EDGE Challenges helps companies gain a competitive edge from their emerging leaders. We provide specialized leadership simulators that help emerging leaders quickly improve their performance while increasing their overall bench-strength in their organization. Another benefit surprisingly lies in enhancing the hiring process.

The Veteran Combine helps companies looking to hire US military veterans who are now college students. The students showcase their leadership and teamwork strengths using eSports-like computer competitions. The model resembles the NFL Combine, where team scouts watch and identify the best college football players. Companies observe the students compete as teams in real-time strategy games. They “see” the students work together, lead, communicate, manage resources and strategize with their teams. In effect, see the “whole” candidate is assessed, under pressure, ensuring cultural and behavioral compatibility. Hiring companies can now mitigate the risks of a bad hire while discovering unknown rock stars in the process! Marketing and branding benefits are also incorporated into the Veteran Combine experience.


On January 24, 2018, from 8:00am-12:00pm, EDGE Challenges hosted a demo for The Veteran Combine, at Galvanize, 515 E. Grant St. Phoenix. Representatives from Arizona State University (ASU), W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU, TEK Systems, Galvanize, Wells Fargo and some smaller businesses attended. Most participated in the demo. The goal was to enable participants to “feel” the power of the experience and the potential value that can come from it.

1. “Be a fly on the wall.”

A resume contains only so much information about a candidate. It tells you “what” they’ve done, but it rarely gives you a glimpse of the “how.” Is it really important, though? yes! Very much so. Imagine seeing a candidate with their guard down, under pressure. You already known they are smart or at least technically competent. How do they lead? How do they treat others? Do you boost the room with energy or do they drown it out with negativity. These are the types of questions you can answer during the Combine.

Consider this: a start-up in a brand-new industry and a mature company in a legacy industry not only require different skill sets, but they also require certain behaviors. Risk-tolerance matters. So does resource expenditure. What about comfort with centralization of authority? Or how about decentralization of authority? What matters most? Speed, or pace of actions, or security and detail? Finally, there are always rules: conform to them or make them up as you go. Everyone answers to these questions differently, in one degree or another.

Avoid the masquerades. So many people will tell you what they think you want to hear. Rather than relying to describe or assess their “how,” allow the Combine to show you. Well, you might ask: Can’t the candidate still hide and project a different personality or behavioral combination? In my thirteen-years of experience doing these simulations, the answer is no. The experience is too powerful. It literally compels people, for one reason or another, to unknowingly reveal themselves, no matter who is watching.

2. Observing team adaptability.

Besides job modeling based on behaviors, the Combine enables greater nuance to your candidate section. For instance, how well will the potential candidate acclimate to your current team? One way to find out is observing their teamwork.

Consider this: more often that not, experienced teams often adopt a particular set of behaviors, or a unique way of doing things as a collective unit. Some call these patterns of action, “sacred rhythms.” The Combine allows you to confirm whether or not the candidate’s manner of action may support, or detract, from your team dynamics.

For instance, one participant during the Combine took the reigns as The Commander. A was mission assigned: it was not too complex so it didn’t need to be rushed. Instead of using the processes of mapping out the plan and writing it out, as discussed numerous times before, the new Commander abandoned them. Outright. It wasn’t that he didn’t conduct a deliberate planning process; no, he impulsively jumped into the operation. Nothing of effect was written down for the team. Directives were verbal. Not surprisingly, metrics for success steadily grew opaque over time. People naturally started doing what they “felt” was necessary. As the participant Commander latter explained his behaviors, he just “went with it.” This impulse for action, and not to plan, says a lot as a potential teammate, especially when backed up with the scientific behavioral tools we use.

Remember: this candidate’s behavior is neither good nor bad. It just is. The question for the potential hiring manager is whether it is compatible with his or her team, given the team-dynamics, the company culture and even the industry.

3. Finding the candidate who can avoid tactical blinders that affect us all.

Most people can’t avoid the “noise” of daily activities, which is an accumulation of distractions over time. Finding someone who can, however, can turnout to be competitive advantage in respect to recruiting the above-average candidate.

The Saint Croix Campaign was getting intense by the minute. The American team was expanding out in an attempt to capture special resources, and in turn deny them to the British. The British enemy, a computer artificial intelligence (AI), was mirroring the American team activity. They too expanded outward, increasing land and potentially a higher population capacity. After 20-minutes into the simulation in everything came at a stand-still as both forces engaged one another. The American armies fought British ones, and the strategic movements of long-leaps shrunk to inches. Ultimately the simulation became a back-and-forward of momentum, switching from one side to another and back. To complicate matters more, a new mission was received: create a sixteen “Ship-of-the-Line” fleet and send it south of the island to prevent British naval build-up. This mission was to be executed along with the previous one.

The American Commander found himself in a quandary. Not only was he responsible for building a new navy, but he had to do so while balancing declining resources and reinforcing a dwindling army. Now add a 30-minute time-limit.

