The Division’s Teaching Committee asked outstanding strategy teachers to describe some of their innovative teaching. This post features Professor Jeffrey T. Macher (link to webpage), interviewed on behalf of the Teaching Committee by Assistant Professor Hakan Ener (link).
Jeffrey (“Jeff”) T. Macher is Professor of Strategy, Economics and Public Policy in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He is also the Academic Director of Georgetown’s Center for Business and Public Policy.
Jeff teaches the “Firm Analysis and Strategy” course at Georgetown’s MBA program, together with departmental colleagues Chris Rider and Nathan Miller. Their course highlights a growing trend among business school faculty, which is the move to use “caselets” as a basis for classroom discussion and learning. Jeff explained why and how he uses caselets in a recent interview.
Caselets are stories from business publications that explain situations faced by companies. These stories may come from a wide variety of published sources, including:
- Newspapers (e.g. the Wall Street Journal)
- General-interest business magazines (e.g. Fortune)
- Industry-specific magazines (e.g. Motor Trend)
- Government publications (e.g. The Federal Trade Commission Press Releases)
Caselets are typically a few pages in length, and free of charge for the students who read them as part of a course.
- How are caselets used in the classroom for teaching strategy?
Jeff and his colleagues use multiple caselets in most of their class sessions in the “Firm Analysis and Strategy” course. They often select the caselets to provide complementary facts and analyses of a common issue faced by companies. The companies mentioned in the caselets assigned for the same class may be either competing within the same industry, or may be from different industries where similar managerial challenges and opportunities arise.
For example, prior to a session focusing on company resources and capabilities, the students read caselets on Disney’s ability to earn revenues for many years from its core content (the characters in Disney productions), as well as the fast-fashion company Zara’s capabilities that yield competitive advantage. The caselets are complemented by an article from the Harvard Business Review (“Competing on Resources”) that sets the overarching framework for the class discussion. The discussion then focuses on how the resources and capabilities mentioned in the caselets help to generate superior performance.
In another session on managing companies in extremely competitive industries, the students prepare by reading caselets about mobile phone and low-cost laptop manufacturers, as well as semiconductor chip producers. The discussion explores the choices that senior executives must make about how much to produce, and how to remain profitable in the face of fierce competition in these industries.
Jeff explains that they still use full-length case studies in some of their sessions while they have increased the use of caselets over the past years.
- What are the advantages of working with caselets?
From the students’ perspective, caselets provide a much broader exposure to companies, industries and regions around the world, for each subject featured in the course. Moreover, they are easier to read (few pages each), free of charge, and provide really “fresh” content. Because Jeff and his colleagues update their caselet archive continuously, some of the examples discussed in class are very recent, even unfolding in real time on the day of class. This is an important difference compared to using full-length case studies that tend to describe situations that occurred at least a year ago, where some of the students may already know what subsequently happened.
Imagine a classroom discussion taking place during the holiday shopping season, focusing on how competition for market share drives some executives to make irrational strategic decisions, including a recent caselet on how prices have recently been dropping on Amazon. With the events taking place in real time, and no “case solution” to speak of, students are likely to engage more actively with the decisions faced by executives in the industry.
With real-time caselets, course exams also become more engaging for students as they conduct a deep analysis of a current business situation under time pressure. Typically, one of their tasks during the exam is to figure out what additional information beyond the caselet would enable them to reach adequate conclusions on a specific managerial challenge, and how they would use that information. This is very different from working with full-length case studies, where students expect to receive all relevant information.
For faculty members interested in experimenting with the use of caselets, Jeff recommends starting to build a collection of interesting articles from business publications, organized around themes that correspond to their own course outline.
In order to see the topics that Jeff and his colleagues explain with caselets, please see their course description at: https://goo.gl/ZcRbSK