The Top Pricer Tournament

Can You Out-Strategize a Couple Thousand People?

I couldn’t out-strategize the simulation, and I wrote the simulation.

The Top Pricer Tournament™ is a state-of-the-art business simulation that pits your pricing strategies against those from 1,780 (as of November 2018) other people from around the world.

With 1,780 entrants competing in three industries, the Tournament simulates 8½ billion scenarios to see whose strategies work best. (More entrants mean more scenarios.) It is not an Excel spreadsheet or a board game. It is a powerful, unique approach to competitive strategy and to teaching (and learning) strategic thinking.

In the classroom and in corporate workshops, the Tournament reveals how students, teachers, managers, and executives think about strategy. That’s the first step in learning how to think better about strategy.

The Tournament taught me, its author

I’m Mark Chussil, founder of Advanced Competitive Strategies and creator of the Top Pricer Tournament. I know the power of the Tournament because it taught me to think better about strategy. It taught me despite my 40 years of competitive-strategy experience, my Harvard MBA, my work in hundreds of business war games for Fortune 500 companies, and the research I’d conducted at another consulting firm.

That my simulation out-strategized me is exciting! It is augmenting my intelligence. Mark Twain said, “If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.” My Tournament is my cat.

No human has yet entered strategies as good as those the Tournament itself has found. Implication: We all have something to learn from it.

A game all businesses play

Chess, according to the great mathematician John von Neumann, is solvable. Not in practice, due to the number of possible moves, but solvable in theory because the number of possible moves is finite. That makes chess not a “game”, in the sense of game theory. (See William Poundstone’s marvelous book Prisoner’s Dilemma: John von Neumann, Game Theory, and the Puzzle of the Bomb.)

The Prisoner’s Dilemma and other games, however, are not solvable, despite their simplicity, because the number of moves are infinite. Professor Robert Axelrod, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, explored strategies for the prisoner’s dilemma in his MacArthur genius award-winning book The Evolution of CooperationAnd strategy for business is even more complex.

The Evolution of Cooperation was my inspiration and jumping-off point for the Top Pricer Tournament.

AI and what makes the Tournament unique

  • The Tournament has a form of artificial intelligence. It amplifies our brains by running those billions of simulations, analyzing the results, and determining risks, rewards, luck, and skill.
  • The Tournament works like a cyborg, by combining human ideas with machine calculation. A human champion may beat a chess program, and a chess program may beat a human champion, but who can beat a human champion working in partnership with a chess program? (Garry Kasparov has spoken on that subject, and there are cyborg chess matches.)
  • The Tournament displays how people think. People’s strategy choices in the Tournament are highly varied but not remotely random.
  • The Tournament learns. The more people who enter, the more it reflects the state of strategic thinking.

The Tournament differs fundamentally from common business tools, such as forecasting. Forecasting tries to narrow down possibilities to discover what will happen. The Tournament says that what will happen is unknowable (see “The How-Likely Case“), and so we should make strategy decisions while understanding uncertainty rather than wishing uncertainty away.

Scores for strategies in three industries

 

Each dot is the average performance for one strategy in 1,588,653 scenarios

 

Contact me to discuss:

  • Using the Top Pricer Tournament in a corporate event or workshop. It’s not just educational. It’s fun, because it lets us crown your group’s Top Pricer.
  • Using the Tournament in a classroom. I’ve run the Tournament in person and remotely for graduate students and undergraduates.
  • Developing a workshop on strategic thinking, using the Tournament and more, for your company.
  • Customizing the Tournament for a specific business or industry.

You can contact me here.

See these Harvard Business Review digital articles based on the Tournament: