Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 1pm

The Death of the Harvard Business School Case Study Method

The Death of the Harvard Business School Case Study Method

These are uncertain days for many CEOs across the world who now need to rethink their business models, their viability, their sourcing channels, tax structures, manufacturing bases, labor movements, hiring strategies, corporate structures and the financial implications of being in or out of the eurozone.


CEOs and business managers are facing a business environment, never experienced by any business professional with no clear path in sight. Many business-critical questions still haven’t been answered. What kind of entry barriers will be introduced by Europe? What kind of tariffs will emerging markets experience, who were using the UK as an entry point to Europe? How will governments renegotiate trade treaties with Europe and Britain?

No one still seems to know how Europe will react, with the possibility the EU will be tough to set an example to other European nations in which opposition to the European model is growing increasingly voluble, like the Netherlands, France and even some rightwing activists in Germany. And how do they ensure they retain a strong relationship with Britain? How does all this play into my prognosis of the death of the Harvard Business School case study method of teaching at business schools? The case study method is a static model which allows MBA students to analyze a business issue at a point of time. Several of them used in the IIMs are 10 years old in an era where we did not have the financial crisis, or the low-growth period post quantitative easing or Brexit. The benefits of the case study method are understanding concepts, allowing for a discussion that airs different views and perspectives, and helps with analytical thinking.

The usage of case studies was okay in a stable environment, where business problems were quite often repeated, but in the current VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, dealing with these issues in a real-time basis is far more important for management students who will have to deal with ambiguity every step of their careers and become masters at reacting to these volatile situations. How can we create leaders who relish the challenge of devising astute strategies and who look for such world defining moments like Brexit to reshape and master their business opportunities?  

It would not be fair to kill a successful model, without giving alternatives to this celebrated model of education in the US, Europe and in the IIMs in India. As a business professional who has run businesses across 100 countries, it is absolutely clear to me that business is dynamic, fluid and continuously changing. The question that arises is how much can we learn from a static case study method?  

Experiental Learning Waterfall 

At Universal Business School, CEOs who serve as faculty have come up with an ‘experiential learning waterfall’, with 100% experiential learning opportunities at the top and the case study method at the bottom.

Experiential Learning Waterfall

Live experiential learning environment

We created a global cross asset trading room with Thomson Reuters, replicating an actual live trading room environment, wherein students are given notional capital and invest in bonds, stocks, FX and commodities across five continents. They react to live markets in real-time, not simulations or management games, and are rated on the basis of their portfolio performance and investment rationale and can make course correction factoring in global macro-economic factors, quantitative easing, Brexit, country fiscal and monetary policy changes, corporate performance and demand and supply factors.

 

Live projects/internships

Students solve real business problems in a live corporate environment by immersing themselves in the company culture and context of the business.   

 

International exposure to global business models

Students get the opportunity to go to global project management conferences in the UK, where they compete against others from across the globe and are judged by industry professionals.  

 

Simulations

This is an effective way to energize students towards understanding and applying concepts with an outcome in mind. Allows for regular interventions and makes students adaptable and responsive to change. 

 

50-Hour dynamic case blazer

Students analyze cases, in a continuously changing environment for 50 consecutive hours and have to adapt in real-time to the new competitive business environment. Far better than the static case studies. 

 

As these models of experiential learning gain popularity with students, I am confident that the case study method as we know it today will soon be ready for burial.


Tarun Anand is the cofounder of Universal Business School and Former MD of Thomson Reuters, South Asia and former member of the Global Innovation & Venture Board, Reuters

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