Informing Business: Research and Education on a Rugged Landscape

Informing Science
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Informing Science
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Dec 31, 2010
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 There are a number of marvelous books that address the topic
of the case method. If you are interested in facilitating cases, you can look
to the classic book Teaching and the Case
Method by Louis Barnes, C. Roland Christensen and Abby Hansen (1994). The collection of
essays on the subject, Education for
Judgment: The Artistry of Discussion Leadership by C. Roland Christensen,
David Garvin and Ann Sweet (1991) is a wonderful and
inspiring read as well. If your interest is case-based research, it would be
nearly impossible to find a more authoritative source than Robert Yin’s (2009, 4th
Edition) Case Study Research: Design and
Methods, which (at last count) has been cited nearly 29,000 times,
according to Google Scholar. There is even a new entry to
the field, William Ellet’s (2007) The
Case Study Handbook: How to Read, Discuss, and Write Persuasively about Cases
that is specifically aimed at the student. At first glance, then, the topic of
case studies in education and research seems to be pretty well covered. Do we
really need another book on the subject?

I write this book believing the answer is yes. While I have
great affection for the classics, there are a number of issues facing most business faculty—not to mention
faculty members from disciplines outside of business—that these books simply do
not address. In writing this book, my intention is to offer some thoughts on
some of these. Paradoxically, these omissions arise from the very fact that the
authors of the classics are undisputed masters of their craft. Why this is a
problem should become clear as I identify the three areas of focus for this

The first issue that I feel must be considered is using the
case method with a novice audience. Consider the following. When I was enrolled
in the MBA program at Harvard Business School (HBS) in the early 1980s, the
curriculum consisted of nearly 900 case discussion (15 per week) and—perhaps—as
many as 20 class periods given over to lecture-style presentations. When I
teach a case-method graduate course at my own institution, on the other hand, I
am constrained to 11 case discussions (a 12 week semester). As it happens, I am
also the only course in the entire program that employs pedagogy reasonably
faithful to the case method, as it is normally defined. The math is very
simple. By the last day of my semester, my students have as much experience
discussing cases as I did on Thursday afternoon of the first week of my two
year MBA program at HBS. With the exception of faculty teaching at those rare
institutions that have chosen to widely adopt the case method, the situation I
face is commonplace.

The second concern that existing books raise for me is their
tendency to focus on isolated topics. Specifically, case facilitation, case
writing and case research are treated as separable activities. I would argue
that these three aspects of the case method—which I define quite broadly—are
inseparable. For institutions that wish to achieve the full set of benefits
provided by the case method, all three activities must be pursued in parallel.
Perhaps this is why so few institutions have achieved success through the case
method. In this book, I will argue that achieving such integration is precisely
why those rare institutions have been so

Once you start believing that the case method can be a key
to institutional success, how you get there becomes a real challenge. At
leading institutions featuring the case method, such as HBS, the philosophy is largely
learned through a period of apprenticeship. For example, I did not encounter
any of the references mentioned in the first paragraph—excepting Yin—at any time during my 5 year
doctorate at HBS. Instead, I went out and wrote cases, facilitated discussions
and did research under the guidance of faculty members who were masters of the
craft. How can someone without the benefit of such an experience acquire such
mastery? While I cannot offer any promises in this regard, I will at least
provide some examples and easy-to-follow checklists that may be of service to
individuals getting started.

Over the past decade, Vietnam has become a major player in the rapidly growing region of Southeast Asia. Anyone who has visited the country has sensed the extraordinary energy of its commercial activities. Few outsiders, however, have been granted access to the individual decision making processes that have driven this rapid development. With the publication of this book, that situation has changed. The ten discussion cases included in the collection examine important choices facing Vietnamese decision-makers in a broad range of contexts. Examples of these contexts include: a locally developed ERP considers how to compete with much larger international players, a coffee shop examines how IT might be harnessed to address employee theft, a burgeoning eCommerce site that leads in book sales wonders what it should sell next, an IT manager tries to decide whether or not to risk failure by accepting a promotion to a new level, a textile manufacturer seeks to use IT to more effectively manage production, a local investment company attempts to redesign its portal, and the list goes on--and even includes one entry from Vietnam's neighbor, Thailand. The ten case studies provided in this book are all open, authentic, discussion cases. What makes them open is that none of them have a "right" answer--although each has strong and weak responses to the situation described. They are authentic because each has been meticulously researched by its authors and, with the exception of some of the names (which have been disguised), they describe an actual situation faced by the key decision-maker. Most importantly, what makes them discussion cases is the fact that they are specifically optimized for use as a basis for discussion in the classroom, the teaching technique known as the case method.
Stuart Kauffman here presents a brilliant new paradigm for evolutionary biology, one that extends the basic concepts of Darwinian evolution to accommodate recent findings and perspectives from the fields of biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics. The book drives to the heart of the exciting debate on the origins of life and maintenance of order in complex biological systems. It focuses on the concept of self-organization: the spontaneous emergence of order that is widely observed throughout nature Kauffman argues that self-organization plays an important role in the Darwinian process of natural selection. Yet until now no systematic effort has been made to incorporate the concept of self-organization into evolutionary theory. The construction requirements which permit complex systems to adapt are poorly understood, as is the extent to which selection itself can yield systems able to adapt more successfully. This book explores these themes. It shows how complex systems, contrary to expectations, can spontaneously exhibit stunning degrees of order, and how this order, in turn, is essential for understanding the emergence and development of life on Earth. Topics include the new biotechnology of applied molecular evolution, with its important implications for developing new drugs and vaccines; the balance between order and chaos observed in many naturally occurring systems; new insights concerning the predictive power of statistical mechanics in biology; and other major issues. Indeed, the approaches investigated here may prove to be the new center around which biological science itself will evolve. The work is written for all those interested in the cutting edge of research in the life sciences.
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