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Opinion
Adrian Wooldridge

What Is Harvard Business School’s Secret Sauce?

A century after HBS’s case method made its debut, it still reminds us that professional education should, above all, be an education in judgment.

Case method HQ.

Case method HQ.

Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Harvard Business School is in the middle of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the case study teaching method, and is doing so with the aplomb that you would expect from the world’s richest business school. The campus is festooned with banners. A website features video lectures by celebrated professors. Forthcoming events include an exhibition in the Baker Library later this month, a Centennial Celebration Day on March 30th, and a colloquium on the future of case studies on May 31st.

I say “in the middle” because the celebration is continuing throughout the 2021-2 academic year. The first case study — “General Shoe Company” — was published in 1921. (It dealt with the perennially fascinating subject of what to do about the decline in workers’ productivity toward the end of their shifts.) The method was properly institutionalized in 1922, when the faculty voted to give it a name and 93 other universities decided to adopt the method. By 1923, two-thirds of the school’s courses were taught through cases.