“The journey is more important than the destination”
The Case Method: Why We Rely on Discussion Learning
Approximately three-fourths of our class time will be spent discussing business cases. Why do we rely on the case method so extensively? The case-study method brings a “real world” approach to business education in at least three important ways. First, case discussions generate a dynamic process of vigorous questioning and responding, examination and debate among students and discussion leader. Because strategy issues are often characterized by ambiguity, complexity or uncertainty, this course is more about asking the right questions than it is about knowing the right answers. Rather than simply lecture about the current state of “best practices,” we recognize that theories change over time while reasoning skills survive. The case method helps students to refine their skills as insightful questioners, rather than just good answer-finders. In this model of learning, it is the journey more than the destination that matters. In addition, discussion learning requires all students to participate actively in the learning experience. The MBA degree is about more than just acquiring a toolbox of analytical skills. It is also about developing the ability to contribute to the group so that we expand the boundaries of everyone’s learning. Just as in management, there is no formula that you can follow for every case. Nevertheless, over the course of the semester, students gradually build on the combination of theory and analysis, judgment and experience to develop for themselves the ideas that the teacher seeks to communicate. While the case method requires a high level of student commitment, it also causes students to personally engage the problem and “own” the solution, so that the case method is inherently a student-oriented process. Walter Wriston has said, “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” As in the “real world,” the case method replicates the trial-and-error experience of seasoned managers, thereby deepening judgment. It also does so in the low risk environment of the classroom where career casualties are not at stake.
Second, the case method trains students to think as administrators (rather than as scholars), so that they: (1) see a problem looking for solutions rather than a concept looking for applications, (2) focus on defining and prioritizing a maize of tangled problems and determining which one(s) to attack with the limited time available, (3) appreciate differing agendas and points of view, and (4) take action, not just report findings.
Third, by linking analysis with individual action taking, the case method encourages moral awareness by requiring students to take a stand. The give-and-take of case discussion often brings to the surface subtle ethical dilemmas that might otherwise be missed. The case method helps students learn to assess and embrace the tradeoffs among different stakeholders’ interests. The case method requires students to use all of their knowledge, skills and experience to respond in real time to the questions raised in class and to effectively communicate their ideas to their classmates and help to lead them to a greater shared understanding of the problem at hand. Thus, the students become the teachers.
In sum, we teach with case studies because the method embodies important values of professional education. The case method is not simply a technique; it is a rich philosophy about judgment, analysis, action and learning. (Adapted from an article by Robert F. Bruner)
How do we teach the course with only cases and without any theories and techniques?
While our course will emphasize exercise of judgment, by no means is this course “theory free.” We will learn to break down complex problems into manageable analytical issues to which we can apply a rigorous set of theoretical tools. The analytical approaches in our “strategy tool kit” will be covered in the required readings prior to each case. These readings have been carefully selected to convey often complex topics in a concise, understandable manner. Since these readings articulate much of the theoretical content of the course, they will be crucial to your comprehension of our course concepts. It is extremely important that you read, study (and preferably discuss with each other) this material when assigned so that you will be able to apply it to our case discussions.
The key requirement of this course is that you THINK. This course requires that you synthesize material that you have learned in prior classes in your business education in conjunction with new concepts we will introduce. We will ask that you add a dose of common sense and filter these ideas through your own experiences and “world view.” We will reach consensus on some issues, yet many among you will have differing interpretations as we proceed through the course. This is the nature of strategy and policy issues. You may find yourself occasionally frustrated by the ambiguity and the difficulty of assimilating conflicting points of view. Welcome to real life…J
Our readings and case discussions are designed to help you understand how firms formulate and implement strategies under the impetus of competition, technology, government action, and other important contextual forces. This, in turn, requires a deep understanding of the functional strategies associated with marketing, operations, finance and human resources. Our challenge in this course will be to integrate your learning from other courses in a synthesis with new material introduced here to see how general managers develop functional strategies into overall business and corporate strategies and to see how their chosen strategies are implemented. While this may not happen overnight, over the course of the semester, you can expect to begin to see how the “pieces fit together.” You will be better prepared to enhance your careers with a more comprehensive vision of the firm as a whole and your role in it.
Most of your learning will occur in preparation for and participating in the case discussions. To enhance your preparation and learning, we strongly encourage you to form study groups to discuss the cases prior to class. To guide you in your preparation, this syllabus includes discussion questions for each case.
