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How Much Difference

It is a phenomenon that, by now, should be well known. Still early in the reading, your eyes complete the last words on Page One of whatever case the evening brings. You have become acquainted with what the protagonist had for breakfast (a bagel with jam and peanut butter), know whether or not she is an HBS grad (probably, as there is only one other “top tier business school on the banks of the Charles”), and know already that you have no interest in whatever widget she is trying to sell, fund, manufacture, or inspire her employees to make cheaper. Your eyes drift casually over the President and Fellows of Harvard line, double check to see that the case was not written by YOUR professor, and bend back the cover. That is when you know whether you are going to (a) have a good night’s reading or (b) say good night to the reading, because in that moment, during that simple act of turning the page, the most important case fact is revealed.

Did they staple it right?
Did they get it just so, where the staples are right along the seam, so that you can bend it back over with (a) minimal effort and (b) minimal disfigurement. Heavy emphasis on the minimal effort part. Because while reading about semiconductor manufacturing process variability can be mind numbing, I’ll take it over mind-numbing AND totally annoying.

Seriously, how poorly a case has been stapled is a key indicator of my likeliness to read past page one (assuming that I have indeed read page one.) In TOM speak:

P(reading past page 1)|(already read page one) = F(the stapling job)
It baffles me how it is that some are so perfect, and some so shabby. I have tried, since last year, to find a pattern. I can find none. Sometimes the long cases are bad, sometimes not. Sometimes the short cases are horrible, often though, they pass. Here is what I have been able to deduce:

1) Managing service operations: Cases by Frei staple poorly almost two-to-one over cases by Edmonson Then again, cases by Frei in the curriculum outnumber cases by Edmonson by two-to-one as well. Maybe I need to take the optional data analysis part of that course.

2) First year marketing and second year Consumer marketing: Cases with color pictures: poor; cases without: better; cases from Insead, Stanford, or other schools: horrible.

3) Fin 1: Unrepresentative given that there was only one case over 2 pages and that was not my night for the write up.

4) Operations strategy: Though I have only read past the first page on two occasions, so far they are batting 1000. Best. Staples. Ever.
I can only conclude that either (a) Harvard Press has hired that Dief guy to manage the stapling line, (b) foldability is not one of their key performance indicators, or (c) I am the only one who cares or has noticed. Then again, squeaky wheels seem to get greased around here.

Witness, if you will, the quilted 2 ply in the dorm bathrooms these days. Asses everywhere are rejoicing, and soon, both of you who still read the middle part of cases will be to. Rejoicing that is.

November 3, 2003
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