The energy transition represents one of humankind’s most significant current and future challenges. Therefore, it also finds a prominent place within the didactics designed by ESCP Business School for its students, who will be called upon to face several critical issues as tomorrow’s leaders.
Our Bachelor in Management (BSc) students confronted themselves with new energy paradigms through the Newtonian Shift business game, a challenging hands-on experience that allowed them to understand different people’s worldviews and how they influence decision-making. We discussed the game’s objectives, mechanics, and educational impact with Ginevra Bertoli, an Italian student in the third year of her BSc.
Mechanics: A Multiplayer Game of Strategy and Collaboration
The Newtonian Shift mainly requires team collaboration and strategic thinking. “However, even before starting to act as a group, we all went through an individual preparation session to reflect on how we perceive life,” explains Ginevra. “We also took a test to understand how we make sense of reality and life in general, which placed us within four types of worldviews: traditional, modern, post-modern and integrative.”
“We worked intensively for three consecutive days in groups of around 20 people, representing inhabitants of an island, whose aim was to become dependant on renewable energy,” shares Ginevra, explaining that players were divided into teams representing different companies, competing to gain market shares by producing and selling energy.
“Each team had to decide what type of energy to produce, how much to invest in R&D, and how to market their products,” says Ginevra. But there was much more to that. The game is not just about producing energy but also about managing resources, negotiating with other players, and dealing with unexpected events like natural disasters or policy changes.
“Throughout the game rounds, which corresponded to one year in real life, we had to work together to save the environment and bring out the energy transition. It seems all easy, right? It was not,” admits Ginevra. “We soon understood that balancing personal goals while also trying to save the environment was more complex than expected.” As in real-life, also during the game, decision-making was impacted by the individualistic or collectivistic orientations of those involved.
Objective: Understanding the Energy Transition and the Art of Negotiation
The energy transition is a complex process that requires people, as well as businesses, to understand the impact of their decisions on society and the environment. Thus, the Newtonian Shift has been designed as a fictional world in which players autonomously decide about energy use, production, and distribution, considering all the possible – personal and collective – outcomes of their judgements and choices.
“The game is conceived to help us understand something fundamental: major issues cannot be approached without the willingness to negotiate and take into account other’s perspectives,” says Ginevra. “I realised that even though the test result said my approach to the world was integrative, seeing everyone pursuing their goals in the first rounds made me compete as well. I became definitely more selfish regarding my community’s resources.”
According to Ginevra, the game was a rollercoaster of emotions. However, once the game had finished and everyone had left their roles behind, they got all along to answer the question, “How can we align individual ambition and behaviour with collective interest to enable sustainable long-term growth?”.
The climate crisis and, even more so, the world’s approach to the energy transition that should ‘cure’ it, is the most plastic representation of the negative drift that humanity can take when personal interests dominate those of the common good.
“From trying to answer this question, I understood that we must learn to work as a community and refrain from thinking just for our own benefit,” says Ginevra, reaffirming that there must soon be a mind shift to have any chance to succeed.
Impact: Learning by Doing and Putting Theory into Practice
Unlike other business games and practical activities proposed by ESCP to its students, the Newtonian Shift is a less technical game but rather an exercise focusing on interpersonal skills, communication, negotiation and opportunity cost evaluation.
“The BSc programme certainly gave me all the tools needed to understand the ‘business’ implications of the game deeply. However, I got the most significant contribution to help me approach the real challenge of this activity by the elective course in Negotiation taken in my third year,” affirms Ginevra. In fact, well-developed interpersonal skills soon became the best competitive edge during the game. “In representing my community, I really made use of my negotiation skills when talking to energy companies to buy energy at a reasonable price. “
Ultimately, the biggest lesson was learned when choosing between personal gain and community/environmental well-being. “We learned how to postpone the former to improve the latter and save the island while understanding that real-life situations are way more complex than one could expect.”
Actually, after the first rounds, in which everyone acted selfishly with negative environmental consequences, students decided to take a “pause” round where everyone would donate their proceeds from previous transactions to invest in restoring biodiversity and the land. “This was the most challenging round to go through,” Ginevra admits, “since finding an agreement between 20 people on how the money should be spent took a lot of work.”
After a good 40 minutes, the group came to a generally accepted agreement that was still not appreciated by the entire group. And as a matter of fact, this experience was the main takeaway on what our students should expect in future when trying to find common ground with others’ clashing interests.
“On a personal level, in the future, I will try to “see” people’s points of view and take them into account more,” concludes Ginevra. “Today, thanks to the Newtonian Shift game, I am more conscious about my relationship with others and nature, and I feel the urge to be more connected to the world I live in and my inner self.”
On closer inspection, the energy transition is mainly a shift of perspectives and mindset towards a more equal, inclusive and fair management of resources.