Green Element weekly podcast Interview with Tim Dew from Games Without Frontiers

We are thrilled to be interviewing Tim Dew from Games Without Frontiers. Tim started Games Without Frontiers to rapidly accelerate the way that people learn. It works on two key principles: 1. That the only way you can get someone to believe in an idea is to believe it was theirs in the first place and, 2. That we only learn through experience. Rocket, our first learning platform, teaches teams of people how to run a whole business in a single day. It’s being hailed as the future of learning by qualification authorities. 26 weeks of trade happen in 26 minutes – it’s fast and furious, fun and you’ll learn more in a day than months attending traditional training courses. Their clients are using it for teambuilding, commercial education across whole organisations and as a method of winning new clients. 

 We are interested in getting more case studies. We only need another 3 so first come first server. A full Rocket day normally would cost £4995 but in exchange for a case study we are offering this for £1995 (both ex vat) and expenses are payable if we need to travel significant distances. Get in touch by dropping an email to [email protected] quoting Green Element.

Will: So, today we’ve got Tim Dew, he runs a series of organizations, and the reason why we’re talking to him is because he has a unique view on running organizations and sits, I think personally, very much in the kind of B Corp mentality but the fact that they’re not a B Corp almost accentuates that more. We’ll be talking to him about how he runs organizations and what it is that he does in order to articulate ethics and morality through those organizations. Welcome, Tim, thank you so much for joining the Green Element Podcast, I’m really looking forward to today, we’ve known each other now for just coming up to 2 years, I think, working in the same programme as an RBS. You run not just one organization but for businesses and I think it’d be really interesting to understand how you run those sustainably, how you run those ethically, the morality that you have intertwined into them and what it is that you are doing and how you’re doing it. So, welcome to the podcast, thank you. 


Tim: Well, very nice to be here, Will, so thanks very much for inviting me. So, there’s a nice open-ended question. Yeah, it is four businesses now, it’s soon to be 5, so it might be useful just to give you a bit of an overview of what all of them do. So, the first business is called Mount Parnassus, which is named after my home that I’m sitting in right now. The house was named Mount Parnassus by a poet about 350 years ago who used to write poetry just by this window behind me, this arch window behind me, so there’s a bit of history there and it’s a bit of fun. Mount Parnassus basically does a couple of things, one is a straight-forward consultancy. I suppose over the last 12 to 15 years I have been going into businesses, acting like a business doctor, trying to get them to scale and trying to get them to build productivity within their business and to ultimately change mindsets.

During that period, I was using systems, I suppose, that were best practice systems and I think in this post Thatcherite world a lot of these drivers for business are traditionally financial. I found that deeply concerning because every single business owner that I met found that the conflict between just going after financial gains within their businesses and trying to match those up in a business plan with the morality that nearly every single person I come across feels deeply within them was a juxtaposition too far. I really struggled with it for a number of years, so much so the natural fact, I started to look at other business opportunities a few years ago. One of which was a statistic that I found out about 6 or 7 years ago, which was that the transfer of wealth of all the businesses owned by baby boomers in America, that would have to transfer in the next 15 years was estimated to be somewhere between 40 and a hundred twenty trillion U.S. dollars’ worth of businesses. 

Many moons ago I used to be a recruiter and I’ve been involved in a lot of merger and acquisition work over the last 15 years in any event. So, I just thought well, look hold on a minute, there’s a ready market here to get involved in the transactional end of businesses where people are looking to retire. So, I started a brokerage under the name of Mount Parnassus probably about six, seven years ago. The interesting thing is that that brokerage business has produced huge numbers of opportunities for me and also for the people that I interact with where businesses that are perfectly sound, people are coming to retirement and they’re wondering what to do with their businesses. What I try and do at all times is provide a solution that’s going to work for everybody. 

