(This is an entry for The Great Indian B School Debate.)

Name – Karthik Ram

Team Name – Cornflakes, anyone?

Team Members – Karthik Ram and Dipayan Sinha

B-school – Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore

Refuting the article – http://insideiim.com/case-study-a-way-of-life/

My compliments to Ms. Merh for her lucid account of that stickiest of ingredients of management education: the case method. No conversation about production systems seems complete without paying tribute to The Toyota Way and one must say the case method seems to have attained a similar standing in the context of management education. Ms. Merh does present a rather rosy picture of a wonderfully practical group exercise producing managers who are truly prepared to handle the tricky business of doing business in the real world and indeed the system does have its positives. However, must it be the “way of life” she suggests? I’m not quite so sure.

Getting into B school is, of course, no joke. A rigorous process where the smartest kids go through aptitude tests, applications, interviews and what have you, passing through the most unforgiving of filters and finally displaying one’s competence (or not) in valuation by taking on a ridiculous loan burden (with the possible exception  of those genii who chose to join FMS). It is then but natural that one expects the closest thing to management nirvana at the end of the entire process.

This is the age of Elon Musk, the age of disruption and selling an unimaginable future. In this era, it is understood that one has to innovate to survive, and win. Technology is changing rapidly and so is the customer. To stay ahead, or even on top of these changes, I would think reading is imperative. Reading, not just the news and share prices, but about new ideas and evolving research. Twitter puts all this great innovation at our fingertips but wait, our fingers are occupied, rifling through cases about middle aged executives staring out of their office windows. These cases, even the so-called “classics”, are steeped in time and in a certain context with some data points being more important than others. So now, what you have is the brightest minds looking to beat their friends (some call it competition) to saying “The case says xxxx” while 25 hands fly in the air and 40 other heads nod off. It is said that cases simulate reality but the sad truth, in my opinion, is that they simulate a reality whose time has passed. Moreover, years of conditioning and “doing what Harvard does” has ensured that facilitators attach Biblical importance to “case facts”. Facilitators, usually lifelong academics, often have a set way of analysing a case and so points that may serve as fodder for an enlightening discussion, often fall by the wayside because they don’t “fit into the plan”. Let alone contributions that seek to make discussions relevant to the present and future, even relevant macro variables are often considered persona non grata. This is, in my opinion, a colossal mistake. There may admittedly be exceptions but honestly, it is rather sad that a large majority of B school graduates have similar patterns of thinking, often by nurture, not necessarily nature.

Ok, that’s one level of surrender, disruption may not be our thing. But surely, B school can make leaders and decision makers out of us. That may, however, not be the “case”. Cases certainly do hone our analytical skills. Numeracrobatics, frameworks… Now, these are great and right up our comfort zone but can we say the same thing about decision making? Again, there may be exceptions, but most case discussions seem to conclude with no decision being arrived at. The argument, quite rightly, is that there may be no right answer but surely, 70 intelligent individuals (including the Prof) can arrive at a consensus based on the discussion. Such a consensus with a group reflection on the possible repercussions of the decision might be useful. Else, it would be quite unfair on the part of the academic community to bemoan the loss of brilliant students to consulting. Frankly the traditional case method is “made for consultants”. The fuzzy future of strategy consulting is a debate for another day, I reckon.

What is the alternative, you ask? Simulation games work great for certain functions; live client projects would be absolutely fabulous. But I believe what B schoolers really need is more time! To read, to think, to discuss, to create and to LISTEN! The constant, never-ending race against time that every B schooler relates to so readily, has seen excellence being compromised (and made this article even more unreadable than it already is). Some of our peers bring in great experience from jobs they held earlier and life itself. So too, our professors. The jury really is out on how well we are actually tapping and adding to this treasure trove of knowledge. Oh, this might just help:

Brief cases

Brief cases1

Just kidding? Maybe not.