: Hannah Nickelson

How to Excel in Business Games

It’s been nearly two days and I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that my team won TOPAZ, the business simulation game that we’ve been running over the last two and a half weeks. While the HERMA has used TOPAZ in the past, we were told that this year, students received either the highest or the second highest in the years it’s been running. This either says that this year was full of talented, business-minded students, or that we were so worried and paranoid over our results that we tried just that much harder to do well.
TOPAZ, for the uninitiated, may be a business simulation game, but it is more than that. It is a test of logic, a battle of wits, a fight against human nature, and, for those interested in heritage and history over numbers, a fiery landscape of despair. In this game, with a rules handbook of over fifty pages, teams of four to five are pitted against their classmates with the object of running a business – in its growth stage – and achieving the highest stock price. To do this, each team receives a Management Report for each decision period – of which there were 5 – and makes 66 decisions per decision period. Stop me if these numbers are already bothering you, as they bothered me when I first heard them. I hadn’t even seen the first Management Report yet, and I was overwhelmed.


Team Iron 15, left to right: Faidon Moudopoulos, myself (Hannah Nickelson), Hadi Ahmadi, and Hakan Tarhan

From the beginning of the simulation, we were told that the best idea was to split the members of our team into different roles, where we could read, memorize, and master pages of rules, tips, and data to form one giant puzzle of business acumen. For this, I took charge of our team’s Sales and Marketing, and, as no one cared either way, I stood up as the so-called “team leader.” This lasted all of thirty minutes, as we decided that it would be best to stay on the same level and make all decisions together. And, while there were quite a few pitfalls along the way, this was a much better decision for our group than splitting up and taking on the world all on its own. Team, after all, is the most important word in “teamwork.” There was no need to drag anyone alongside us, when everyone was capable and ready to put our efforts together.
Teamwork was one of the best things that came out of this “game,” and if we hadn’t have worked together like that, we would not nearly have come out as strong both in the results of the game and in team dynamics. We were able to trust one another to make good decisions, or to listen and consider other points of view, and for that, we created an environment where our group made consistently strong decisions.


Team celebrating possible win at the Eleusis Archaeological Site, same order as picture above

However, I would be lying if I said that teamwork was the overall best thing I learned through TOPAZ. While our wrap-up session showed us many ways that we could view this simulation as a facilitator for growth and learning, there was one it missed out on, and I find this one to be the top most important skill I gained from TOPAZ: finally learning how to work Microsoft Excel.
I would like to start out by saying that, I promise, I am not overstating this. Excel is one of those things you add on your resume and hope they never ask you about. Excel is that program that you’re sure somebody used in university, but your liberal arts degree never even required you to download the program. Excel is that pitfall of your oh-so-modern look-at-me-I-can-use-a-computer young people skillz, that everyone just assumes you’ve probably figured out by now, despite not having used it since Windows stopped using the long numbers to describe its operating systems. Because, yes, I have used Excel before. Once. When I was in the fourth grade in primary school, and they wanted to teach us what each of the twelve programs on the school computers were. I was nine. I never saw it again.
Excel was the bane of my existence, and I am proud to say that now I can use at least five functions in it now. I can input formulas, and, actually, that’s the main skill you need. On top of that, though, and here’s the real kicker, I can click and drag boxes (they’re called cells, can you imagine? Like ex”cel”!) so that those formulas can be applied over a wide array of places. Excel is a magical world of numbers that I no longer have to write out by hand. High school geometry would have been so much easier had I the skills I have now, thanks to TOPAZ. I can write numbers in Excel, write words in Excel, change colors in Excel, and probably with enough effort, I can build mountains with Excel. I can now write, “can use Excel, Word, Power Point, the whole works of Microsoft Office” on my CV without dreading interviews.
We used Excel to create formulas that changed, with new numbers input in the right places, and we used a few versions of this as our knowledge and insight into the “game” increased. We learned a lot about running a business – mainly, that it’s hard, grueling work, and that your competitors will jump out at you from behind the bushes making loud noises if you don’t jump out first, making even louder noises. But, mostly, apart from the balance we learned to maintain effective teamwork, I am most proud of this new skill in Excel. Excel was part of the team. Excel is my friend now, and my enemy no longer. Probably, at least. There may still be a few thousand more things I need to work out, first.

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Hannah Nickelson is the current Heritage Nation blog editor, and Media Officer for the HERMA class of 2015-2016. She has a background in TEFL and journalism, and has her BA degree in English Literature and Language. She is interested in travel, history, education, and chocolate.

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