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Use Case Studies to Practice Decision Making

Harvard Business School recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first business case used at as part of the management program. Quite the feat. More impressively, these case studies are constantly being developed and re-written to keep up with today's challenges. I've read many of them and had to discuss and defend them while working towards my MBA.

These are a tool you can - and should - use as well. It is a safe way to practice critical thinking skills. You can use already existing ones (provided you pay for their use) or you can create your own.

Here is how you do it:

  • Determine a specific situation you want to create where there are multiple options an individual could select.

  • Provide the details, using fictional characters. Give enough details to identify the problem, but not too many to lead people to an obvious conclusion - if one exists.

  • Have a concluding action - ask readers to decide what to do.

  • Create a discussion and debate. Done well, the case study has several potential moves that could be made, and each person has to decide and defend why their decision is the best one. Note I don't say the right one. These should not have a "right" answer.

Once you've got one written, ask the team to read it and have a discussion on what they would do. If everyone seems to agree, take the opposite position to get them to think and defend themselves.

This is a great way to practice decision making, what data did you have, what data could you use, who are the key stakeholders, etc. Don't just settle for an "answer", ask why and probe the different options. What you will find is that by practicing this skill and building the decision making muscle will come in handy when faced with real life scenarios.

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