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The truth about the case method

3 Nov

In my life before Darden, I was a clinical social worker. In the simplest terms, I talked to people about their feelings. Better yet, I helped people to think about, understand, explore and learn about their feelings. Sometimes, a patient would ask me advice or ask for answers about an issue they were grappling with, and I’d reach into my handy dandy talking-to-people-about-their-feelings-toolbox and say “Well, what do you think?”

Fast forward to my 10th week at Darden. Picture this: I am sitting in (fill in the blank — finance, accounting, ops, etc) and my section is discussing a case. Prior to the afternoon before when I first started preparing the case and, later, when I thought about it when my learning team, I had not interacted, thought about–sometimes even heard about–the concepts that are critical to understanding the case at hand. With a whole, let’s say, 12 hours of exposure to this concept under my belt, I ask a question in class, to which my professor responds, “Well, what do you think?”

Sometimes I love it. Often, it drives me crazy. I think to myself, “I wish you would just tell me the answer.”

But that is not the Darden way. While looking at business schools, I had flashbacks of sitting in lecture halls, bored out of my wits, thinking that I’d probably find the material more interesting if only the class were more engaging. So, I chose Darden because of the case method. After all, what could be more engaging than a lively class discussion and the fear/anticipation/excitement of a possible cold call?

This afternoon, I spent several hours trying to figure out how to put together a financial forecast. “This would be so much easier if I had been taught to do this before actually trying to tackle this assignment,” was a thought that ran through my mind. That also is not the Darden way. Around here, we are given a team, given some resources, heck, sometimes we’re even given a hint, but we are expected to go out there and figure things out, struggle through it even, before we are given the final answer. It’s part of the learning experience. Hours of work (and frustration) later, I realize these are the type of challenges that will prepare me to be a better manager, prepare me to deal with ambiguity, enable me to be innovative and enterpreneurial and be an overall better manager.

“Well, what do you think?” It’s an interesting thing to now be on the receiving end of this question. I suppose it would have been easier to just tell my patients exactly what they should do and explain, through complex psychoanalytic reasoning, why they feel the way they do.

But, I knew then, as I know now, that the growth is in the journey and you simply have to “trust the process.”