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Markus Christen

Markus Christen
INSEAD

"A good case is short. What exactly 'short' means depends on the issue and the story. The case has to provide sufficient information to have a meaningful discussion, but often cases are overloaded with details that obfuscate."

To me, the secret of successful case writing is the love and enthusiasm for teaching and for making other people think about issues and problems so that they can learn. You have to imagine how a discussion could unfold in the classroom and how students could relate to the material. I am not a particularly good writer; I am still learning the art of writing. I think I am better at telling and developing the story orally then putting it on paper. But case writing to me is always teamwork. I have excellent co-authors who are much better writers than I am.

Collaboration also leads to better outcomes because it enables you to ensure that the case details are sufficiently clear. I am always tempted to leave out bits and pieces of the story because I am afraid to 'give away' the answer. But, of course, what is obvious to a case writer who has worked on the case for ages is not obvious at all to students who only get to read the final version.

Clarity and relevance

You need to have a clear idea about the underlying issue or problem that your case can help a class to discuss. The issue has to be fairly basic otherwise the case might not last. For example, I wrote a case during the dotcom boom, which lost relevance once the bubble burst. Of course, the issue cannot be trivial. While a good case has many facets below the surface, it is also important to be clear about what needs to be drawn out of the story and how it might need to be adjusted so as to not distract from the case's main message. The most exact reporting of a true issue does not necessarily make for a good case.

The importance of a good story

A good case is always about storytelling, not just the story in the case about the protagonists, but also the story you want to develop in class. The quality of the story and its link to the underlying issue (see above) are more important than the age, the industry, or the prominence of the story. I like the case, Introducing New Coke, because it reveals some very fundamental problems firms have with marketing decisions, not because it was big news. I am currently writing a partially fictional case about a firm and industry that is unknown to almost all students. But it is about the relationship between marketing and sales, which is a relevant issue in virtually all companies, B2B and B2C.

The shorter the better

A good case is short. What exactly 'short' means depends on the issue and the story. The case has to provide sufficient information to have a meaningful discussion, but often cases are overloaded with details that obfuscate. Case writing takes time because it takes time to find the right amount of facts. Or as Blaise Pascal said about a letter he wrote, ‘I made this longer because I did not have the time to make it shorter’.

Favourite case

Of all the cases I’ve written, my favourite has to be the Ford Ka series of three cases, for several reasons: It was my first case; it was my first collaboration with David Soberman; and I like cars!

The Ford Ka series:

This case series also has a dedicated website that provides additional material for instructors.

Most admired

My all-time favourite case by another author is Zantac (A) by Reinhard Angelmar and Christian Pinson. I love the competitive interaction and the richness of marketing issues that can be discussed with it. I learned a lot about case writing from Reinhard who I think is one of the best case writers. As a student, I liked Optical Distortion, Inc. (A), simply because it was such an unusual, quirky story.

Pedagogical tools

To me, there is not a case method of teaching per se. Business cases are a pedagogical tool to put students into a situation of tradeoffs and conflicts so they can learn how to make good business decisions. Ideally, we would put students into real situations and on-the-job training, but this takes too much time and also carries certain risks. I personally use cases in a variety of ways, for example, as a simple illustration of an issue, theory or concept; for in-class exercises; and for student presentations.

View cases written by Markus

 
About the author

Markus Christen is Associate Professor of Marketing at INSEAD. His research interests focus on the development of profitable marketing strategies. For example, the cost and profit implications of market entry strategies (innovation vs. imitation) and the extent to which managers' ability to accurately forecast sales is related to the ultimate performance of new products. His work has appeared in Marketing Science, the Journal of Marketing Research, the Journal of Marketing, Management Science, Harvard Business Review, and the Financial Times. He is a member of the American Marketing Association and the Institute of Management Science.

Markus teaches courses in marketing strategy and pricing strategies on INSEAD’s MBA programme, and marketing strategy on various executive seminars in Europe and Asia. Before joining INSEAD, he worked in industry for several years as a production engineer, consultant and marketing manager. His case, Ford Ka (A): Breaking New Ground in the Small Car Market, won an award from The Case Centre in 2010.

e markus.christen@insead.edu 

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