About three and a half years ago, a man came to me and asked me to sell his business and his name was Alan Fowler. Alan asked me to sell his business and he had spent the last 30 or 40 years building a great body of work, of intellectual property which he called D4, which is in effect an end-to-end strategic planning system for businesses. I was fascinated by it so much so that just about two or three weeks ago I bought his company. It became very clear during that initial meeting that I wasn’t going to be able to sell the business because of a few very complicated reasons, which I won’t go into now. What he produced was spectacular because actually it addressed that very core thing, which is how do you get ethics, morality, sustainability to match up with increasing shareholder value and looking after all the people within the organization and all the other good things that we all want to do. Most business plans really just concentrate on one thing which is where’s the money and people don’t want to be in business just for the money or so I found and certainly that’s true of me. They want to obviously get some reward, but they also want to be motivated by contributing to their environments, communities and so on. This is what really started taking a lot of boxes and also, it’s an incredibly effective method of planning businesses and any events. 

So, 2016 was a very interesting year for me, I spent the first half of the year applying that science to myself, learning it. I also started applying it with clients and also, I started to redesign it because it was very complex and it needed to be simplified for the SME market place, which I’m very well-versed in. So, I did all of that, we started getting some great success from the companies that we’re applying it to. I successfully refactored it, it’s still not quite finished, but it’s certainly a hell of a lot simpler than it used to be. I think the interesting bit for me was I did my own Concord, what has now become Concord plan or D4 plan, which basically said, what does success look like for me, what are the outcomes? It became very clear that I wanted to propagate the D4, now Concord system globally. In order for that to happen, I’d have to get a better reputation for doing some good business things because just on its own, ostensibly on the face of it, it’s just another system for planning a business, but it’s far more than that, I’d need to get a reputation for doing good business stuff. 

So, Alan asked me a question and it was a fascinating question, he said, “Tim, what do you have within your range of knowledge and expertise and opportunities, have you got anything that really will capture people’s imagination?” I said, “Well, it’s funny that you should mention that because over the last four or five years I’ve been working on another plan which is to rapidly accelerate people’s understanding of what it is to run a business using simulation gaming technology.” So, the second half of 2016 I put pen to paper in a serious way which was to build out what has now become a company and a new tool which is called Rocket, the company’s called Games Without Frontiers. In essence, what it does is it teaches anyone, just like learning to ride a bike, anyone how to run a business in a single day and its great fun and the learnings are huge.


Will:  I’ve been on there, it’s really good fun. 


Tim: So, just to go back and just do the overview, so Mount Parnassus is a brokerage. The second business is CTA Global that owns Concord and now it’s just a broad Isochron, which is the company that Alan owns which owns all the D4 science. Then the third company is Games Without Frontiers, which creates simulation games to transform people’s minds. 


Will: And the fourth? 


Tim: There’s another business which is coming up next year, which I’ll maybe talk to you about another day.


Will: Fine, so we’ll talk about 3. So, with an overview of all three, you talked about the fact that you’re going through Concord process at the moment and it’s brilliant because you don’t talk about the money. Actually, it doesn’t really matter where you swing with money points of view, it actually makes an awful lot of sense not to talk about the money all the time. Because in order to grow a business sustainably, in all manner of the word, you do need to grow it without thinking about the money completely because you’re bringing in so many different parts of the business and for the biggest part being people that you work with and they’re growing with you. So, therefore it can’t be all about the money in order to help each other grow on their own particular journeys. 


Tim: Can I just step in there, Will? It’s a very important moral and ethical issue because there’s a piece of work done by the government which looks at how targets are used within government to drive behavior. They’re some 50-page report, the first five or six pages say you absolutely should not use targets to motivate people or indeed create change within the organization because one they’re largely ineffective and the second thing is, they’re very demotivational. But then the other 45 pages of the art go on to justify why we should use them because that’s the only way the government seems to know how to create change. An example of which is the four-hour wait at accident and emergency, I think that’s an awful target because you get the strangest behaviors. If you ask any normal person on the street about A&E, I’d say, well, look I just want to book and I don’t really care how long it is but certainly what I want you to do is to treat the people that are more in need than me first and the time doesn’t come into it. So, now we’ve got millions and millions of pounds being spent by the health service where actually, just a conversation at the front door would solve the problem. They diverted all the money just to having good conversations and managing expectations correctly, we wouldn’t have the problem in the first place. 


Will: Yeah. How much control do you have over all the businesses, because I’m sure you probably have managing directors of each of the businesses?


