It’s All in the Theory

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L-R: Vicky Lester, The Case Centre Deputy Director, Todd Bridgman and Richard McCracken

I’ve had the pleasure this week of being able to discuss the history and early development of the case method with Todd Bridgman.

Todd is currently on sabbatical in the UK and was visiting us in connection with his feature on thinking differently about case teaching and the future of business schools, which appears in the current issue of The Case Centre’s Connect newsletter. Todd is also participating in two of the MED professional development workshops, in which we are involved, at the AOM annual conference in Atlanta.

So you can see that we had lots to talk about.

Abstract network connection background.

The most interesting aspect of the discussion for me, however, was the opportunity to get a better sense of what Todd means when he advocates a greater role for theory within the case method(s) – something we agree upon is that the case method should be seen as being too broad and inclusive to be restricted to a single, prescriptive approach.

Todd’s view is that the early proponents of the case method had always intended for there to be a greater inclusion of theory but that this has atrophied somewhat over the years in favour of an almost exclusive concentration on developing student skills in solving problems. Todd explains more in this video below.

As a result, criticism of the case method is often triggered by a perception that its over-developed focus on the practical is at the cost of developing theory and value.

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L-R: Richard McCracken, Rasmus Johnsen and Navid Baharlooie

Our discussion came only a few days after I had the pleasure of visiting Copenhagen Business School to present Rasmus Johnsen and Navid Baharlooie with this year’s Ethics and Social Responsibility award for their case CULT Girl: Responsible Management and Self-Management of Subjectivity at Work. The case illustrates some of the theoretical focus that Todd has been advocating and exploring

Rasmus and Navid work within the department of Management Politics and Philosophy at CBS and their case requires students to take a position on the dilemmas of self-managing subjectivity at work, the responsible management of self-managing employees, and the ethical limitations of marketing practices, using the theoretical work of philosophers such as Michel Foucault and Axel Honneth.

So, there we are, the case method(s) can and do encompass theory. What is your experience? Where do you stand? Please let me know.

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Filed under Business education, Business schools, Case method, Case teaching, Research

Post-fact culture, storytelling and the case method

In two very recent political campaigns in the UK and US proponents declared proudly that they didn’t listen to experts.

Wherever we look in the world the principles of inquiry and research that underpin our understanding of the world, and the valuing of knowledge and expertise, seem under attack.

Anti-intellectualism

Some commentators argue that these are only the most recent examples of a much longer trend of anti-intellectualism. People want simple. They don’t want to hear complex solutions for a complex world.

businessintelligenceAnd into the void comes a wilful avoidance of clarity and knowledge, and beliefs based on someone’s ability to tell a good story. No inconvenient fact or truth, it seems, should come between a desire and an outcome. We are living, we are told, in a post-factual world. Fertile ground for those who tell a good story.

Storytellers

Whatever else we may be, we in the case world are storytellers. We believe in the power of a good story. But we also know that telling a good story is not enough.

socialmedia_000036648090That the moon is made of green cheese is a good story. So are Father Christmas and the tooth fairy. More concerning, the prejudices that breed fear of people who are unlike ourselves are often provoked and expressed through uncorroborated and unchallenged ‘good stories’. Uncorroborated and unchallenged because many people access their daily news and political commentary to social media sources whose algorithms promote stories that play to our preferences and biases

Academic rigour

handup_IMG_1910-3 (1)What makes we case-people different is that we also believe in the rigour of academic research and the testing of story against knowledge and well-researched experience.

The struggle to test and balance both theoretical and empirical understanding, and to challenge assumptions that students are forced to confront in classroom discussion, is the crucial difference between a story and a teaching case.

How are you going to approach working with cases, or materials that are case-like?

Simply telling a good story is never enough.

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Filed under Business education, Case method, Case teaching