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ATD Blog

Should B Schools Drop the Case Study?


Thu Apr 12 2012


Susan Cain, author of the best-selling Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, writes about people whose tendency toward solitary activity and quiet reflection marks them as having “a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” She asserts that society is held in thrall to the “Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.”

Cain, a former corporate lawyer and consultant, also observes that extroversion is the norm in many  kinds of leadership training, both as a way to behave in class and as a characteristic of model leaders. She writes that at Harvard Business School, the essence of leadership education is that “leaders have to act confidently and make decisions in the face of incomplete information”. Students are expected to debate and challenge each other in class. Cain notes that “If a student talks often and forcefully, then he’s a player; if he doesn’t, he’s on the margins.” Grades and social status are determined by how much a person speaks up. Professors trade tips on how to get students to talk more. This  approach makes sense in the prevailing U.S. business culture where verbal fluency and sociability are the two most important predictors of success, according to a Stanford Business School study, but is it the best or the only course?


Noel Tichy, Director of the Director of the Global Business Partnership and Professor of Management and Organization at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says no. “We stopped having students debate case studies years ago. Our action learning approach has students working in multicultural teams to solve live problems at real companies out in the field full-time for seven weeks with no other classes.” Teams of four to six students work closely with a partner company on “multidisciplinary action projects.”  Since 1992, MAP students have completed more than 1,500 projects at more than 700 organizations worldwide. Ross is the only U.S. business school using this approach.

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