Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

An Introduction to the Business Game "Flowers for the World"

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

An Introduction to the Business Game "Flowers for the World"

Article excerpt


There is a proverb in the Xunzi (Knoblock, 1990, p. 86) that is often summarized as: Tell me and I'll forget; Show me and I may remember; Involve me and I will understand. In short, of all the pedagogical methods at our disposal, there is nothing better than having a student engage in the problem about which we wish to teach. Business games are probably the most effective means of introducing this type of experiential learning into the classroom which allow the student to confront the key issues surrounding a business problem, and where the life of a company over many years--and thus, the consequences of decisions made--can be simulated in the matter of a few hours.

Despite the success of business games in other disciplines (Faria et al., 2009), there are few (if any) business games that specifically demonstrate the basic principles of information systems. This is a serious problem because IS students are expected to understand the social and technical intricacies of supporting people in organizations using IS/IT. While a certain amount of didactic/rote learning is required in order to learn the terms and concepts of IS, we are an active discipline and teach technical subjects such as programming, web development, and systems analysis and design, by actually programming, developing a web page, and conducting an analysis and design project. But systems are typically developed because of a clear business need. Where do the meaning and purpose of the projects we assign in our classes come from? Case studies can provide the context for making business decisions, but they fall short of experiential learning by not being able to provide feedback or allow students an active role in the problem-solving process (McCarthy and McCarthy, 2006).

The purpose of this paper, therefore, will be to complete the pedagogical spectrum and present a business game called "Flowers for the World" (or FFTW, for short). The game is very active--students often end up running around the classroom--and has been used across a wide range of IS courses as a means of demonstrating how information flows through an organization and the role of an information system in supporting business decisions. The aim here is to provide sufficient detail so that the game can be adopted by others to provide a different approach to teaching IS concepts. (NOTE: Game materials are available from the author at

This game is not designed to solve a specific problem for a particular class. Rather, we offer the game as a general platform for providing students with the kind of active, high-energy experiential learning that can be used across a wide range of classes. Similarly, we do not adopt a particular experiential learning theory, but take the general view that business games must be designed to motivate and actively engage students in the learning process (Fink, 2013; Kapp, 2012). Feedback must be immediate and mistakes made in a risk-free setting. Evidence of the value of the game will be provided in terms of demonstrating the richness of the learning experience, student feedback, and the range of IS courses that can be supported.


A game is defined as an activity that has a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation (McGonigall, 2011). A goal is some specific outcome, while rules determine which actions the players may (or may not) use to achieve the goal. The feedback system evaluates performance, while voluntary participation involves accepting the basic principles (goal, rules, feedback system) of the game. To be a business game, the game must involve some managerial learning within a business setting, such as managing a company (Marco, Baldissin, and Nonino, 2013).

In this case, the game is paper-based, and involves buying and selling a product. The goal for each group is to buy enough product at auction to satisfy customer demand, maximizing profit as they do so. …

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