Tim: Yeah, so I’ve got directors appointed to all of them and generally, my MO is that I will retain greater than 50% of the business and all control until such a point that the directors of the business and demonstrate absolutely that they can grow and scale the business without me and at that point, I’m very happy to take a smaller shareholding. So, once I’m still involved, I will continue to have a controlling share but in essence, I think most forward-thinking organizations these days are really thinking about incentivizing or having some sort of co-ownership model within their organizations to help to motivate people. Does that answer your question? 


Will: Yeah, I think it does. What I’m trying to get out of you is how much control do people have at the top of an organization on how the business runs as an organization or is it to do with who you employ. When you’re looking at employing people within each of those businesses, do you think about the type of people that you’re bringing in? 


Tim: So, yes, absolutely and actually that goes to the heart of this discussion. It’s really important to get directors that feel the same, that is driven by the purpose of the organization, driven to make it successful and morally and ethically attuned to you as well. Every organization is a sum of its people, it can only exist with people and so getting the balance right is very important. I use a two-tick box system actually, I’m not only looking for the right attitudes and moral fiber and all that other good stuff, which is one line. The second line is also the commercial element as well, so wanting to drive the business and so on, and really the trick is when my directors get both of those boxes ticked.


Will: We’ve talked about a couple of your businesses going down the B Corp model, what got you interested in thinking more holistically with running businesses? Was there something that made you went, actually, that doesn’t make sense or that makes sense? Take us through the journey of how you came to the conclusion that kind of ethos was good. 


Tim: It’s been a feeling that’s been, as I mentioned earlier, that’s been growing within me for a long time. So, the thing that got me really excited about it was that it was a framework that allowed you to actually put moral and ethical behavior into the DNA of the business. So, I took the first step a few weeks ago of getting CTA Global to become a B Corp by changing its Memorandum and Articles of Association. The MNA is rarely a document that sees the light of day, in fact, most organizations start with what’s known as the model Memorandum and Articles of Association which is just the standard ones off the shelf. In actual fact, it’s an incredibly important governing document for an organization and to write into it that you are going to make sure that we act in a sustainable way and always act morally well in actual fact the duty to companies house is always to act morally in any event, but to actually write that out and be far more explicit about it, I think it’s a really important thing for organizations. That is actually the guiding document that all directors of an organization should be following, as to how they go about their business.

So, I suppose that’s part one, it’s the DNA bit, it’s getting it into everything that you breathe within a business. The second bit was really it’s alignment to Concord because Concord talks very much about meeting every stakeholder’s needs and that’s not just, people get stakeholder and shareholder mixed up in their heads. Shareholders invest in the business and want money back out of it and that’s purely a financial transaction, but there are other stakeholders as well like directors, employees, most importantly clients who put money into the business. We’ve got companies house, we’ve got all sorts of different people all making demands on the business and B Corp is just so aligned to all of that because I’ve yet to meet an organization that is morally corrupt, I just haven’t found one yet. The news is full of stories of companies that are but in the real world, I think those are the exceptions to the rule. B Corp in terms of alignment, in terms of its so aligned with my values but contributing to the community that we’re a part of, making sure the staff feel, I hate the word empowered but feel a part of and able to contribute to an organization and so on and so forth, all these things are so aligned. 

So, I was sitting with a 60-million-pound business a couple of weeks ago implementing Concord, a brilliant company called Pre-silicon. We were looking at what specifically within Concord, a non-financial objective, what we would be able to see in the future that would demonstrate to the world outside that they were morally and ethically sustainable and doing the right things, which is absolutely everything that they want to do. It was actually on the back of our conversations recently, Will, that made me suggest to them that they look at B Corp as a standard that they could build out from the business and I think they’re pretty excited about it, so alignment is the second element to that. 


Will: How would you say you engage your staff, customers with your mission and purpose?


Tim: Well, I think that’s a really interesting question. So, if we take Games Without Frontiers, we’ve already turned down three resellers to us because we didn’t feel that they have the same moral outlook to us. Ultimately, we don’t really want to have our product represented in the marketplace by people that are…


Will: Not aligned with your values. 