As noted earlier, the complexity of the course material relies heavily on discussion learning. This process allows the cumulative insights of your colleagues to contribute to the evolution of the class’s learning. Thus, the entire class learning experience relies on each of you taking responsibility for contributing to the discussion. In order to do so, it is imperative that each of you be present and fully prepared each day. Consequently, excessive absences or tardiness will result in a significantly lower grade for this component.
As is the case with real world work environments, you are judged not by what you know but by what you contribute. Even if you feel that you know the material, unless you share your insights with the class, we cannot adequately evaluate your preparedness and contribution. Students are never penalized for making comments that don’t appear to be the “right answer.” It is only through consideration of many diverse opinions and viewpoints that we will move toward a greater shared understanding of the multi-dimensional material that this course entails.
For some students, advocating or challenging a position during class is uncomfortable. However, research has shown that most of a manager’s day-to-day duties require discussions with others and interactive problem solving in real time. The skills needed to contribute to the case discussion are the same as those needed to be an effective manager.
It is expected that you will come to class each day fully prepared to share your views in the classroom discussion, whether voluntarily or when called upon. You have an obligation not only to learn the material but also to assist in the learning of your classmates. To do so, you must make a meaningful contribution when you have the floor. Blandly summarizing case facts, repeating prior points of discussion and/or simply agreeing with your classmate’s arguments does not constitute a meaningful contribution. Focus on making comments that pass the “so-what” test. This can range from helping to sort out the salient facts in a complex case to providing insightful analysis that builds upon the prior discussion and moves our thinking forward.
Every student is important to the class discussion. It is equally important that we listen carefully to one another and attempt to build on or constructively critique prior comments. Try to resist the temptation to jump to topics that are not specifically open for discussion. Some of the specific things that will have an impact on effective class participation and on which you will be evaluated include:
m Are you a good listener?
m Are your contributions relevant to the discussion? Do your comments related to the comments of others and to the themes that the class is exploring together?
m Do your comments add to our understanding of the situation? Are you incisive? Do you cut to the core of the problem?
m Are you willing to challenge the ideas that are being expressed? Can you do so in a manner that is respectful and not contentious?
m Are you willing to test new ideas, or are all comments “safe”? (For example, repetition of case facts without analysis or conclusions, or repeating comments already been made by someone else.)
m Do you integrate material from past classes or the readings where appropriate? Do your comments reflect cumulative learning over the course and the MBA curriculum, or does the participant merely consider each case in isolation?
In grading class contribution, we will be assessing the extent to which you have established a meaningful presence in the classroom, over the course of the semester, by making solid contributions on a regular basis. Your friends in other sections, who have already discussed the case in class, may offer to assist you with understanding the case, or you might be tempted to research what happened to the company after the case was written. Engaging in such activities is strongly discouraged. Not only does it impair your learning, but it will also disrupt your section’s learning when you speak up in class. It is important for the class to work through the issues based on case facts. Collective reasoning and discovery are critical to the success of the case method.
Your class contributions will be graded each day on the following scale:
· 10 points, reflects an “A+” contribution. Case-breaking insight, really cracked open the whole case. These comments will be extremely rare.
- 9 points, reflects an “A” contribution. Very insightful comments, and/or exceptional value added to the discussion, or raised particularly relevant but so far overlooked question. Reflected a great deal of preparation, thought, and integration of text concepts, work from other courses, ideas from other class contributors and cases.
- 8 points, reflects a “A/A-” contribution. Comments reflected good preparation, tied together various streams of ideas offered by other contributors, contributed substantially to the discussion and learning of the class.
- 7 points, reflects a “A-/B+” contribution. Average preparation, simple commentary, helped move the discussion along with an incremental advancement over previous comments.
- 6 points, reflects a “B“ contribution. Statement of case facts, rephrasing of another person’s comment already made.
- 5 points, reflects a “C” contribution. Comments reflected poor or no preparation, ignorance of contributions already made by others, or lack of respect for other contributors.
In addition to your professor’s assessment, peer graders will also evaluate class contribution. This means that each student in the course will be evaluated on his/her contribution to the class discussion by both his/her professor and his/her peers. Grades will be based on the value-added of your contribution. Quality is much more important than quantity, although a lack of contribution will negatively affect your grade. Please note that students who leave class early will be penalized on their participation grades for that class. People within organizations are evaluated on the value they add to the experience of customers, suppliers, and co-workers, not just their boss. Class contribution is about creating value for the class as a whole, not just trying to tell your professor what you think he/she wants to hear.
