Values, he observed, were being “politely bowed to, and then handed over to the clergy to be kept for Sundays.’”Whitehead wanted Harvard, and its business students, to develop an alternative perspective, studying societal change as part of their educational development.
In a lecture he presented in 1931, which later became a book, he cautioned against the “the fallacy of thinking of the business world in abstraction from the rest of the community.”He’s recognized for giving Donham and the case method some intellectual gravitas.
The case method, as a style of learning, asks students to imagine themselves in the role of the “protagonist” (typically the CEO) leading the firm profiled in the case.
They’re required to come to class prepared to make a solid argument for one course of direction, and then convince their peers of it, with rhetorical flair.
As the case method ramped up at Harvard, so too did the US economy and its corporate powers—until 1929.
Following the stock market crash of that year, amid mass unemployment, falling prices, and economic instability, public opinion of corporations and their profit-seeking motives naturally soured.In the book (Mac Millan, 1925), Whitehead advocates for “concrete appreciation of the individual facts in their full interplay of emergent values,” in any discussion of how societies should be organized.The modern world had developed “a creed of competitive business morality,” he wrote.Arguably, because the method has been so widely adopted by other schools, which tend to combine it with traditional lecture formats (at Harvard, it’s used almost exclusively), it’s come to be synonymous with business education itself.But the authors of a recent paper argue that Wallace Donham, the man credited with establishing the case method as a force at HBS in the 1920s, had evolving views of business education that have never been surfaced, and that contradict the sense that management lessons should be viewed through the narrow lens of the case study.As the authors report, the school’s founding dean, Edwin Gay, had adapted the case study method pioneered at Harvard’s law school, of which Donham was an alumnus.Under Gay, however, the school had struggled to find problems as fodder for course lessons.In the upheaval, he says, Donham saw the limits of the approach he had championed.Strangely, Donham’s apparent change of heart is not recognized in conventional histories of HBS and its iconic case method, according to Bridgman and his co-authors, management professors Stephen Cummings, a fellow professor at Victoria University, and Colm Mc Laughlin of the University College Dublin. He and his colleagues, whose work was published in the Academy of Management, propose that the case study, now central to the HBS brand and its revenue, has been given a convenient origin story that created a new, accepted truth.For additional discussion and links, see the Syracuse University Library Blog posting "Restricted Access to Harvard Business Review Articles".Even if you didn’t go to business school, you’ve probably heard of Harvard case studies and the Harvard case method, the pedagogical system of choice at one of the world’s most elite business schools.