Are Business Cases R.I.P in B-School?

Last Updated Sep 10, 2008 6:26 PM EDT

brief_case.JPGA recent post on Stacy Blackman's MBA blog asked the question, "is the case method still a good fit for today's business school?" Blackman cites a number of articles, one by HBS professor Jim Heskett in Working Knowledge, another by Columbia Business School dean R. Glenn Hubbard, and yet another by Geoff Gloeckler that appeared BusinessWeek last January. Writes Blackman:
"The question has been raised about whether the case method encourages the development of skills in framing problems prior to decision making. Heskett asserts that traditional cases have been criticized for being self-contained documents that describe a protagonist facing a decision with a set of packaged data available on which to base the decision. Research outside the case may be discouraged; there may not be time for it in a curriculum packed with cases designed to encourage students to acquire decision-making habits--"
Indeed, how is it the MBA candidate is expected to learn to think freely and solve problems creatively if the cases are "canned" -- in much the same way that an 8th grade algebra test is canned -- with the instructor already knowing the "answer" as well as a more-or-less set idea about how to arrive at it in mind?

Blackman goes on to discuss R. Glenn Hubbard's "decision briefs" concept, which offer less information up front and don't present a solution until students have figured out the issues on their own. "We want our students to be used to dealing with incomplete data," Hubbard says. "They should be able to make decisions out of uncertainty."

If there's one certainty in today's business climate, it's that there is no certainty in today's business climate. The trend away from set business cases seems a progressive one.

(Image by xtoq via Flickr, CC 2.0)