I believe in high-engagement experience-based education not only for the mastery of tools and concepts it affords, but also for the way it enhances the effectiveness of the individual. The blogosphere offers a steady diet of examples. For instance, two days ago Brett Steenbarger at the blog, Traderfeed, wrote,

“The successful trader, like the chess grandmaster, sees things and thinks about things differently from the novice. The thought process is more dynamic and flexible; perception is more organized, thanks to rich mental maps. There are so many ways to lose money in the markets: the expert trader is highly attuned to those traps. Why? Simply because of basic talents and considerable experience building skills. The medical student encounters many cases, watches many procedures, and studies for many years before he or she begins working on patients. Even then it is tightly supervised. Similarly, many, many acting classes and practice performances under the guidance of teachers and directors precede the appearance on the stage or in the movies. How many hours of practice and coaching occur prior to an athletic events? How many practice games lead up to the appearance in a chess tournament? Training transforms traders. It alters behavior patterns, it reorganizes perception, and it shifts thought processes. Whether the training is self-directed, as in the case of many poker champions, or tutored, it is lengthy experience that makes a successful professional. That requires a constancy of purpose: an ongoing commitment to improvement. Perhaps the greatest change that sustained experience brings is resilience. The successful trader has a high degree of conviction in his or her ideas, simply because of the accumulated base of experience that show how those ideas work out.”

An executive I worked with once said that two years in a case method MBA program concentrated ten years of work experience. Like medicine, acting, athletics, and chess, one’s capabilities in business management benefit from exposure to a variety of messes (see my posting last week). What are those capabilities? Steenbarger notes resilience, rich mental maps, attunement to traps, and constancy of purpose. At the heart of these is the ability to make meaning quickly out of messy problems: to grasp the essential issues, to apply tools and concepts appropriately, and to shape a course of action.

The case method builds these capabilities through direct engagement with practical problems. Cases, sometimes thick with irrelevant facts and tables, develop one’s capacities to get to the heart of the problem. In addition, the case method asks the student to take risks—sometimes the gambles go well, sometimes not. But as Walter Wriston, former CEO of Citicorp said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” Making a bad decision can be a humbling experience in the case method classroom. At the same time, school is a safe haven for taking chances, apart from actual expenditures of cash, loss of jobs, and demise of firms. The point here (and in Steenbarger’s posting) is that growth in the attributes that truly drive professional success comes from experience—the high-engagement case method program can build those attributes.

Posted by Robert Bruner at 03/09/2007 12:47:55 AM