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But, Bridgman writes, “curiously absent [in historical accounts] are other, relevant aspects of both his thinking and his relationship with Donham.”In snippets of Donham’s writing, we see how his opinions overlapped with Whitehead, with whom he met for long Saturday afternoon discussions.
Enright et al., “Daewoo and the Korean Chaebol,” University of Hong Kong case no.
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.
“Daewoo and the Korean Chaebol.” University of Hong Kong case no.
HKU143 (University of Hong Kong, August 2001), via Harvard Business Publishing, accessed March 2007.
Referencing the French philosopher Michel Foucault, they suggest that in such cases, the “truth” about a historical event is actually driven by present-day concerns, but that it becomes, as Foucault wrote, “the sort of error that cannot be refuted because it [has been] hardened into an unalterable form in the long baking process of history.”Bridgman and his colleagues’ intriguing counter-history of HBS begins when Donham arrives in 1919, becoming its second dean.
The school was only 11 years old then, but it was already using what it called “problem solving” as a method for learning—to a degree.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.His support of hands-on training thus bolstered Donham’s approach to teaching business at a time when the academic community was questioning whether the school even belonged on its campus.However, the great thinker also worried about the era’s preoccupation with capital and material goods.Whitehead is now best known as the originator of “process philosophy,” which, put most simply, posits that reality is comprised of a series of interconnected events, or becomings, rather than fixed “matter.” Among other issues, this worldview is concerned with “the relationship between mind and world, and the realization of values in action,” according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Whiteheld held strong convictions about what education should be.Specifically, he “rejected any distinction between abstract and practical knowledge,” Bridgman and his fellow researchers note.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.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.