Tim: Yes, thank you. So, I think it’s really healthy to have these discussions on a regular basis. With Games Without Frontiers, we run a moral, a tightrope I suppose, if that’s the right word because we are using simulation, it’s a hugely powerful tool that gets people to think differently. So, I posed the question, I’m always quite challenging in my questions, but we were out on a staff night out and I posed the question to the team at Games Without Frontiers. I said, “It is within our remit to create a game that makes people hate others for some reason, recreate the Nazi-Germany between the wars where it was absolutely unacceptable to be anything else other than white and Germanic and have the right religion and all this other stuff.” So, it encouraged a really strong debate about what we did and how we went about approaching the marketplace from a moral and ethical point of view. I think very much from my point of view, it’s really important to get the staff to engage in these conversations, it’s very fulfilling for them, it gives you the checks and balances within the organization that you need. I can guarantee they always will come, you will always get the checks and balances because I believe that everybody that I’ve met on this planet is intrinsically good. 


Will: You mentioned these three businesses to resellers that you use, did you have a discussion with the team? Was it a group discussion or was it a discussion that you had maybe just with them and was it only your decision? How did you come to that conclusion? 


Tim: It is a really good question. So, one of my team, Nadine, was a little, we’ve had a couple of issues, the first one was she didn’t feel like saying it because she didn’t think it was a place to say it, but I knew in my gut that was something up. I’m not necessarily the fastest to spot these things but eventually, it came out and we decided not to deal with that person. Now on the back of that, we’ve now made sure that it’s very safe for anybody that’s got misgivings or strong feelings about any particular reseller or member of staff or whatever it might be. It’s a very safe place now for Games Without Frontiers and ETA Global to come forward with concerns. 


Will: Do you have a process in place, or do you talk to everyone about it so that other people don’t need to learn from the mistake that you potentially may have done and learned from Nadine not wanting to say something but ending up saying something. What do you do? Do you do just have an open forum, do you make sure that people know to sit down and say stuff?


Tim: Well, yes. So, there isn’t a process as such because I think that these companies are pretty nascent and so we’re just figuring out a lot of process and procedure right now. Primarily, we try to survive and get out to market and all that other good stuff but what I ensure is that the teams all meet up with one another from all the different businesses, that’s the first thing. The second thing is that when lessons are learned, I ensure that those discussions are then made in team meetings and cross-fertilize between those different businesses. So, we’re always doing it, it’s a little bit imperfect to be fair right now but those things are super important.


Will: When it comes to running an ethical and sustainable business, what would you say your biggest struggle so far is and how do you overcome it? 


Tim: Good question. So, some time ago, we had a new person that was joining one of the organizations, it caused huge amounts of problems for me and for everybody because basically from a business commercial point of view, that box was ticked. But just the way that that individual went about behaving was just very extremely different from everybody else in the business. It was a very difficult time for the whole organization but was very good about it was that we did deal with it, we got it all out in the open, but it was a senior post, it was very difficult to work that all through. You’ve got this balance and it goes right back to the core of what I was saying right at the beginning, is that if you’ve got an organization, that’s solely driven on commercials rather than the ethical and moral thing then you absolutely create a massive rift within the organization. 

Collin Powell has got this wonderful presentation, I’ll see if I can find a copy of it, about who you piss off in an organization just because you’re looking after the person that’s the squeakiest wheel if you like. You end up pissing off the most creative people within the organization and everybody else. So, once there is this drive to get the commercials right within an organization because you need to feed everyone, on the flip side, if you’re going to do that in a morally reprehensible or ethically reprehensible way, there’s no point in getting out of bed. So, in actual fact, in the end, the decision was really clear because I just thought to myself hold on a minute, I regret this when I decide collectively or when we decide to collectively not to proceed with this individual? Will I wake up the following day feeling bad about it? I haven’t even thought about it since, it was the right decision.


Will: Brilliant. You’ve taken us on your journey of these three businesses, how do you feel that you, Tim Dew, can influence change more widely than just those three organizations?


Tim: So, again, that’s a really interesting conversation. The brokerage stuff is very interesting but that’s not a world changer and if I understood you correctly, this is about what you’re overriding purpose is for an organization. 


