Business Acumen

Business Acumen is keenness and speed in understanding and deciding on a business situation ... Business acumen is learned, not innate

Financial Times

The Essence of Business Acumen is Dilemma Resolution!

From years of experience working with companies across multiple sectors we believe it is possible to identify 10 dilemmas in Business which fall into two main categories – Business Dilemmas and Leadership Dilemmas. However please don’t take this classification too rigidly - there will always be overlap between the two categories. Business Acumen Dilemmas (1-5) mostly concern the operation of the whole business unit. Leadership Dilemmas (6-10) mostly concern the operation of the executive team leading the business unit.

The 5 Business Acumen dilemmas will vary in detail depending on the type of business. For example, in a digital business the Supply-Demand Dilemma might be more about human resources than external suppliers. The 5 Leadership dilemmas, however, are more generic and more likely to arise in a similar form in any type of business.

1. Customers
The Customer Dilemma is primarily about how we decide which customers (or prospective customers) are most important at which times and how we might win their loyalty.

2. Products
The Product Dilemma is essentially about how we optimize the contributions of our whole portfolio of product across their full lifetimes and how/when old products get retired and new products introduced.

3. Price
The Price Dilemma concerns how we use pricing to optimize the ‘trinity’ of profit, demand, and market share in different market conditions and how we price to support products appropriate to their potential and maturities.

4. Mix
The Mix Dilemma is fundamentally about how we mix (i.e. optimize) the different options available to us in terms of products, markets and other factors (such as supply, geography and currency) to produce the best business results at the lowest business risk.

5. Supply & Demand
The Supply & Demand Dilemma is primarily about how we strike a balance between having too much supply of our product (or its components) and having too little to satisfy our customer’s demand and how we achieve this in the most profitable manner.

6. Planning
The Planning Dilemma is essentially about getting the right balance between developing comprehensive plans and mobilizing plans through conversations. It is also about how we avoid the artefacts of planning becoming ends in themselves.

7. Results
The Results Dilemma concerns how we design and effectively monitor a balanced set of measures which keep our’ eyes on the prize’ while providing us with effective tracking and early warning systems.

8. Health
The Health Dilemma is primarily about how we strike a balance between delivering the required results today while protecting and enhancing the ability of our organization to deliver the results it needs in the future.

9. Agility
The Agility Dilemma is about our ability to respond effectively to and learn from all types of unexpected change both minor and major. It is also about how we design systems to warn of, build resilience to and respond to future shocks, so that if they cannot be avoided or absorbed at least we can manage them with less pain.

10. Team
The Team Dilemma is how we balance the tensions between being an effective, autonomous and motivating leader with being a supportive and loyal member of a senior team.

These 10 dilemmas are explored in more detail in the book “A Systematic Guide to Business Acumen and Leadership using Dilemmas: Includes Organizational Health, Agility, Resilience and Crisis Management”, published Feb 2016 by Ken Thompson.

Learning from Dilemmas in Safety

One of the best ways to explore dilemmas in using simulations as this provides a safe environment where mistakes can be made resulting in learning but not putting your business at risk.


xSim is a sophisticated team-based B2C Business Acumen and Strategy Simulation involving running a national unit of a major global business in the real-time entertainment space. As the national leadership team you are totally responsible for the financial and non-financial performance whilst you also try to manage a number of major incidents over a full year of trading.


ySim is an in-depth team-based B2B Business Acumen and Strategy Simulation where you and your colleagues are the senior leadership team of a global life sciences business. As a team you must make challenging operational and investment decisions for each of 4 years as you take full P&L responsibility for a comprehensive product portfolio spanning 5 major global regions. As a team you must also react to constant internal and market challenges throughout each trading year.


Compete is a head-to-head competitive business acumen simulation playing against up to 5 other teams in real-time. Compete can be configured to represent almost any kind of business and a set of custom business decisions can be setup for each round.


Dilemma is a fully configurable extension of Compete which adds in 4 custom dilemma decisions each round based on an emerging narrative which can be totally defined to meet an organizations specific requirements for key topics such as People Management, Innovation, Business Ethics or Supplier Management.


Manage is an award-winning Unit Management Simulation which allows participants to be the management team of any kind of autonomous business unit. Manage can be tailored to organisations as diverse as business enterprises, government departments, retail shops, airports, hospitals, start-up venture or even ski resorts! 

Custom Simulations

We also have a number of Business Acumen simulations for the Automotive, Pharmaceutical, Cruise/HospitalityTechnology and Retail Fashion sectors.

Interested in our Business Acumen Simulations?

Request info and we will send you a FREE Executive Summary of the Book:

A Systematic Guide to Business Acumen and Leadership Using Dilemmas

More Business Acumen Literature
Business Acumen Articles & Case Studies

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