The Case Centre’s bestselling authors

David A. Garvin

David A. Garvin
Harvard Business School

"A successful case needs a core concept, framework, or theory; a decision or question that lacks an easy, obvious right answer; and a compelling context, business, or set of characters that will draw students in."

I can sum up the secret of my own case writing success in a single word: curiosity. I'm fascinated by the workings of organisations and the people who manage and lead them and tend to ask lots and lots of questions. It took me several years to harness that curiosity and attach it to a disciplined case development process, which I learned through a combination of apprenticeship and trial and error.

A compelling context

For me, the three main factors that are essential to writing a successful case are a core concept, framework, or theory that one can build the case around; a decision or question that lacks an easy, obvious right answer; and a compelling context, business, or set of characters that will draw students in.

Favourite cases

Of the cases I’ve written, I have three favourites, each for a different reason. Firstly, Steinway & Sons, which I wrote in 1981, because it was the second case I ever developed and yet it had such a compelling context and issue that it is still relevant and taught today (will Steinway’s approach to production and design, which can be termed ‘art’ continue to beat Yamaha’s approach, which might be called ‘science’?). Secondly, Paul Levy: Taking Charge of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, because I was able to get a CEO to reflect, on video and in real time, about his approach to a difficult management situation, leading to a rich, multimedia case that captures the challenges of a turnaround from the leader’s point of view. Thirdly, Google’s Project Oxygen: Do Managers Matter?; this is my most recent case, and captures the realities of management practice at a highly granular level, involving cutting-edge applications of analytics and big data.

Most admired

My colleagues, Richard Bohmer, Amy Edmondson, and Michael Roberto, developed the multimedia case Columbia’s Final Mission to capture the culture and decision-making at NASA that led to the breakup of the shuttle because of the damage caused by foam strikes. It results in spectacularly effective student role play that shows the pressures that managers and engineers faced, since students are presented with slightly different material depending on the role that they have been assigned. It is a joy to teach and generates very deep insights from students. It is also beautifully produced and designed. I wish that I had written it!

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About the author

David A. Garvin is the C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, US (HBS). He joined the faculty in 1979 and has taught courses in leadership, general management, and operations in the MBA and Advanced Management programmes. He has also taught on executive education programmes and worked with over 50 organisations around the globe, including Amyris, Biogen Idec, Booz Allen Hamilton, Frito-Lay, Gillette, L. L. Bean, 3M, Mitsubishi, Morgan Stanley, Mueller, Novartis, Seagate, Stryker, and the US Forest Service.

He is the author or co-author of ten books, including Rethinking the MBA (Harvard Business Press, 2012), selected by strategy+business as one of the best business books of 2010. He has also written more than 30 articles, including What Every CEO Should Know About Creating New Businesses and What You Don't Know About Making Decisions.

David is a three-times winner of the McKinsey Award, given annually for the best article in Harvard Business Review; and a winner of the Beckhard Prize, given annually for the best article on planned change and organisational development in Sloan Management Review.

His research interests include general management and strategic change, with a special interest in business and management processes, organisational learning, and the design and leadership of large, complex organisations. David is also deeply interested in case method teaching and has written over fifty HBS case studies, multimedia exercises, and technical notes. 


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