The case method is a cornerstone of the HBS pedagogical
method. During their time at HBS, students will step into the shoes of 500
different case protagonists – and learn how to make difficult, critical
decisions with limited information. Case protagonists visiting class (and
providing insight into a particular decision making process) is often a
highlight of the HBS curriculum.
Elliott Davis is one of the many students who has
benefited from such insights. Elliott came to HBS after four years at IBM
doing social business and digital marketing consulting. Though he loved what he
did, he pursued an MBA to prepare to do what he loved. Next year, he’ll be joining
Samsung’s global strategy consulting group in Seoul.
What’s it like to
learn through the case method?
The case method is, hmm… Nervousness. Confidence.
Inspiration. Entertainment. And so many other glittery words. It is nervousness
and confidence at once because of the huge responsibility we feel to share our
relevant work experiences with the class, and the authority bestowed on each of
us for having said experiences. Moreover, I dare you to try and sit through an
entire case discussion without being totally inspired by your seatmate’s successes
or professor’s knowledge. I dare you to try to go a full 80 minutes without
laughing or applauding. I bet you can’t.
What is a case
HBS cases all revolve around a decision some leader at an
organization must make to address a challenge or set a strategy or respond to
shareholders or build a business (or any other business-related situation).
Those leaders are called case protagonists, and they could be CEOs, Presidents,
board members, analysts, you name it.
How often do case
protagonists visit class?
The best part about HBS teaching the cases that it writes is
that the school now has a personal relationship with the case protagonists.
They even come to class sometimes! I wouldn’t say that there’s a hard and fast
rule for how often protagonists come to class, but it’s pretty frequent. It
varies by class, of course, but I’ve had four protagonists come visit (with two
more Skyping in) over the last three weeks.
Why do you think case
protagonist visits are an important part of the HBS experience?
As great as the case method is at distilling key messages
and presenting important information, it is also nice to simply be quiet and
soak up a protagonist’s wisdom. Yes, we can ask questions, but I thoroughly
enjoy the first few minutes with them where they tell us how they “made it” - whether
that be by 50% luck or 100% luck (as the story usually goes). They talk about
their daily routines and lessons they’ve learned along the way. They tell us
about their failings and their setbacks, something every HBS student longs to
hear so that we feel that we’re still “on track” haha.
Who have been your
favorite protagonists who have visited?
Two protagonists stand out to me as being particularly
memorable. First, Greg Glassman, creator of CrossFit, came to class and blew
all of our minds with his passion. His no-nonsense, matter-of-fact, cynical
view on the world of fitness was… jaw-dropping. I enjoyed hearing him so much
that I also joined a lunch he was speaking at after class ended.
Second, Jon Claude Biver, titan of the Swiss watch industry
and revitalizer of such watch brands as Blancpain, Tag Heuer, and Hublot, was
my favorite protagonist by a longshot. He spoke about love and passion being
the only two things you need in this world – and mentioned that a passion can
be chosen, but a love cannot.
What advice do you
have for prospective students who are considering applying to HBS?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret…if you want to
come here, be a good person. No, you don’t have to sign up for a mission trip
or feed orphans, even though that would be awesome if you have the time...it’s
easier than that.
It’s being kind. It’s being ethical and acting with
integrity. It’s being respectful and grateful to others. It’s enjoying the
presence of people and giving as much knowledge as you plan to take. Practice