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Why case studies shouldn’t be taken literally

I’ve always had a problem with Harvard and other academic organizations’ ‘case studies’ approach to learning how to lead and run a business. The problem is that people treat it as a blueprint. There’s the other problem which is it takes them so long to produce the case studies that the company has changed a lot. And is producing a case study of a company now, at this moment, when you don’t know how successful they will be seen to have been from the future (you still with me?) a valid thing to do? You know where I’m going here – Enron was a Harvard case study.

So, anyway, when I try explaining to colleagues that I have reservations about using case studies as training material because people get hung up in the particularities, the detail, which is non-transferable, and that we should tell stories, yes, about what companies do, but don’t be naive enough to think that if you present enough facts, figures, analysis, charts, graphs, cobbled together as a case study then you have done something scientific.

You haven’t.

As usual, Seth Godin explains it better than me. They’re analogies (stories in other words), stoopid, he says.

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