Reflecting on a Case

The article is geared towards RCs and discusses my techniques for learning from the case method.

For RCs, this is the first month of experiencing the case method of instruction. There has been a great deal of emphasis placed on preparing the case. This makes sense because without an adequate grasp of the situation and facts that will be discussed in class, no meaningful understanding can be reached. To support this effort, there was even a workshop on how to prepare a case more efficiently. This gets the learning process kicked off very well and the professors do an excellent job of orchestrating the classroom, but often many of my fellow classmates are unsure of what to do after class.

In my search to find an answer, the most often response I have come across is that ‘reflection’ÿis a good way to develop insight into the main teaching intention of a case. I am not exactly sure what that is and unless I attend a seminar on it, I doubt I will achieve some spontaneous flourishing of appreciation for what I spent 80 minutes experiencing. In my desire to have something more concrete, I’ve developed a method that contains three main steps: generalizing the ‘take away’; evaluating it within the context of prior experience; and summarizing a judgment of those evaluations.

Generalizing the takeaway primarily means reducing the solution, concept or framework suggested in class and stripping away the specific, and often confusing information. Limit the number of overarching themes to a maximum of two. Otherwise, you will become overwhelmed in the next step. Take the idea of cycle time in TOM. In most of the cases, it involves a factory, which I have no practical knowledge of. I can generalize this by replacing the factory with my kitchen and the ‘widgets’ with pancakes. Another example would be self-managed teams. Ignore the company and the situation from the case. Hold onto the idea of “people running themselves”. This is general enough to apply to previous experience. Given enough creativity any concept can be simplified to make it further applicable to an assortment of settings that you have experienced.

Step two is to take this generalized concept and evaluate it against situations that you have already experienced. For “people running themselves”, one of my relevant memories was of an undergrad team project in which the group was randomly assigned with no leader. The lack of leadership caused a diffusion of responsibility and near the deadline we rushed to get the project done with subpar results. I was very unhappy with the experience and felt that it would have been much more productive to have a clear project head that can take control and keep us on schedule.

This was one occurrence where the concept derived in step one was pertinent. Next, and still within step two, I would iteratively take the concept and apply it to every relevant memory I have. This is necessary to maintain internal consistency in my current body of knowledge. The last thing I want to do is believe this new framework can explain the world when if I thought about it a little more I would have realized it is mostly ineffective.

After performing this mental scrutiny, I can now make a judgment and decide if this concept is better than what I already knew. The reality is that it does not matter what I determine at this point, the answer is “it depends”. By having understood the frame-work and applying it to my own experiences, I now thoroughly appreciate it and can speak of it with some level of confidence. I can validly say, “Based on my prior experiences I do not believe that self-managed teams are a valid replacement for centralized leadership, except in highly unique circumstances.”

To briefly recap: I’ve taken the case and class discussion then whittled it down to a theory I actually understand; thought about how I could have used it, had I known about it in the past; then decided where it fits within my existing hierarchy of knowledge.

This process may seem daunting and it might be until it becomes second nature, but it is one way of logically approaching that vague idea known as learning. It is my sincerest hope that this method proves beneficial to some of you. Feel free to reach out with questions and comments.

Christofer Garner is a member of New Section J. He is currently trying to establish a new student club based on Decision Theory.