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Expresso Lane to Global Market

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Cases
These are the most important materials on which to focus your attention. They are not written to “speed-read”; in fact, you need to read them very carefully. A case is not a story, but rather a description of a situation in which an actual decision-maker faced some difficult choices. Your task is to put yourself into that situation and decide what you would do. Most of the cases will be outside your realm of industry experience, so you will need the background information to get familiar enough with the situation to feel ready to make decisions.

As you have likely observed after reading the book on Learning with Cases, cases are written so that you get a pretty good idea of what your task is in the first paragraph or two of the case and then again in the last paragraph or two. I always read those first and I suggest you do too – just to see what the case is about. Then I suggest you look through the case quickly to see what kind of information is available to you – by quickly I mean a 5 minute scan of the whole thing. By this point you should know what faces you; for example, a decision about whether to enter a new market or whether to give a bank loan, etc.

The next step I suggest is to read the case thoroughly. If you’re reading your case on your laptop or tablet, you’ll want to highlight certain sections. If you choose to print your case, feel free to mark it up. Underline or highlight key information that may help you make a decision. Write notes in the margins, do calculations in the exhibits, etc.

It may be tempting to re-write case information in your own notes. If you do that, you will take a lot longer to get ready for class then if you write on the case itself where the information already is. Rewriting the case in your notes is NOT analysis; it is regurgitation. Commenting on what the case information means, is analysis. This is all about insights. The whole point of doing cases is to improve our ability to make good decisions. For example, the case may say that a product category is growing at 3% per year. If you simply wrote that in your notes, you haven’t brought any judgment to bear on this fact, you’ve just rewritten a fact. However, if you said that “a 3% growth rate is inadequate and maybe the market entry should be abandoned because the case also says that the company’s stated objectives to grow at 5% per year”, now you are bringing insight to case facts. You are addressing the “so what?” question that you should raise for every salient case fact.
Case assignments are not about doing research on your own. For example, don’t feel your challenge is to discover what the company actually did (we’ll usually tell you anyway in class). In fact, finding out what the company did will diminish your learning – you will tend not to consider alternatives to what they did. The disciplined examination of options is a valuable part of our learning process.

So what kind of notes should you keep? Your own case notes should be about the choices that face you. Write down what decisions you have to make. What are the arguments for choice A versus Choice B? Write those down too in any format that helps you make the required decisions. Your notes should contain your insights and conclusions. When you get to a small group discussion or to the class, your notes should remind you what you decided to do – and why – and that will mean you are ready to contribute to the discussion. As you’ll see, what you get out of a case discussion class is directly related to what you put in. By the way, you will add to your case notes in small group discussions and in class.

When is it time to stop preparing a case? A good case raises some very debatable questions about what to do. And some cases are quite complicated. So, when do you stop working on a case? One guideline is stop when you think you’ve got a plan of action that you feel reasonably comfortable with. Another guideline is stop when you realize you are simply “spinning your wheels in the mud” and making no progress. We don’t expect you to figure out everything yourself before group and class discussions. A third guideline is stop if you’ve put more than three hours into preparing the case (it probably means you are not making that much headway anyway).

2. Articles
Your faculty will provide you with lots of reference reading including articles and books and some of these can be speed-read. Articles are usually offered to you as supplementary learning and sometimes faculty even indicate whether an article is “assigned” or “optional”. Articles may or may not help you prepare your cases and unless otherwise told, I suggest you do the articles after you’ve prepared the cases – if you have time. Very seldom will you be tested on whether you read or remembered an article. Think of them as an opportunity for you to learn more if and when you can, not as a burden. These articles are usually a good addition to your personal library and I referred to them often after graduation.

3. Books
Chapters from books are usually more closely related to the class session learning objectives, but again, they are reference material. You should figure out whether you need to read the book material in order to do the case assignments. For example, the assigned chapter reading may help you do that calculation you need for a Finance case.

4. Websites, etc.
You may also be directed to check out online material. Again, use your discretion as to whether to do this and when.

As for the order of preparation of your assignments, please note that faculty do sequence their materials so that “session 3 builds on session 1 and 2”, so be mindful that you will build your abilities as you proceed and you shouldn’t prepare Accounting session 3 before 1 and 2 so to speak. Also, please don’t expect that you will have time to read your cases during Residence Week. You will be in class for most of the day, and then in the evenings, you’ll be meeting with your Learning Team to review the cases.

Final comments – If you are typical of most participants, your initial reaction to all this homework is a mixture of excitement and anxiety. Excitement about learning; anxiety about getting it all done. On the anxiety side, I suggest you remember that your classmates are probably feeling exactly the same way you do (everybody has been out of school for quite a while). When one starts a fitness program at the local gym, one shouldn’t expect to lift the heaviest weights on the first visit. All of us on the faculty and staff team are here to help you. If you are ever feeling overwhelmed, or unsure what to do, contact either your course faculty member or me. As a graduate of the program, I remember quite well my initial reaction to seeing this material for the first time. Please feel free to call me if you have any questions or concerns.

I look forward to seeing you at the Pre-EMBA tutorial on January 31st!

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