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

The following paper presents the observations made by a research assistant on the work of the case writer. To a certain extent it is a commentary on some of the suggestions made by Professor Culliton in the course of his paper "Writing Business Cases." The material reproduced here is taken from the essay submitted by John Fayerweather, then a research assistant, in the competition of 1947-48 referred to on page 76.


The Work of the Case Writer JOHN FAYERWEATHER

The function of the research assistant is to produce cases. It is not his part to establish teaching objectives. But in the frequent conferences between the case writer and the professor the teaching objectives and the means of achieving them necessarily are always in the background.

The job of the research assistant is not unlike that of the television cameraman. He must poke about the business world, picking subjects, choosing views, and bringing them into focus for the inspection of the students. The story of the growth of a case from inception to completion is the story of the case writer's work.

When looking for a case which will pose a specific problem, it is natural to seek out a company to which that problem is of genuine concern. For instance, when a case on foreign trade-mark protection was needed, the quickest and most obvious solution was to approach an export executive who had written several articles on the subject. He was glad to help, and he narrated an interesting experience on which to base the case. But the weakness here was as patent as the gain. In his awareness of the dangers of trade-mark piracy and in the protective policies which he had devised, the executive was far in advance of many of his competitors. Thus the case, though excellent in most respects, may have given the students an unrealistic picture of actual business practice.

The case writer's job is especially difficult when the company is having a hard time solving the particular problem. The natural tendency for the researcher is to avoid such situations, partly out of consideration for the feelings of the company executives and partly out of a desire to simplify his own work. But business life must not be represented as a bed of roses; hence the case writer does seek out such companies. It is a great credit to American businessmen that so many of them are willing to bare their toughest problems in order that young men may profit from their experiences.

-270-

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