papenhausen, who saw a team of his students finish in second place [from over 100 teams] in the world-wide 'Challenge' competition MSI runs each fall and spring. Just because you're inexperienced with the simulation as a professor, doesn't mean your students won't get just as much from the experience as everyone else."
What advice do you have for students?
"Take control and be accountable for your own education. Set goals, and make a plan to reach them. It'll help you determine for yourself what's most important in your life."
What can you tell us about the simulation research you're doing?
"We want to find out how student gender impacts team-based simulation outcomes. We use same-sex teams in all our simulation courses. In a recent group, we had fifty total teams participating. Of the 13 teams that received an A for the simulation portion of the course, 11 were male teams; only 2 were female teams. We don't have enough data to reach conclusions at this stage, but preliminary indications are that the males are more inclined to take risks. And the teams that take calculated risks in the simulation often dominate when they execute their tactics well. To do well, you have to take risks in the business simulation, and in business."