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METHOD TO THE MADNESS

The problem with Harvard Business School case studies

An HBS student raises his hand
Natalie Keyssar for Harvard Business School
Ready to perform.
  • Lila MacLellan
By Lila MacLellan

Quartz at Work reporter

Published Last updated on This article is more than 2 years old.

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 choice at one of the world’s most elite business schools.

In slim booklets, the cases, of which there are tens of thousands, lay out the strategic questions facing a major corporation, like Amazon, GE, or Pepsi. The scenarios they describe are real, all ripped from the business pages.

The case method, as a style of learning, asks students to imagine themselves in the role of the “protagonist” (typically the CEO) leading the firm profiled in the case. They’re required to come to class prepared to make a solid argument for one course of direction, and then convince their peers of it, with rhetorical flair. Rather than lecture, the professor facilitates a class-wide debate, cold calling on students to answer tough questions.

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