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The problem with Harvard Business School case studies

By Quartz

Even if you didn’t go to business school, you’ve probably heard of Harvard case studies and the Harvard case method, the pedagogical system of choiceRead full story

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  • Julie Makinen
    Julie MakinenExecutive Editor at The Desert Sun

    The larger problem with many of these case studies is that the professors who originate them have personal or professional or financial interests in the companies that are profiled, and there’s little transparency about this. And the companies often have the right to review the cases before they are published. This raises questions about academic integrity.

  • As a Founder/CEO and MBA student, I can attest to the significant value case-method implementation brings to academic study and reflection on past experiences for a more robust learning process.

    Business success demands high-level applied and practical critical thinking. This is a culmination of both analytical and creative problem solving key to effective leadership lacking today.

    The point of case studies are not to teach people what to think (as managers or leaders) but to assess the degree

    As a Founder/CEO and MBA student, I can attest to the significant value case-method implementation brings to academic study and reflection on past experiences for a more robust learning process.

    Business success demands high-level applied and practical critical thinking. This is a culmination of both analytical and creative problem solving key to effective leadership lacking today.

    The point of case studies are not to teach people what to think (as managers or leaders) but to assess the degree to which students approach complex situations and find solutions using inside and outside the box theories and concepts. If this wasn't a strong approach, HBS wouldn't have created the number of impactful indutry leaders it has over this many decades.

  • Heather Landy
    Heather LandyEditor at Quartz At Work

    A fascinating and heartbreaking bit of business history here. What if social welfare had long been taught as something to maximize alongside profits?

  • My MBA came from one of the many institutions which do not use Harvard’s case method. But there in no reason a case methodology can’t consider external factors- it would be hard to imagine a broad array of cases where outside considerations wouldn’t be imperative. Certainly would be a great way to introduce some concepts like strategic CSR.

    To demonstrate that the method is lacking you would need to compare results obtained from a different method. I don’t think there’s any significant evidence

    My MBA came from one of the many institutions which do not use Harvard’s case method. But there in no reason a case methodology can’t consider external factors- it would be hard to imagine a broad array of cases where outside considerations wouldn’t be imperative. Certainly would be a great way to introduce some concepts like strategic CSR.

    To demonstrate that the method is lacking you would need to compare results obtained from a different method. I don’t think there’s any significant evidence that Harvard MBAs are lacking in social perspective as compared to other (non-case study method) MBAs.

    Part of the author’s premise lies in belief that society’s ills are the result of the actions of MBAs. Or their inactions. But our society is the direct result of the leaders we the people have elected. If we wanted something different out of the last 100 years we should have elected different people - not used a different method to teach MBAs. That’s relatively small potatoes. If you want society to be better vote. Vote out some, vote in others. Let Harvard do what Harvard’s gonna do. They’re not the difference, we the people are.

  • Let's create a case with this: should business school profs keep using Hvd cases in their MBA classes?

  • Kyo Kaku
    Kyo KakuVice President at China-Japan J/V

    Students are smart enough to know a case is just no more than material simplified for class discussion to which they need to supplement their own experiences from the real world of business or other varieties of fields; this is why MBA programs including HBS require applicants to have several years’ working experience.

    The essence of case study method is to enhance leadership to collectively make a decision out of a diversified group of students. The leadership is quite versatile, so the “goal

    Students are smart enough to know a case is just no more than material simplified for class discussion to which they need to supplement their own experiences from the real world of business or other varieties of fields; this is why MBA programs including HBS require applicants to have several years’ working experience.

    The essence of case study method is to enhance leadership to collectively make a decision out of a diversified group of students. The leadership is quite versatile, so the “goal” doesn’t necessarily need to be set at capitalistic optimization.

  • Tyler Paskon
    Tyler Paskon

    This is a very interesting article, with a lot of facets. Like a diamond, it is very hard to look at things from different angles and apply them. I particularly like the process philosophy quotation in the article. I could prolly make a case for either viewpoint that regurgitation of information will only get you so far, or to solve problems is the key skill that ALL employers are looking for. But, based on my EXPERIENCE, I will say that we are living in the Information Age, where he have become

    This is a very interesting article, with a lot of facets. Like a diamond, it is very hard to look at things from different angles and apply them. I particularly like the process philosophy quotation in the article. I could prolly make a case for either viewpoint that regurgitation of information will only get you so far, or to solve problems is the key skill that ALL employers are looking for. But, based on my EXPERIENCE, I will say that we are living in the Information Age, where he have become bombarded with so much information that we are enlightened with so many viewpoints that we are going towards an age of philosophical enlightenment, where we can talk for hours and hours about one topic, slightly relate similar ones, and innovate ideas to bridge the gaps of the aforementioned. The problem though is that people are losing their communication abilities because they have so much information, that they are not curious or seeking answers anymore with conversation. Anything they want to know, they find in the computer and learn themselves. So we have a case of information overload and communication breakdown. This is the hard and difficult problem that we are truly facing.

  • Reg Baker
    Reg BakerReg Baker & Company

    I have been both a student learning from case studies and a college teacher/professor using case studies as a learning tool. Their effectiveness as a learning tool is almost totally dependent on the teacher/professor. The business environment changes very quickly and every comapny has different circumstances to factor in to the case Case studies can not be static but must be dynamic to be effective. That depends on the professor.

  • Kurt Bateman
    Kurt BatemanConstruction Worker

    A few years ago I read a book titled “Natural Capitalism”. It gave a completely different perspective on what capitalism is or should be. The book was not against making money on the contrary but sustainability was built into the concept. I wonder how some of the cases in that book would fit with HBS case studies.

  • ... is that they are kind of useless.

  • Yuni Wakamatu
    Yuni Wakamatu

    Interesting article.

    "We need in business and politics administrators who are able not only to handle their specialized problems well, but also to see things in wide relations and do their part in maintaining society’s stability and equilibrium.”

    I think everyone has heard countless times.

    But when most of us go back to the rountine task,we soon singlefocus on our job to finish until the deadline.

  • Jeff Peterson
    Jeff Peterson Retired businessman

    Say what?

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