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The case against case studies

In a terrific article which just came out in the February 4, 2008 edition of Business Week, author Geoff Gloeckler describes how Columbia Business School is getting away from conventional case studies, instead using ‘decision briefs’ that are more like the situations managers would face in real life than the detailed, deeply researched cases that often form the basis of a business school curriculum.  The goal is to help MBA’s develop better skills at making sense of ambiguous information.  You’ll find the complete article here

The move away from cases in the MBA program actually mirrors what we’ve been doing in Executive Education programs for years.  We find that executives have so much interesting and rich context that they bring into the classroom that cases aren’t that useful (besides who wants to wade through 30 or 40 pages of a lengthy case?).  We tend to use a lot of short case-ettes, actual stories from the company, and even clips from newspapers and magazines to get the discussion started.  Not only is it more interesting for the participants, it does force the frameworks and tools you use to be very real-world. 

Among my favorite short cases are the “Spinbrush” story from Proctor and Gamble and a short case detailing the end of life of the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, New Jersey. 

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