The Case Method at the Harvard Business School: Papers by Present and Past Members of the Faculty and Staff

By Malcolm P. McNair | Go to book overview

Some observers have looked on the case method as merely an extension of the doctrines of progressive education, an application of the pragmatic approach, an opportunity for self-expression. It is not to be denied that there are points of analogy, in the emphasis on learning rather than teaching, in the responsibility placed on the individual to do his own thinking, in the recognition that there may be more than one answer to a situation. But a case teacher who looked only at these surface similarities and concluded that he need assume no responsibility after turning a class loose on a case would be decidedly out of step with the thinking of most members of the Harvard Business School Faculty. An expression of this thinking appears in the following paper by Malcolm P. McNair.*


Tough-Mindedness and the Case Method

MALCOLM P. MCNAIR

William James, a great teacher of philosophy at Harvard during the early years of this century, made the useful distinction between people who are "tough-minded" and people who are "tender-minded." These terms have nothing to do with levels of ethical conduct; the "toughness" referred to is toughness of the intellectual apparatus, toughness of the spirit, not toughness of the heart. Essentially it is the attitude and the qualities and the training that enable one to seize on facts and make those facts a basis for intelligent, courageous action. The tough-minded have a zest for tackling hard problems. They dare to grapple with the unfamiliar and wrest useful truth from stubborn new facts. They are not dismayed by change, for they know that change at an accelerated tempo is the pattern of living, the only pattern on which successful action can be based. Above all, the tough- minded do not wall themselves in with comfortable illusions. They do not rely on the easy precepts of tradition or on mere conformity to regulations. They know that the answers are not in the book.

There never was a time when this quality of tough-mindedness was more needed. We are in a new and strange kind of war. Just because the shooting war is no longer on the front pages, we shouldn't delude ourselves. The cold war is a real war. And we have been losing it, in Korea, in Indo-China, in the Middle East, in Africa, in South America, in the NATO countries. It would be tender-minded to assume that there is any possibility of peaceful cooperation with the

____________________
*
This paper is adapted from an address given on Feb. 25, 1953, at the first meeting of the executives registered for the 23d Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.

-15-

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