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January 29, 2008

Case Study or Decision Brief?

Jill Stoddard
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BusinessWeek’s recent article on the pros of CBS’s new decision briefs opens up an interesting question: What is the best way to teach students to handle tough, real-world decisions?

According to the article, decision briefs — pioneered by experts here at CBS — have a leg up on the case study in doing this. Decision briefs provide students with less information than a standard case study and require them to come up with strategies.

“We want our students to be used to dealing with incomplete data,” Dean Hubbard was quoted in the article. “They should be able to make decisions out of uncertainty.”


by Osifo Akhuemonkhan | January 29, 2008 at 6:41 PM

Decision Brief hands down! Unlike the case study method, decision briefs seem like a way to put the students in the drivers seat as opposed to giving them a retrospective view on scenarios. Hence it helps the students build on another quality (besides good decision making) all successful managers should possess - resourcefulness. An individual with an MBA should be more analytical than the average smart person on the street. Affording business students the same opportunity as the protagonist i.e., placing them in the same situation with incomplete data/information, will help them become more analytical of the problem hence more resourceful. This approach will definitely create better (not good) decision makers.

by Ben Richey | January 29, 2008 at 6:42 PM

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Business Week article, "The Case Against Case Studies." Columbia's shift toward an ambiguous decision-making environment with less than perfect information in a real-world setting is precisely what jumped out at me when I researched MBA programs and my primary motivation for applying. I can only speak from personal experience as an officer in the Army, but I can think of no real-world decision-making situation of any magnitude that does not require mental and operational flexibility and agility. Decision-makers NEVER have perfect or complete information, but they develop and execute the best plan they can none-the-less with the time, resources and information they have available, and adjust as necessary ... which is why more often we call them leaders. Every business school I researched purported to develop leadership skills, and that I'm sure they do to varying degrees. However, it seems to me that CBS has incorporated to a greater extent than other programs the most important and obvious learning tool a student who aspires to lead can benefit from - reality, and the more the better.

by Kabir Ahuja | January 29, 2008 at 8:35 PM

I think that a blend of the two is necessary in order to get a full range of learnings. From case studies you learn how to analyze situations and pick out the important driving forces; however, decision briefs give students a feel for how to make choices based on incomplete data, an equally important skill. I think it will be really interesting to see how this initiative plays out in the long term - I suspect that both types of cases will be used to build a full range of skills.

by Christian | January 30, 2008 at 2:09 AM

It's great to see innovation with the curriculum at CBS. I want to see Dean Hubbard push the envelope even further. I'd like to see MBA students helping to create the decision briefs and learning more lessons directly from leading companies and entrepreneurs. The business environment is changing so rapidly that, as Kravis says, "I want to see MBAs who can jump in and make decisions, not jump in and learn to make decisions."

by Young Hee An | January 30, 2008 at 8:22 AM

Everyday we make decisions based on incomplete information. Case studies are an excellent method of teaching MBA students, but required some tinkering in order to better keep current with the trends in the industry. Such change should have been made earlier, but sadly there was not a great deal of effort. I welcome Columbia's decision to listen to executives in the field and alter their traditional means of education in order to better prepare future business people.

by Giedrimas | January 30, 2008 at 10:48 AM

As an applicant to CBS, I truly enjoyed the BW article. During my research of the schools to apply to, I was also pleased with Columbia's ability to challenge students by providing space and time filled with incomplete information. It seems like CBS is taking its teaching methodology to the whole new level among other schools, which is exciting and welcome.

by Hayley Goldsmith | February 18, 2008 at 3:51 AM

We need not to try to take a narrow view of what case studies are all about. Yes, well done for CBS for developing their teaching materials to suit the demands of their students, but it does seem that US schools need expand their resources of cases and see that not all case studies out there are in the traditional style. The Case Clearing House (www.ecch.com) distributes a wide variety of case studies from all over the world: case studies that are short with incomplete information, case studies that involve complete negotiation exercises, interactive and multi-media case studies, video case studies, case studies that come with student assessment, localised case studies, case studies in various languages and of course the traditional case study.

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