Will: Yeah.


Tim: I think when I started off Games Without Frontiers, the overriding purpose was to create productivity quickly, get people to change their minds really quickly in a fun and safe environment, all these really positive things. Then, we went away for a retreat at the beginning of this year, it feels like a long time ago now, but we went off for a retreat where I got the whole team together. We plumped everyone in the house, we had lots of fun, we did lots of cooking and drinking wine and all that other good stuff and during that I asked them this exact same question, what is the purpose? Okay, we’ve created this amazing tool but what are we going to do with it? We discussed it long and hard and the overriding purpose for Games Without Frontiers actually changed and that was because it is a function of the people that are involved within it and the purpose changed from being just propagating this clever training environment, this simulation game. 

So, actually, hold on a minute, can we use this simulation game to actually change some really significant things around the world? So, one of the key attributes of the Games Without Frontiers platform is that you don’t need to have a really expert teacher and its rapid learning. So, what we’re very keen to do is to build a physics module, a physics module that will teach people how to learn that physics for themselves without actually having a physics teacher in the in the room and they learn collaboratively. I think that it’s very different from online learning I should say, but that sort of stuff has got the capacity to change education around the world and actually really change the outlook for developing countries as well and I have to say that that purpose has transcended. The reason why I started the business in the first place and that came from the team together collectively and actually, that’s the thing that really gets me out of bed every morning to go and achieve it. 


Will: When do you think it’ll start doing that?


Tim: Great question. We need to make a bit more money first, so…


Will: Sign up here. 


Tim: Yeah. The cost of developing a game is expensive, from the ground up it probably cost, I don’t know, somewhere between quarter million and half a million pounds. There’s a major investment involved, but I think we could prove an MVP or a prototype with as little as 40 or 50,000 pounds. There were some conversations quietly going on behind the scenes where I’m trying to get that money together.


Will: Brilliant. So, is there anything that you’d like to share with the audience, podcast listeners about the way that you run your business, any advice that you can offer? 


Tim: Yeah, don’t start a business.


Will: At least you haven’t gone gray. 


Tim: I know, I am. I was told by a liar very early in my years that redheads don’t go gray, but they do. So, I’m just going to go back to the staff again, I’ve got a couple of things, so get it right before people come on board, so the more time you invest beforehand the better. So, checking out that moral and ethical position, I find is best done at a pub with a few glasses of wine but investing that time is so important, particularly for early-stage businesses is to get that right. It doesn’t mean to say that it’s not important for later stage businesses, but you need to get that moral behavior absolutely into everything that you do. Go B Corp, okay, you’ve heard me talk about that today, I think it’s wonderful and a great aspiration and such an engaging tool for all the staff to get behind. 

The other thing as well is, pass down responsibility within the organization to people, you have to trust people, it’s the letting the kids walk to school discussion. Ninety-seven percent of businesses in the UK turnover less than a million pounds and there’s a very clear reason for that. The principal reason is that most business owners find it very difficult to trust other people within the organization to make strategic decisions. That’s one of the things that Concord addresses in a big way, but it definitely has to be an openness and your business won’t grow if you don’t trust other people, it’s as simple as that, that’s the best advice I can give. 


Will: Brilliant. Well, thank you so much for today and letting us understand your journey and how it is that you’re running your businesses and how are you achieving that with that guiding compass, I guess. So, yeah, thank you very much. 


Tim: Absolute pleasure, it’s been great speaking to you, Will, and certainly if anyone wants to get in touch with me, you can find me on LinkedIn, it’s Tim Dew, or search on Games Without Frontiers or Concord, that’s without an e. You should be able to find us on the web but always very happy to chat and help anybody that’s looking to grow their business and an ethical and moral way. Actually, what I’m very happy to do, I don’t know if there’s something for you, but I’m very keen to support you and what you’re doing, Will, so I’m very happy to create some sort of offer or something that we can stick on the website for all your podcasts. 


Will: We’ll put the links up on the show notes and that you’ll be able to find it on the Green Element website. So, thank you very much, that’s awesome. 


Tim: Brilliant. Thanks very much, Will.

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