Winner: Outstanding Contribution to the Case Method

Share this page:
David A Garvin won the Outstanding Contribution to the Case Method Award at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2018.
The recipient

David A Garvin

David A GarvinThe posthumous recipient of our Outstanding Contribution to the Case Method Award 2018 is David A Garvin.

David was the C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School (HBS) until his untimely death in April 2017.

David enjoyed a distinguished career that spanned almost four decades, teaching a variety of courses in the HBS MBA and Executive Education programmes, and serving as faculty chair of the MBA’s Elective Curriculum from 2006 to 2009.


David’s impact on the case method is undoubted. As an author, he developed more than 70 cases, around a dozen of which feature as the most popular in HBS’s case collection, including Paul Levy, Boeing 767, and Emerging Business Opportunities at IBM.

David A Garvin

David made The Case Centre’s Top 40 Bestselling Case Authors list in both 2016 and 2017.

David was also a dedicated and revered case teacher, devoting much of his career to helping fellow educators hone their classroom skills.

Starting as a member of HBS faculty in 1979, then becoming an associate professor and, later, a full professor, David was appointed C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration in 2002. David was also faculty chair of the Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning. The Center, named in honour of the legendary case method teacher C. Roland Christensen, promotes and supports teaching excellence and innovation within HBS, and also provides leadership and expertise about case method teaching, and participated-centred learning for instructors at other institutions.

Among David’s impressive achievements, the New York City-born academic played an instrumental role in developing the multimedia instructional series ‘Participant-Centered Learning and the Case Method’, which is designed to help teachers gain an insight into the method and its practice.

The series was recorded at HBS in 2003, when a group of business school teachers, professors and deans from across the globe, who were interested in, but uncertain how to approach the case method, took part in an intensive programme on participant-centred learning.

David was one of eight HBS faculty who joined them to explore the craft of discussion leadership, and the skills and processes involved. The action in the classroom was filmed and used as a basis for the instructional series.

Education for JudgmentA case scholar

David was both a meticulous and visionary case method scholar and was co-author of the influential book, Education for Judgment: The Artistry of Discussion Leadership. He also published several articles on the topic, including Making the Case: Professional education for the world of practice (Harvard Magazine, 2003) and Teaching Executives and Teaching MBAs: Reflections on the Case Method (Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2007).

In 2010, his book Rethinking the MBA: Business Education at a Crossroads, co-authored with Srikant Datar and Patrick G Cullen, explored why and how business schools must define a better pathway for the future, and the role the case method had to play in that evolution.

A worthy winner

Nitin NohriaNitin Nohria, Harvard Business School Dean, paid tribute to David’s case writing and teaching skills, and how much he was loved at the School.

“David was an amazing case writer,” said Nohria, “and anyone who saw him in the classroom, whether in the MBA or Executive Education programmes, can attest to his mastery of participant-based teaching – and his love of a good quip to start off the discussion.

“What set David apart even further was his ability to help others understand the magic of case method teaching, whether through the ‘Participant-Centered Learning and the Case Method’ multimedia instructional series, or through his long-time role as faculty chair of our Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning, which promotes and supports teaching excellence and innovation within the School.

“But what most people will remember David for is his incredible generosity,” Nohria added. “He was a true collaborator, mentor, and steadfast friend to countless students, faculty, and staff on campus. He made everyone feel as though their relationship with him was a special one, and we all became better for knowing him.

“This award is a most fitting - and appreciated - recognition of a world-class gentleman and scholar who set the gold standard for writing and teaching cases and who made a lasting mark on this School, on every student who was fortunate enough to be in one of his classes, and on every other faculty member, both at HBS and elsewhere, who benefited from his pedagogical skills and insights. David is sorely missed, but this award reminds us of what he accomplished in the classroom during his extraordinary career at Harvard Business School.”

David on the case method

Writing a successful case

“I can sum up the secret of my own case writing success in a single word: curiosity,” David previously told The Case Centre.

“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.

“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.”

David A GarvinPreparing for class

David explained: “Analysing the content of the case might necessarily account for up to 70-80% of the preparation, but, crucially, the classroom process must be prepared as well.

“Consider such issues as: what learning objectives am I aiming for, how might my students become diverted or confused along the way, what are their expectations and who are the experts on the subject already in the class? As teachers, to ensure learning, we must first activate prior knowledge and experience. Then we must provide opportunities for practice.

“The case method is so strong because it provides the student with a vehicle to recognise real situations, and gives the chance to mimic the taking of decisions on events in real time – the core activity of the successful manager.

David A Garvin

“The effective case provides the context of a real-life scenario, which works on different levels for different participant groups: MBA students can gain simulated experience and executives’ own past experiences are triggered.”

Flexibility of the case method

David added: “For MBAs, cases provide a form of simulated experience. Executives, by contrast, have already been exposed to diverse management challenges and business and organisational settings. Cases provide a way of tapping into and abstracting from their business experiences.

“In executive classes, teachers need to be far more attentive to the parallels between cases and the work experiences of their students.”

Embracing new pedagogies

Eager to embrace new pedagogies until the very end of his life, at the time of his death David was working with HBX, the School's online, interactive digital learning platform, to complete a new course, 'Becoming a Better Manager,' which focuses on the variety of processes that managers work through to move their organizations forward and achieve results through decision making, change management, effective implementation, and learning and improvement.

In a tribute, Patrick Healy, one of David's collaborators on the course, said: "Teaching was David’s true love. Anyone who saw him lead a case discussion could tell how much he enjoyed it. David had a gift for teaching; and, despite his illness, was eager to be one of the first HBS professors to experiment with bringing his management content online in a new form to participants around the world."

Hear from David

Hear more from David in this HBS video on the case method.

A richly deserved award

Richard McCrackenRichard McCracken, Director of The Case Centre, said: “With this posthumous award, we are delighted to recognise David A Garvin’s outstanding contribution to the case method.

“The judges felt unanimously that few have contributed so much to the practice and understanding of the case method of learning as David, whose lifelong contribution, both at Harvard Business School and far beyond, was so cruelly cut short when he still had so much more to give.”


View all the 2018 winners