Cases have a usefulness that extends beyond the walls of the classroom; they can be addressed to business executives as well as to students. Thus, from a fairly early point in the development of case collecting at the Harvard Business School, cases were conceived to be a method of business research as well as a medium of instruction. In the paper that follows, Andrew R. Towl recounts some of the experiences with the use of cases in project research and shows how the concept has evolved.
ANDREW R. TOWL
Cases are useful not only for instruction but also for research purposes. As a research tool, the case method is opening new ways to better understanding of administration. To illustrate what this research method is, its evolution at the Harvard Business School is briefly reviewed, with comments on some of the characteristics which make it widely applicable to the study of administrative situations.
The idea that cases might be useful for research as well as for instruction appeared early in the thinking of the Business School Faculty. Dean Donham in the first article in the first issue of the Harvard Business Review1 gave attention to the use of cases for both purposes:
Unless we admit that rules of thumb, the limited experience of the executives in each individual business, and the general sentiment of the street are the sole possible guides for executive decisions of major importance, it is pertinent to inquire how the representative practices of businessmen generally may be made available as a broader foundation for such decisions, and how a proper theory of business is to be obtained.
. . . [The] reasons which have led us to the present technique of presenting cases to the classroom, under which conclusions are generally omitted, limit the use of case books for businessmen. The executive finds that other people have faced problems like his own, but he gets no light from their experience.
While the cases in our present case books have a value as teaching material in advance of anything which we have been able to supply through lectures or texts of the ordinary sort, there is need of further developments in the technique of presenting business situations. . . . Isolated business cases have been published with their solutions in various places, but the number of such cases which have been worked out with the detail necessary, if they are to be useful for solving executive problems arising in the future, is lamentably small