Celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the HBS Case Method

It has been 100 years since the introduction of the case method at Harvard Business School (HBS). Dean Srikant Datar of HBS celebrates this important milestone, reflecting on the origins, value, and legacy of the HBS Case Method.

In short

The birth of the HBS Case Method

The very first Harvard Business School case study was from General Shoe Company, published in 1921.

“It was written at a time when management education was still quite new, and the US was struggling with industrialization, urbanization, and corruption,” Dean Datar explains. (00:45)

Founded 13 years ealier, Harvard Business School did not yet have a distinct method of teaching. However, Srikant’s predecessor, Dean Wallace Dunham, saw a great opportunity to teach business education through discussion instead of lecture.

“His visionary approach has not only endured for a century here at HBS, but also had an impact on hundreds of other business schools, thousands of companies, and millions of managers around the world,” Datar states. “I think it’s fair to say that the case method has withstood the test of time.” (01:28)

Learning how to learn: The value of the HBS Case Method

Over the course of the two-year MBA program at HBS, students read 500 cases. They are catapulted into leadership positions where they must solve complex problems and make decisions with limited information. Bringing students together from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures inevitably leads to life-changing experiences and significant growth. 

Datar elaborates, “The case method enables students to learn, to interpret and analyze information, consider alternatives, decide on a plan of action, and persuade others about their point of view. Students learn how to learn, to practice drilling down to the root cause of issues, asking questions and listening to others’ viewpoints.” (01:53)

The legacy of the HBS Case Method

The HBS Case Method has come a long way since the General Shoe Company case study. Today, HBS lists more than 20,000 cases ranging across disciplines – from accounting to business ethics to negotiation. Students graduate from HBS with the globally-oriented, future-forward skills and knowledge they need to succeed in today’s workplace.

Dean Datar states, “[The HBS Case Method] educates for judgment at a moment when business leaders are being asked to help address society’s most pressing problems – economic inequality, a global pandemic, and a changing climate. These skills are more vital than ever.” (02:22)

He concludes, “While cases may look different in the future – embracing more interactive technologies [and] incorporating more real-time information – the fundamental approach of discussion, debate, and deliberation undoubtedly will last well into the next century, too.” (02:44)

Join us in celebrating 100 years of the HBS Case Method!

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