One of the most effective and engaging learning tools I have used in more than 20 years of teaching graduate students is the case study method. This approach often brings about robust discussion, debate and dialogue and can lead to insights and experiences directly relevant to “real world” organizational issues, challenges, and problems.
Since case studies focus on fictional (or at least, anonymous) organizations, participants learn in what I call a “safe harbor” environment. That is, while the subject company isn’t “real”, the problem, issue or opportunity featured in the case is. Given this, students feel free to call out the characters in the case for their missteps (or worse) and to freely criticize decisions made, poor planning and/or flawed execution. It’s all fair game!
The real insight comes when the case is fully discussed, and next steps are articulated by each individual or group. That done, the discussion moves toward a more meaningful level: has something like this ever happened in your organization? If so, how was corrective action decided upon and implemented? What was the outcome?
In breaking down a case, it is useful to remember these three steps: What we know, what we think we know, and how we feel.
The first one is simple enough. What we know is fact-based: that is, we can point to data, numbers, statements, etc. as a point of fact. There is observable and/or documented evidence to support this.
The second, what we think we know, is useful, even necessary but a bit more nuanced. It is often rooted in deductive reasoning, intuition, and experience. That is, when these things occur in a certain sequence, the following tends to happen. Not a fact, but useful in decision making and creative problem solving.
Deductive reasoning is based on assumptions. That’s one reason why we make the recording of assumptions part of every strategy session. As we build out plans, it is critical to understand the foundation upon which these are build. Assumptions about the future are imperfect but important.
The third, how we feel is the most common denominator in forming arguments and making decisions, yet subjects often have difficulty coming to terms with this. Our rational side attempts to justify and defend decisions made while in this mode of thinking. We do this with data, facts, and common, relevant experience. Underneath it all, it may be that we simply don’t like a particular course of action, so we argue in defense of an alternative. Often, we do this subconsciously.
Creative thinking and problem solving are valuable skills essential in any sized organization. Case study exercises can facilitate learning and improving our ability to do this. And by separating the process into these three sections, what we know, what we think we know, and how we feel, more impactful recommendations and solutions can happen with increased dependability. For more information on ways to facilitate development of your team members, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.