Reading a Case Study

This copy of a lesson offers an example of reading principles and practices that might will apply to other fields.

For 13.12.19

  • Learning from others
  • Reading 7-11 Japan

Learning from others (1 hour)

Two heads are better than one, and many firms know this and write about it — as you see on my Team Work page, and this week we looked at “Not all Groups are Teams,” especially, on page 3 of The Discipline of Teams

  • In the work of another team, identify where it was clear that someone learned from someone else, and in one paragraph explain how it worked
  • In your own work from last week, identity where you learned from someone else, and in one paragraph explain how it worked
  • When you write, be specific to which passages you are referring to and refer to your changes in understanding AND action: understanding is nice, action is better!
  • In this week, set yourself up to learn from others (action): look especially at the homework of Javier

If you are among the few who missed the class discussion of this assignment and are not part of team such as Javier describes, it might be because you’ve not yet figured out why teams are so important to business and/or not experienced the pleasures of a team, the problem might but be that you’ve not found a point of entry and might benefit from a compelling story. One story that might help you is How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity, among others on my Team Work page. As this is one third of your lesson this week — one hour — you do well to choose among these options and dig in!

Reading 7-11 Japan (2 hours)

Our goal with this exercise is to help you develop the expectations needed to look up, find, and learn from bizapps case studies such as this.

  • Case studies can offer powerful windows into technology-enabled business development, and sometimes they are essential for researching particular business problems.
  • These MIT CISR studies are typically 10 pages, are well-researched and written, and certainly among the best introductions you might find on our topic
  • Reading them is not a trivial exercise, and the good reading skills that got you to the HWR are likely just great, but neither appropriate nor sufficient
  • We will spend at least two weeks developing your skills, beginning with this first outlining, surveying, selecting, and addressing the questions of: “what’s in it for me?” and “what might be my best point of entry?”
  • The initial outline you make this week will be the framework for far more detailed reading in the next (so do it!): you will need at least two hours to do this well
  • As always, it might often be best to do this with a partner

Reading differently (aka “learning”)

We typically read such reports for special purposes, and so very selectively, and likely the opposite of the way you and I typically read mere fragments on social media in a rather bizarre fashion

  • Uncovered: reality of how smartphones turned election news into chaos, should send shivers up your spine for how it suggests our smart phone additictions are distorting our view of reality and twisting the way we think: the research and writing methods I offer you here, by design, cut through such confusion
  • Our first scanning exercise is closer to our reading of a telephone book when we search for very specific information — the opposite of how we read a detective story or as we often learn in school to read every sentence in order, to write paying attention to grammer, and to cherry-pick things that merely agree with what we already know

Overview, structure, strategy

  • By overview, we mean to skim a text for its overall shape, in this case, stopping for each sub-head and reading just enough of the text to understand “what they are doing here” and to begin our outline: in your outline, list every sub-head and sub-sub-head in Headings 2 and 3
  • By structure, we mean identifying how the text is shaped, in this case in the shape of a “V”, where at the beginning and the end we are looking at “the big picture”, but the middle drills down to the important details (“technology-enabled development”); to wrap your head around the problem of scale and perspective, please watch again Powers of Ten
  • By strategy, we mean reading self-consciously and for special purposes, reading first to develop an overview, then selecting from this overview our point of entry, then digging into this point and reading forward and backwards through the text


  • Reading reports is different This is a report, not a crime story, and where we read it to answer questions, and while we will read this entire report to learn the method and develop an general understanding, often will will be far more selective, choosing, only the parts that interest us, so that we have time to survey a dozen or more texts to understand variations, scope, and so on before digging down into certain problems
  • Surveying is purposefully superficial We can’t read everything, and we often get lost in details and forget our research question when reading reports from start to finish, so the initial survey, superficial in comparison to reading intensively, is essential if we are to understand a text’s overall shape and consider what we we are looking for, what we might find, and how best to get at it
  • Like surveying a crowd before choosing a dance partner When entering a dance party, we sometimes strike up a conversation with the first person we meet, but at some point we survey the room to find the kinds of people we might like to dance with or, not finding any prospects, call it a night and leave; so it is with a text: we do well “to see what’s there” before we dive in, even though sometimes “beauty is only skin deep” — this can be a great exercise, as at a party, in exploring, taking risks, and along the way asking about our options and where we might go next: an essential activity of developing perspective


Most any formal report is well-edited and organized to tell its story in a certain way.

  • Engage Through Storytelling explains how facts and information are organized by dramatic form, the telling of stories
  • It’s you I like illustrates how any argument will have its essential point, how any story will have its dramatic heart; here, that children are quiet capable of talking about emotions, but to get to that we move carefully, like the unlayering of an onion, revealing deeper and deeper levels of experience and emotion, and then exit gracefully
  • In this story of 7-11 Japan, the authors are reporting on some very powerful ways that technology was used to develop a franchising system some 15-20 years ago, but to get at those bits of functionality, and the creativite process that determined them, they weave a story from a general business environment to this general sector of retailing to this peculiar mom-and-pop business, and then how, over time, the larger operation developed powerful systems for the organization of data, materials, communications, merchandising, etc. — they developed an engaging story to explore, explain, and take you into the dramatic beating heart of this business


  • In this first week, your mission is to outline the article’s overall shape, then choose what might interest you from the list of topics, then read forward and back to see how your particular interest is set within a larger story or framework
  • That is, you first skim the article for its overall shape, then lift your eyes off the page to ask “what’s in it for me,” then scan to find discussion of your particular interest, and finally, read one part of it intensively to understand: a) your interest, b) what the text has to offer about it, and c) what comes before and after your particular topic
  • Reading intensively means alternating among the text, reflection, and other sources, so that when you start off you survey the options, discover, say, that “electronic commerce” interests you, then you read the text and find not much there, but you then look up “electronic commerce” to see what it is about, then go back to the text to see a bit better what the text means by it (this is an introduction featuring a little bit about lots of pieces of the puzzle), and along the way you ask, as we did in class, what is so interesting about this


Bildung, as you will recall, is a view of education and learning whereby in the study of science we learn about ourselves, and we all know this and take great interest in it likely, first, because we ourselves are in school and so our own object of study, and also, as we learn that to know a thing we have often both to overcome our blind spots, develop new tools, find our way through a deep, dark forest and benefit from, for example, bread crumbs, paths, and promises of home

  • Your interest When I invite you to identify your interest, it is not because I want you to become a solipsist, seeing everying in your own terms and ignoring everything else and everyone else, but, first, because we do indeed have to find our way through complexity, options, and difficulties: identifying your interest is highly motiviting, often a very powerful organizing principle, and necessary if we are not simply to be leaves blowing about in the wind
  • Your interests will change, most likely, because we typically start off with rather vague and sometimes capricious (accidental) reasons, but in exploring them we find things even more interesting and change our interests; in short, we gotta start somewhere if we are to learn
  • Keep track of how your interests change, because your interests will change, and when you write them down and your reasons for these changes, you will through this reasoning transform your wandering into a path, feature an identification of purpose, and after even a short time you will have a record of progress — all this business of reflection is designed both to offer a motivating principle AND connect you to the fundamentals of research: your “interest” will become a research question, “stuff you find along the way” will become a literature review, evidence, and part of an argument, and having learned how to walk the the walk and talk the talk, you will become part of the professional conversation you want to join — as remote from the present as it may appear to be, it will arrive quite soon (your next internship, if you work at it and are lucky!)