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An Annotated Bibliography Covering its History and Use in Education and Research
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An Annotated Bibliography Covering its History and Use in Education and Research

Prepared by John D. Sterman 

Sloan School of Management 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139 

(617) 253-1951 (voice); (617) 253-6466 (fax); (email)

April 1992; revised July 1992

The Beer Distribution Game dates to the earliest days of system dynamics. The game has been used for three decades as an introduction to systems thinking, dynamics, cumputer simulation, and management. It has been played by thousands of people, all over the world, from high-school students to CEOs of major corporations. The references below provide useful information for those who wantto follow up the experience of the game. These works describe the history of the game, the equations for simulating the game on a computer, the success of organizational change efforts based on the original model embodied in the game, the psychological processes people use when playing, and even how these processes can produce chaos.*

  • Forrester, J.W. (1958) Industrial Dynamics: A Major Breakthrough for Decision Makers. Harvard Business Review, 36(4), July/August, 37-66.

The first article in the field of system dynamics. Presents the production-distribution system as an example of dynamic analysis of a business problem. Reprinted in Roberts (1978).

  • Forrester, J.W. (1961) Industrial Dynamics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Contains a description of an early version of the Beer Distribution Game

  • MacNeil-Lehrer Report, (1989) Risky Business - Business Cycles, Video, Public Broadcasting System, aired 23 October 1989.

Videotape showing students in John Sterman's Systems Dymanics course at MIT playing and discussing the Beer Game. Relates the game to boom and bust cycles in the real world. Excellent in debriefing the game, and helpful to those seeking to learn how to run the game. copies available from System Dynamics Group, E60-383, MIT, Cambridge MA 02139.

  • Mosekilde, E., E. R. Larsen & J. D. Sterman (1991). Coping with complexity: Deterministic Choas in human decision making bahavior. In J.L. Casti & A. Karlqvist (Eds.), Beyond Belief: Randomness, Prediction, and Explanation in Science, 199-229. Boston:CRC Press

Shows how simple and reasonable decision rules for playing the Beer Game may produce strange nonlinear phenomena, including deterministic chaos.

  • Radzicki, M. (1991). Computer-based beer game boards. Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Dept. of Soc Sci and Policy Studies, Worcester, Ma 01609-2280

Beer game boards in PICT format for Macintosh computers available on disk for $5.00; all proceeds go to the System Dynamics Society.

  • Thomsen, J.S., E. Mosekilde, & J.D. Sterman (1992). Hyperchaotic Phenomena in Dynamic Decision Making. Systems Analysis and Modelling Simulation, forthcoming.

Extends earlier papers by Moskilde, Sterman, et al. to examine hyperchaotic modes in which the behavior of the beer distribution system may switch chaotically among several different chaotic attractors (for afficionados, "hyperchaos" exists when a dynamical system contains multiple positive Lyapunov exponents).

  • Roberts, E.B., ed. (1978) Managerial Applications of System Dynamics. Cambridge, MA: Productivity Press.

Excellent anthology of early applied system dynamics work in organizations, including analysis of efforts to implement the results of the model which led to the Beer Game.

  • Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline. New York: Doubleday.

Excellent non-technical discussion of the Beer Game, and systems thinking principles generally.

  • Sterman, J.D. (1984). Instructions for Running the Beer Distribution Game. D-3679, System Dynamics Group, MIT, E60-383, Cambridge, MA 02139.

Explains how to run and debrief the Beer Game, including layout of boards, set up, play, and discussion. Incorporates debriefing notes by Peter Senge. Some people have found this document, in conjunction with the MacNeil/Lehrer video and plenty of practice, is sufficient to enable them to lead the game successfully.

  • Sterman, J.D. (1988). Modeling Managerial Behavior: Misperceptions of Feedback in a Dynamic Decision Making Experiemnt. Management Science, 35(3), 321-339.

Detailed analysis of Beer Game results. Examines why people do so poorly in the Beer Game. Proposes and tests a model of the decision making processes people use when playing the game and shows why they do so badly.

Additional information on systems dynamics, including publications, simulation games, management flight simulators, journals, etc. is available from John Sterman at the address above.*If you know of additional publications which discuss aspects of the game not included in this bibliography please send a copy to John Sterman at the address above so they can be incorporated in future releases of this bibliography.

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