A navy was built. Not the right one: this one was of Privateers (a medium-size versus the large one requested). Everyone was glued to the screen watching the ships depart from the north via the eastern side of the island. The new American ships traveled southernly, only discover some British ones. A major battle ensued.
The naval battle was intense. The speakers in the classroom blasted the canon roars, so much so that an audience from neighboring businesses within Galvanize manifested outside the classroom to watch. People were actually skipping work to find out what was happening!

The battle grew in intensity when the American ships began to bombard the coast of the British base. I was enthralled. Observing over 20 American ships knock down fortresses and stone defensive walls with ship canons was pretty cool! Everyone inside the room and outside of it seemed transfixed. The British seemed to be on the tactical defense, at least for now. The campaign had entered the 40-min mark, and the stand-still seemed to slowly being swaying a little more to the Americans.

I decided to pry myself away from the show and walk over to the commander. Does he know what’s going on? I asked him: What’s the situation? “We’re moving some military here, and here,” as he pointed to his secondary-drawn map. My response: Ok. 10 soldiers, 50 or one-hundred soldiers? And where are they going? Why? He first looked puzzled then realized the previous communication lesson of “specific is terrific” (a cheesy statement, but very true nonetheless) was not being adhered to. I reminded him that if he wasn’t clear of what exactly he wanted, then no one would either.

I walked away. He was digesting the potential repercussions of our discussion. I decided to check on the other leader responsible for working the armies.

4. Finding the emergent candidate that good companies wants.

“The enemy based is destroyed. It’s all gone.” WHAT? I was completely shocked! All I had asked the operations officer (the person on operating one of two computers) was the simple question, what’s going on over here? Apparently, he took things into his own hands. This leader responsible for the army had taken and acted on the sage advice from a Marines Corp veteran-turned entrepreneur. “One way to gain the majority resources is to just rid yourself of the competition.”

That might sound a little extreme, but given the fact that no one seemed to know what was happening on the ground, the operations leader did what he thought best and the most expedient. Instead of running around to one emergency after another, go for the heart. It worked. Big time.

Technically the leader disobeyed his original orders, that being to capture special resources. Yet, the opportunity existed and he took it. Given the complexity of the mission, this course of action happened to be the least path of resistance. And why not take the chance? In fact, the language provided by The Commander didn’t dissuade this course of action. The fact is this leader on-the-ground saw an opportunity that was aligned to the overall purpose of the mission. He went for it and was successful. The irony is nobody knew! How could we? We were all focused on the sounds and lights of the tactical battle and ignored the larger picture. Very much like the “noise” of daily activities. Talk about a lesson in everyday focus…

I called the simulation off. Many people looked surprised. Why now? Wasn’t the navy blasting away at the British? Weren’t we making some progress?

I called out: Hey Commander! did you win? His response was a compilation of dead-air, “ummms” and “ahhhs.” The Commander, like most in the room, had no clue to why the simulation ended. With no direct answer or explanation from anyone of what happened, I decided to answer my query: Yes, you did! Except you didn’t capture the gold per the mission…Your army did the opposite and wrecked the opponents base. You won by default. Congratulations.

Look at the opportunity for hiring managers. Corporate scouts would not necessarily focus on the Commander during this Combine simulation, but rather the tactical leader who took the initiative. They saw a go-getter, a hard-charger who can be counted on to accomplish the mission despite the confusion on the ground. This is the type potential new hire that starts bidding wars!

5. Increasing candidate quality – even for veterans.

The Combine allows the company to boost the value of the ordinary, non-veteran candidate in an extraordinary short time. Even veterans develop, albeit in a different manner from non-military participants. It enables them to do two things: 1) better articulate their strengths and 2) effectively convert their knowledge of one profession (government) to a completely different one (private sector). By participating in games which resemble their previous career, we at EDGE Challenges help them draw conceptual parallels.

Overall, the Combine provides experiences. And there is no substitute experience in learning. Each participant is provided the opportunity to validate a special curriculum. The content is designed to help leaders transform into the type of professional that owners or CEOs want.

This is why the Combine is so powerful an educational vehicle: it turns the traditional model of classroom learning on its head. Traditional learning is often deductive: the speaker or teacher says, “X is true” or “Y is the most practical,” and then you must apply it to your memory and recollections. Participants in the demo learn another way: they validated ideas first-hand. This method of learning from the ground up is called, induction, and it is incredibly powerful if done correctly.

Some complex ideas were presented during the demo with the overall purpose of enabling the participants to test them. For instance, is leadership exclusively about people? Or, does it require focusing on the mission at hand? In the beginning of the simulations, you regularly see people talking, and just talking. They quickly discover that words must have “meaning,” which in turn requires a uniform language among all the participants on the same team. Most importantly, their language must be directly tied to their assigned mission.

But everyone learns their own way. To see exactly what is done by each person along with how they do it is a major benefit of the Combine. It is these nuances in execution which can – and should – determine a candidates’ compatibility with a future employer.