Squid Game Mirroring the Business World
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Netflix’s TV Series “Squid Game”
One of the most memorable TV series that I have watched recently was the “Squid Game” released on the Netflix platform. The Korean TV series pits hundreds of cash-strapped players to compete in various children’s games for a whopping 45.6 billion-won (~39 mil USD) prize for the final winner. The stakes are high and deadly as any contestant who lose in any of the games would be immediately killed.
Squid Game is memorable for me not only because of its interesting story premise, superb acting, breath-taking plot twists, but more importantly there are many things in Squid Game that mirrors the business world that can serve as important lessons for decision makers in the enterprise today. This inspired me to publish this article to share these ideas and also point out how SAP Analytics Cloud can help them to address some of these challenges. So hear me out and come along for the ride!
Lesson 1: Avoid Decision Traps and Blind Spots
The very first game that was played on the show is the childhood game “Red Light, Green Light”. Different from the original version, the game organizer leveraged high tech video recognition technology to detect any movements and automatically pinpoint to kill contestants that violated the rule.
If you mirror this game to the business world, how many decision makers today actually possess the ability to automatically identify potential risks and opportunities in order to act on them quickly? How can we help decision makers to avoid hidden decision-making traps such as “confirming evidence”, “status quo” and “sunk cost” so they can see clearly the true nature of the issue and make difficult but necessary decisions accordingly?
Too many business users today rely entirely on gut feeling or hunch to make decisions in an extremely networked and volatile environment with the VUCA Era that we are in. Not saying leveraging gut feeling in decision making is bad. But like driving in the old days where we pick routes solely based on outdated experience and instinct: often we find ourselves end up in a dead end due to road maintenance, stuck in heavy traffic due to accident, or simply lost in the maze of roads. Nowadays situations like these can be easily avoided as most drivers are equipped with smart navigational tools that provides AI/ML generated route recommendations based on real-time traffic and map data. As the business environment becomes more and more volatile, how do we equip business decision makers the same tools that we equip drivers to help them make better, more confident decisions?
This is where SAP Analytics Cloud comes into play:
- Leverage smart/predictive capabilities throughout the product to augment the business users in both BI and planning workflows
- Deliver proactive alerts to users to warn them on evolving conditions
- Provide mobile app access to ensure insights are available to users anytime, anywhere
The idea is to equip business users with the same powerful tools that drivers have today so they will not miss out critical insights, automatically identify risks/opportunities, avoid decision mind traps, and to have the confidence to make difficult decisions in the modern world.
Lesson 2: Acting on Partial Information Can Be Dangerous!
In one of the games, the contestants were asked to pick one of the 4 shapes in the above picture without giving them any further information about the game itself or what the shape actually represent. Once all contestants selected their shape, the organizer gave each of them a honeycomb cookie with these shapes carved onto them. The contestant will have to use a tiny needle to carefully carve the shape out of the cookie without destroying the shape itself in time otherwise they would be considered eliminated. In hind-sight, it is obvious that the contestants who picked triangle shape have tremendous advantage over ones that picked the umbrella shape in this game.
Ironically, majority of the decision makers in enterprises today make decisions based on partial information, much like Squid Game contestants picking a shape without knowing much about the game itself. The reason this happens is because data silos that are created between different LOBs within an enterprise, business and its partners, across a product’s complex supply chain, etc. Imagine the impact to the overall business when people from different departments and/or levels across an enterprise make critical decisions based on their own version of this “partial view”. What’s worse, sometimes people do not realize that they are acting on partial information as they do not recognize the existence of blind spots.
This is why it is important that business need a powerful data platform to provide a single source-of-truth combining all the relevant data and context across all business processes while providing the insight to all the relevant internal and external parties.
SAP Analytics Cloud with SAP Business Technology Platform (BTP) can offer the following:
- SAP Analytics Cloud running on the BTP can help companies enable integrated analytic and planning processes and create value from data by drastically increase the adoption and usage
- SAP Analytics Cloud in combination with SAP Data Warehouse Cloud (DWC) will make it a lot easier for LOB users to enrich the information with additional data, further driving adoption and data democratization
- SAP Analytics Cloud + SAP Data Intelligence Cloud makes it easy for business to connect, discover, enrich, and orchestrate disjointed data assets into actionable business insights
Hopefully by providing a more comprehensive view with detailed context of the business and the ever-changing environment, decision makers will be able to confidently choose “triangle” as they know it will maximize the chance of success and outcome potential.
Lesson 3: Collaborative Decision Making Is a Must!
In one of the most breath-taking moments in the series, contestants are asked to group up in teams of ten and randomly pitted against the other team in a game of tug-of-war and losers will fall off the extremely tall platform into certain death. The main character of Squid Game got stuck in a team with the oldest contestant and highest number of female members (3 out of 10 in the team). Their opposing team are made up of young male contestants, the odds of them winning the one-sided tug-of-war competition is close to zero.
