Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Who knows more about business decisions...

...the engineer or the business graduate?


This page was originally written at a time when I co-incidentally had reflected on the usefulness of computer games in the manner described below and had recently encountered several business graduates who had a very derisive attitude of engineers—while themselves showing only a superficial knowledge and understanding.

Through my then irritation, the text and headline is written in a manner that could be misunderstood to imply e.g. that the average engineer is necessarily better at business decisions than the average business graduate. A more accurate summation would be:

  1. Engineers often know more about business decisions, how companies work, etc., than business graduates typically believe.

  2. That an individual engineer is ahead of an individual business graduate in business understanding is comparatively common. (Especially, when there is an age or experience difference in favour of the engineer.) While possibly only a minority of the cases, it is far more common than the reverse with regard to engineering or what could be expected with regard to business from many other fields.

    This in particular as engineers are more intelligent on average and quite often have taken a few related courses during their college years (or have done some independent study, gained appropriate domain knowledge through some project, or similar).

  3. Business graduates should be very careful of deriding the understanding of others and of trying to use arguments based on claimed superior knowledge instead of arguments ad rem.

On first view, this may seem to be a no-brainer: The business graduate has a related degree and (usually) relevant professional experience. There is a hitch, however: Engineers are much more prone to engage in endless sessions of strategy games of various kinds, Wesnoth, Civilization, Age of Empires, SimCity, ...

I have myself taken two semesters of business at Sweden’s leading business school, the Stockholm School of Economics; but with the abysmal level of the education there, I have learned far more about making business decisions from computer games. Consider e.g. the experiences to be gained and questions to be answered when playing a Wesnoth campaign: What kind of unit is suitable for what task in what terrain at what time of day? Should I focus on training up new units or should I use established veterans? Should I spend a lot of gold to get to the next level quickly or hang on to my gold so that I am not low on it when the next level does start? Should I divert units to take villages (and gain income) or move them against the enemy? Should I attack now, during poor conditions, and hope that superior force is enough; or should I wait until the conditions change? Which unit should get the opportunities for promotions and which should be thrown to the wolves? Etc. Notably, these decisions must be made looking at the long term, not just what happens during the current level.

Other strategy games involve yet other decisions, e.g. what research should be prioritized or whether mining efforts should be put in at no return today, so that valuable equipment can be produced in the far off future. Even factors like the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the people play in, as do the pros and cons of various means to address these issues (e.g. better living conditions vs. a stronger police force).

These decision may involve digital figures and fake currency, but they are still decisions of the same kind encountered by a manager (although the shape can vary sufficiently that this is not always obvious to the casual observer)—and there is a continuous stream of them, with feedback in the short term (whereas a real-life manager has one every know and then, may not receive feedback at all, has little room for experimentation, etc.; and is unlikely to experience a major training effect). True, experiences gained from a computer game are not always directly applicable; however, the right kind of thinking, knowledge of problems that can occur, sensitivity to cause and effect, etc., can all be immensely improved.

In an analogy: Who would you, all other factors equal, rather have on your soccer team? A man who plays soccer once a month or one who plays hockey twice a week? In all likelihood, the latter will be more valuable—notwithstanding that he might need a short transitional period in order to adjust to the differences.

Just a little food for thought for the business graduate who considers his engineering colleagues naive where the running of the company is concerned...