Simulations: Thinking Outside of the Box to Build Capabilities

A Case Study on the Life Cycle Institute’s Approach to Today’s Trust Dilemma

By Tara Denton Holwegner, Life Cycle Institute

Learning means changing behavior to produce desired results. In order to change a behavior, the learner must move new knowledge and skills from working memory to long term memory (the fast-track for the brain to retrieve information for later use). Long term retention is encouraged by incorporating the principles of learning:

  • Making the content relevant and meaningful
  • Linking new ideas to a learner’s past experiences
  • Giving the learner an active and autonomous role in learning
  • Repeating the concept

There are many ways to incorporate the principles of learning and compel retention in the classroom and online. One method is through the use of simulations.

Simulation is the imitation of some real thing, state of affairs, or process. Simulations can be used to show the eventual real effects of alternative conditions and courses of action ( According to the National Training and Simulation Association (NTSA), in Army Missile Systems Maintenance studies where time-to-train was reported, simulators took 25-50% less time than training on actual equipment. NASA astronauts and airlines use simulations prior to liftoff. Simulations for leadership and management training have become popular options with promising results.

When the Life Cycle Institute opted to offer a class on the concept of trust, we asked ourselves tough questions like: What is trust? How can we effectively teach people the importance of trust? How can we teach learners to cultivate trust in their work and lives? How can we inspire individuals and teams to create a trusting environment? The Life Cycle Institute weighed delivery method options and ultimately decided to offer a simulation-based course to the public. How did the Institute come to this decision? I’ll explain, and offer additional perspective from Bill Wilder, Director of the Life Cycle Institute.

The Life Cycle Institute’s first step to determine a course delivery mode is to review the cognitive intensity required to perform certain tasks (remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating). Trust is an intricate subject that demands an environment where learners can analyze and experience trust through real-life scenarios where no answer is “right” and a “trust tax” or trust violation could be lurking behind any well-meaning decision. To achieve this, trust should be transferred at higher levels of understanding (applying and analyzing) rather than lower levels (remembering and understanding). A simulation can effectively reach higher levels of cognition.

Trust can be visible in relationships, but self-trust can be overlooked. The Institute wanted to make sure to include self-reflection and action planning. The Institute wanted the learner to determine her current trust level and opportunities for growth.

After coming to consensus on what we hoped to achieve with a trust class (transfer at a higher level of understanding, individual action planning), the Institute decided to facilitate the Speed of Trust® simulation to help learners discover trust’s value, engage in trust predicaments, reflect on personal trust and enable learners to build a business case for trust in all aspects of life.

I interviewed Bill Wilder, the Director of the Life Cycle Institute, to get another perspective on why the Institute chose a one-day Speed of Trust® simulation as the format for teaching trust to clients. Here’s how he answered these questions:

  1. Why did the Life Cycle Institute choose to teach a course on trust?
    Trust has a direct impact on performance and cost. When clients ask us to help them with performance improvement, we often find that it isn’t technical or process issues that are holding them back. It is cultural, often trust issues. The lack of trust comes with a cost that can be quantified in terms of time and money. The statistics on trust today are alarming. Half of all marriages end in divorce and only 36% of employees believe their leaders act with honesty and integrity. Stephen M.R. Covey’s Speed of Trust offers specific behaviors that build trust to deliver tangible results.
  2. What about the simulation format appealed to the Life Cycle Institute?
    Simulations mean that I experience applying the behaviors in realistic conditions. It goes back to that old adage “what I hear, I forget, what I see, I remember, what I do, I understand.” The simulation helps me understand how to build trust. We wanted to offer a learning experience that provides a way to discover and internalize these behaviors. A simulation is the way to achieve this.
  3. Can you give us a brief description of the day-long class?
    When participants enter the room, they sit at tables in teams of four. Each table leads a team. The challenge is to 1) manage a project to market on time and within budget; and 2) to build a high-trust culture. The table groups face scenarios and decisions where they must determine the impact on their relationship with each team member, stakeholder and on project time and budget. A key message in the program is that trust always impacts two quantifiable outcomes: speed and cost. Cost is measured in financial terms and in terms of personal energy and resource usage. The day is an intensive look at trust and how it affects every aspect of our lives. As trust increases, speed increases and cost decreases. Conversely, as trust decreases, speed decreases and cost increases.

The Life Cycle Institute has taken a unique approach to teaching trust through a simulation versus a traditional classroom-based course. Because this approach utilizes real-life scenarios and difficult decision-making activities with rich debriefing opportunities, the Speed of Trust® Simulation is high impact learning that produces results.

Covey, Stephen M.R., Speed of Trust (New York: Free Press, 2006), pg.1, 11, accessed 10-19-09
NTSA, accessed 10-20-09, accessed 10-20-09

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