The London Business School MBA often uses the ‘Case Method’ as the basis of its various units. Given this, one of my biggest questions before the MBA began was how exactly the Case Method would work in practice. Sure, I’d heard about it and seen video clips of classes being tutored using this approach. But what would it be like actually being a part of one of these lectures? How effective would they be? And how best to actually participate and contribute?
In case you haven’t come across the Case Method before, let me briefly explain what it involves. At the start of each unit (e.g. Strategy) we are given a binder containing the cases and additional reading for each lecture. Before each lecture everyone should have read the case in detail and summarised their thoughts (e.g. What are the key issues? How did management react? What should the CEO have done differently?). In class the lecturer will briefly introduce the case before posing a question to class based on the case, such as ‘Why was Honda’s entry to the US market so successful?’ Someone in the class will volunteer their thoughts, before someone else comments on that answer, builds on it or offers an alternative. The lecturer goes on to direct and chair the ensuing discussion, linking in to underlying academic theory as the class progresses.
In my opinion this method has so many benefits over the traditional book-based method of teaching business that I can’t possibly summarise all of them. But let me offer a few of the most important for me:
1) It’s more fun! Even as an accountant I find some of the more detailed parts of finance a little dull. But framing the topic as a case brings the subject to life. No longer are you learning what the optimal capital structure is for the sake of it, you’re trying to find the best way of funding the growth strategy for a new low-cost airline. You’re not trying to define what exactly a ‘competitive advantage’ is, you’re trying to find out how best Honda could secure an enduring position in the US motorcycle market.
2) It brings business back to reality. Having read more than my fair share of management books prior to London Business School ‘business’ had started to seem like quite an abstract, academic subject. The case method rapidly brings you back down to earth, reminding you that business involves real people being forced to make enormously important decisions often based on incomplete and/or poor quality information.
3) Cases allow you to benefit from the experience of others. How exactly would you have reacted to IBM’s entry to the personal computer market if you were Steve Jobs running Apple? What would have been your priorities if faced with turning around American Express in the early 90s? How do your answers compare to what decisions were actually made? Through this process you gain an insight into why business leaders of old decided on the choices they made. And, more than this, you get to benefit from listening and reacting to the views of your fellow classmates.
4) You practice articulating arguments clearly and concisely. No matter how brilliant or insightful , unless you’re able to clearly convey your ideas they’re likely to go nowhere. This is particularly important in business where the correct decision often needs to be made and executed quickly. The Case Method forces you to practice structuring your argument and conveying it clearly… how well I’m doing will become clear when I see my first class participation grade (did I forget to mention that we’re graded on the quality of our contributions in class?!)