I was trained as an engineer. I followed a path of fairly conventional academic coursework mostly consisting of lectures, problem sets, and exams. Problems generally had only one correct answer, and the method for finding the solution usually involved some amount of calculation.
Because of the emphasis on the case method approach, I knew from the outset that HBS would be very different, and I was not sure if it would suit me. As I wrapped up my time at business school, I considered how the once foreign case method influenced my experience. Upon reflection, I can comfortably say that it was among the primary reasons that HBS was such a transformative two years for me.
This style of learning has numerous benefits, but I particularly appreciated these three aspects.
1. The distinctive academic rhythm made the learning more meaningful
Each class session requires preparation in the form of reading the case and considering the questions that it poses. In the classroom, the discussion allows for each issue to be fully explored, and conversations frequently continue in an informal manner after class.
Because I learned from each case as the semester progressed, there was no need to cram at the end of the term. I was undoubtedly consumed throughout the academic year, but this steady pace of learning induced less stress over final exams, felt more gratifying, and ultimately bestowed more permanence to what I learned. Nowadays when I consider a problem, it is amazing how readily an analogous case I studied comes to mind, and how helpful it is to consider the lessons I learned from it.
2. I had the privilege of learning from my classmates
The case method depends on in-class participation. Each class session is fundamentally a debate centered on a decision point in the case. Through exploring various options, students effectively teach each other the merits and downsides of each course of action.
My classmates offered perspectives from an incredible diversity of cultural, functional, and industry backgrounds in a way that a single professor alone could not. For each class session, we as a class could make the discussion our own and decide which aspects of the case to examine; there was no script in the classroom.
I was always fascinated when I would talk to friends in other sections and hear that their discussion of the same case had taken a very different trajectory. Furthermore, the in-class experience helped me learn more about my classmates as individuals, uncovering shared interests and strengthening friendships. The people with whom I shared the HBS experience are among the most intelligent, talented, and engaged I have ever known, and I am so honored to have had the opportunity to learn from them.
3. I learned to take a position and express my thoughts in a convincing manner
Every student is expected to contribute his or her views on the case questions. All present have read the case, so comments must be insightful if they are to benefit the discussion. Since time is limited, comments cannot be long and meandering, and students have to track the fast-paced conversation, as they might be called upon to contribute at any time.
Although intimidating at first, practicing the skill of making impactful, succinct, and timely comments is highly rewarding. I can easily recall the anxiety I felt early in my time at HBS when I took a contradictory viewpoint in Finance and had to explain it in front of 90+ intelligent and engaged classmates.
As my MBA drew to a close, quickly crafting an argument then presenting it in front of the class felt natural and was something I looked forward to. Most importantly, however, I am confident that the communication skills I honed in class will serve me well wherever my career takes me.
Discovering a new way to explore a problem and consider possible solutions was rewarding in a way that I could not have anticipated. The case method might not be for everyone, but for me, it transformed the way I fundamentally think about learning, and I will always carry that with me.