Updated: May 14, 2020
Today, I was casually thinking about the case pedagogy followed at IIMs and how different it is from the teaching and learning techniques that we had been exposed to before joining an IIM. There were some similarities that I found in these IIM cases and an IIM aspirant's CAT preparation journey. So, this post will share 7 such similarities and what one can learn from them.
The spiral bounds that you see in the image above were called casemats by us, not long ago. The cases that we used to read were like long stories about an individual or a business, each stretched up to 15-20 pages. Let me list the 7 critical components of those cases and draw upon some learning points from them.
Protagonist - Before the introductory class at IIM-A, we were given a case to come prepared with. On the day of the class, the professor came in the room and asked one of the students, "Who are you?". He started introducing himself with his name. The professor interrupted him and repeated, "Who are you?" He thought for a few seconds and said "I'm a student of IIM-A". The professor raised his eyebrows and said, "You're Mr. Kishore (the protagonist of the case we were supposed to come prepare with)". That day, the professor taught us the first rule of reading cases. Always put yourself in the shoes of the decision maker. That's how quality decisions are made. Learning: As a CAT aspirant, put yourself in the shoes of the decision maker i.e. the interviewer. Evaluate whether you stand up to his/her expectations. Ask yourself this question every day. And till the answer is yes, keep improving your profile.
Context - In one of our cases on Airtel, we learned a valuable lesson. Airtel, as a successful telecom service provider in India, wanted to replicate its success in Africa. The choice of country was made after deliberate consideration but despite that, Airtel faced a terrible time trying to make its business run in Africa. There was just one factor which Airtel's team missed out on which lead to the long establishment period. That one factor was Context. Airtel forgot that Africa was very different from India in many ways. Learning: Your circumstances are not going to be a replica of the circumstances of any student who has made it to an IIM. You must understand yourself better during this journey. It's good to read others' stories and try their tricks and techniques but remember that at the end of the day, the context will differ and hence, what works for them may not work for you. You need to test and try and find your optimal way. For example, everyone I used to follow recommended improving GK through books and newspapers. However, I figured I retained more when I watched videos than when I read text. So, I tried various methods but eventually went ahead with what worked the best for me.
Depth - Our cases used to be lengthy, like I mentioned before. But, more than that, they were full of depth. We, as students, often complained why everything was so elaborated in cases. For example, each case would provide the history of the company, its values, its management, its growth strategies. The challenge or the problem statement was often found in the very last pages of the case. But, what we learnt through the process was that depth is important. Just like putting yourself in the shoes of the protagonist helps you make better decisions, knowing about the case-setting in detail helps in making decisions that take a holistic approach, keeping multiple stakeholders in mind. Learning: When you will be framing your opinions on the happenings around, you will encounter a similar experience. If you read only one piece of article and form an opinion based on one side of the story, your views may become biased and your learning may not be as rich as it should be. Hence, whenever you read any book or newspaper editorial, make sure to research more about it. Going in-depth of the topic will help you form wise opinions, opinions you can truly call yours after weighing-in multiple sides.
Non-essentials - Our cases were followed by a long appendix with 7-8 tables presenting more data on the company and its situation. The data in these tables enabled the reader to justify the decisions better. However, most of the times, only some of these tables happened to be useful. In fact, many of the case-facts never made it to the rationale behind the reader's final decision. He/she would have delivered the same result even if those facts or figures were absent from the case. Since we had to prepare 3-4 cases for the next day, it became imperative for us to spot the redundant information and pick the important stuff quickly. We developed a habit of reading better, with more focus on what's necessary. Learning: You will need to develop this habit too, especially for solving Reading Comprehensions (RCs) in the VARC section. This secret of IIM students which helps them to read faster can help you too. By deploying this technique, you will be able to focus on the points that matter. You will also need to apply this technique while solving DILR questions. Many a times, some constraints given in a DILR set are redundant and students waste a lot of time trying to figure out why they are there. Learn to use what's important and practice to spot what's not.
Perspectives - No case can produce learning without a thorough discussion on it. Case discussions were a norm in the IIM classrooms. Each student used to contribute in one way or the other to yield better and bigger ideas. This contribution ensured that multiple perspectives had been taken into account. It also ensured better reinforcement. To date, I remember which classmate of mine said the point which truly stayed with me. I remember it because it was a discussion rather than a monologue. Learning: Continuing on point 3, when you research more about a topic to form your opinions, try discussing them with a friend or a family member you can rely on. Share your opinions with them, ask for theirs and see if that discussion shapes your perspective. When we listen to other people, our ideas develop. At the same time, we remember the facts for a longer duration.
Frameworks - These are some ready-made methods (or formulas if you want to call them) that have been suggested by experts in the different domains. After the case discussion, we were taught these frameworks because they helped us in planning for the future better. Planning is an essential skill that we're made to learn at the IIMs. Staying prepared for what may happen saves plenty of time and cost. Learning: There will be various things that you will need to plan in advance during your CAT journey. Revision happens to be the most significant of those. How well you plan your revision schedule will determine how well you retain what you revise. Hence, it's important to take an early step and get this crucial work done.
Epilogue - Since most of our cases had taken place in the distant past, the professors used to conclude the class by sharing what decision was actually taken by the protagonist of the case. The professor also explained why those decisions were appropriate or not. This epilogue is important and its absence used to cause frustration among the students. This is because how will one determine the quality of their decisions if they don't have a benchmark or a guide to compare it with. Learning: The epilogue in your case is the mock solution you get after taking it. The professor's guidance in your case is the detailed explanation that comes along with the mock solution. It tells you why the option you selected was correct or incorrect. It provides you with a benchmark against which you can rate your attempt. You must understand its importance and feel the same frustration in case you forget to analyze your mock. Taking a mock is only 10% of the learning, the rest is its analysis.
So, these were the seven things that I found to be similar between the IIM cases and the CAT preparation journey of an IIM aspirant. And, I must conclude by saying that both end up teaching you a lot more than you realize on the surface, no matter what the result.