A few tips for meaningful class contribution:
· Trust your own experiences. The course is designed to give you a theoretical framework for making sense of your everyday work experiences. Draw on your experiences to interpret material and illustrate your arguments. Equally important, be prepared to reinterpret your experiences in light of new insights gained from the course.
· Be aware of your own values and biases. "Where you stand depends on where you sit." Your values inevitably influence how you perceive and interpret situations. Rather than deny or hide them, make them explicit (at least to yourself).
· Value the contributions of others. There is never a one-best-way to manage, and different people often come to different conclusions about how they would handle a problem. You can learn as much from listening to your classmates as you can from any book.
· Do not be satisfied with shallow analysis and pat answers of your own, your classmates, or your professor. In the interests of saving time and making a point, we often gloss over subtleties: if something does not sound right, then it probably is not right.
Case Analyses (Weeks 5, 6, 8, and 9)
You will be asked to turn in as a group a one-page analysis of the focal case scheduled for discussion in weeks 5 (Zara), 6 (Cooper), 8 (GE), and 9 (Care). This analysis is due at the start of each class. In each assignment you need to:
1. identify the most important strategic issues facing the firm,
2. identify several alternative courses of action most relevant to the key issue(s),
3. recommend a specific course of action from the alternatives, and
4. justify that recommendation.
Please note this assignment is not the same as answering the discussion questions, which are provided to help you prepare for class discussion. A detailed guideline for this case analysis is given in Appendix B. In each class, we will randomly call upon two groups to make a presentation of their case analysis.
Despite the depth of analysis needed, case analysis can be no longer than one-page (single-sided with a font not smaller than 12- point Times New Roman, one inch margins. All formats including character spacing, line spacing etc. should be normal. In other words, please do not make any changes in the format to squeeze in more text).
Case Exam (Week 11)
An in-class exam will be conducted, in which you will be given a case for analysis. You are required to submit your analysis at the end of the examination time. The analysis is expected to be similar to the case analyses submitted earlier, but the analysis can be two-pages long. Further, you can make use of a maximum of three exhibits that are illustrative but they should not contain a lot of text. In other words, please do not use them as a way to write the text that you could not write in the report due to space limits. As a thumb rule, any exhibit that needs more than 30 seconds to understand is not an exhibit.
Book Presentations (Weeks 12 and 13)
Each team is expected to make presentation to the class on a book that is written by a senior executive about a company. In presenting the book, please focus on the nature of the company’s business environment, the strategies that the firm employed, and whether those strategies were good or bad. Also, please discuss what lessons you, your classmates and practicing managers could draw from the experiences of the author(s) of the book. The purpose of this assignment is to give you an opportunity to bring together the course learning and apply it to understand a company’s strategy and an executive’s role in it.
Each team will be given 15 minutes to present the book, including time for questions and answers from the class. The presentation will be evaluated on three criteria: (i) the quality of the information provided by the team, (ii) the presentation quality of each team member, and (iii) the interaction/excitement the team has generated in the class. Accordingly, although this is a group project, the grade each student receives will be different because each of the team members will be evaluated separately on his/her presentation quality and report. An illustrative list of the books is presented in Appendix C. The teams are welcome to present a book from this list or any other book, subject to our prior consent.
Learning Report (due on April 20 at 9am.)
The intent of this report is to have students think about what they learned in the course and assimilate that learning by writing a 600 word report. A good learning report does not merely provide a summary of the topics or a list of the key points, rather it will go beyond to reflect about the content and identify the broad underlying themes. It may include what you found interesting about the course and/or what you felt strongly about.
In preparing the learning report, you may find it useful to ask questions like: What is this course about? What are the broad themes covered? How do these themes relate to each other and to strategic management? What are the underlying themes/threads in the course content? What are the few key things that one needs to know about corporate strategies? What are the few things that I take away from the course? What are the strategic management issues that are more relevant in other parts of the world? Please not that these questions are not meant to be answered in the report but rather are designed to help you think.
Unethical behavior by corporations has been linked with negative performance outcomes; the same is true of unethical student behavior. It is expected that students will neither participate in nor condone activities such as cheating or plagiarism. By placing their names on assignments, students are affirming that the contents are their original work. Sharing ideas is encouraged but sharing words is a violation of academic integrity.
- A student who misses a class will receive a zero towards his/her participation grade. A student who misses more than three classes is liable to receive an F for the course. Class attendance is compulsory for everyone on the days when groups will make book presentations.
- In group assignments, it is expected that each student contributes his/her best to the group. Any violation of this norm must be brought to my notice and I will award negative/lower marks to the member(s) who did not contribute to their full potential.