Eighty minutes

“So, what should the CEO do to deal with the issue?”

A class at HBS begins with a professor’s straightforward question.

The professor then calls on a student and they are required to answer the question as an opening remark. This is called a “cold call”, and this is the moment when we feel the most tension.

The cold called student has to briefly explain the case and elaborate on his or her decision and the logic behind it. The professor then relentlessly throws out follow up questions.

“What is the financial impact of the decision, how do you manage the additional cost?”

“What do you expect as your competitors’ reaction to the plan and how do you respond, and why?”

The cold called student has to cope with the shots, thinking quickly on their feet. The nerve-wracking pressure does not let up for 10 to 15 minutes.

 

“OK, are there any other opinions regarding this plan?”

The professor then opens the discussion to the class, and at that moment, dozens of hands shoot up.

“I totally disagree with the plan!”

Before the class, all students are required to read the case and develop their own analysis and conclusion. Usually the issues are boundary pushing and divisive. We are encouraged to respectfully disagree and lock horns with each other.

The professor is silent for the most part, speaking only to carefully direct the class’s discussion. Being familiar with all the students’ business backgrounds, the professor knows when best to call on them.

The class discussion is extremely dynamic. Some students throw out simple but thoughtful questions which totally change the direction of the discussion. Some students share their experiences, speaking of a time when they dealt with a similar issue in trying circumstances. Such discussion rarely brings consensus in the class but does broaden and deepen our perspective.

At the end of the class, in most cases, the professor shares what happened to the protagonist and the company, as well as the takeaway from the case. Sometimes the protagonists come to the class in person and share their thoughts and experiences, which is one of the most exciting moments of the class.

The eighty minutes go by with lighting speed.

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