Luckily, the old-and-wise man on the team taught them a proven-to-win game strategy to help tip the balance in their favor. The strategy proven to worked like magic and helped them wore out the opponent without losing strength themselves. In a crucial moment near the end of the game, one of the team members came out with an innovative move to throw the opponents off-balance which secured their miraculous win in the end.
What happened during this tug-of-war game is extremely breath-taking and it was amazing to see the underdog to win against all odds. In the real world this is actually true too. It is not only important for companies to have winning strategy, but more importantly successfully align and execute across the organization. In reality, most companies today fail to bridge the strategy and execution gap due to strategies getting lost in translation across different levels of business, business units sub-optimize in their execution, failure to evolve to the changing environment, etc. Just like in the Squid Game, if it wasn’t for the on-the-spot idea to throw the other team off-balance, the team would have lost the match despite starting off with a sure-to-win strategy.
SAP Analytics Cloud helps companies realize the winning strategy by:
- Providing a single source-of-truth for the entire enterprise to align with
- Breaking silos with collaborative enterprise planning to avoid sub-optimizations
- Eliminate data latency by providing real time connectivities to SAP source systems to ensure decision makers have first hand information and can react in time
The ability to execute quickly and efficiently based on corporate strategy or emerging insights is a true test for a large enterprise to survive in a VUCA world today or for small business to disrupt the market and tackle the large incumbents.
Lesson 4: Use What-If Analysis To Avoid Hidden Pitfalls
One of the last games near the end is a seemingly impossible glass bridge where the contestants have a 50% chance picking the wrong step falling into a terrible death. There is a total of 18 steps on the bridge so the possibility that the first contestant manage to cross the entire bridge without dying is (0.5)^18 or 1 in 262144 (nearly impossible). The chances of success will increase for subsequent contestants through trial-and-error from previous contestants that fell to their death.
At first, the game looks like a game of pure luck until one of the contestants, who turned out to be an experienced glass-maker, tipped the balance of the game by being able to tell which glasses are reinforced glass through the light reflections off the surface. Once the game organizer found out about this, he immediately turned off all most lighting to prevent him from leveraging his skills to turn the game into a breeze. Without the light, the remaining contestants resorted into throwing marble balls at the glass surface to determine if it is reinforced glass based on the sound. Unfortunately they quickly ran out of marble balls so in the end they have to fall back to the brutal trial-and-error approach.
If you put this into perspective of business decision making, how often do people make decisions without considering the possible outcomes beforehand? To avoid blindly stepping into decisions, it’s important to perform thorough analysis of the situation in combination with deep domain expertise and experience. In addition, it is essential the business user can conduct on-the-fly what-if analysis to understand the business outcome and impact before taking the step forward, much like how the contestants threw the marble stone at the glass. Unfortunately, for most enterprises today decision makers either do not perform such what-if simulations (due to efforts and complexities involved) or conduct it in a basic, offline manner where the results are not reliable or relevant anymore. I once spoked with a senior FP&A executive of a global company, she mentioned that in order to answer a simple question of the top/bottom line impact on reducing production of a single product took her team almost 2 weeks. By the time the spreadsheets are ready, the data is already outdated and the question itself could no longer be relevant.
So the big question is how businesses can perform such what-if analysis based on real-time data and generate reliable results within meaningful timeframe (not two weeks after). SAP Analytics Cloud accomplishes this by:
- Provide business users self-service what-if analysis capabilities to understand the impact of their decisions
- Empower decision makers the ability to understand how changes to various drivers would impact their business in order to identify the most suitable approach to achieve a certain goal through the Value Driver Tree
- Enable users to generate multiple scenarios of possible outcomes quickly with AI/ML powered predictive planning to reduce the time required for what-if analysis and improve simulation reliability
With SAP Analytics Cloud, business users no longer have to rely on pure luck or trial-and-error when they step out into the unknown with their decisions.
After watching the Squid Game, I gained even more respect for decision makers in enterprises today. The amount of challenges, the speed of changes, the complexity of factors, and the hyper-connected world we live in today means making decisions is getting more difficult than ever especially with the impact of COVID-19 to the world. I personally do hope that with SAP Analytics Cloud we will be able to help businesses and users to make more confident decisions, increase the chance of survival and success in the ever-demanding world we live in today.
About the Author
Albert Tsai is responsible for the SAP Planning & Analytics Product Management Team based in Shanghai, covering the APJ/GC regions. Our responsibilities include driving product development, enabling ecosystem partners, safeguarding lighthouse reference projects, supporting marketing events and conducting co-innovation with customers/partners in our regions focusing on the SAP Business Analytics suite of products. Albert has 18+ years of experience in the planning and analytics domain and is passionate with driving innovations by mentoring teams within different startup incubator programs.