UC Berkeley MEng 104: How to read a case II

— A detailed road map to improving understanding and reading speed of cases

Hello MEng bears!

I hope you are doing well with the first week of leadership bootcamp.

In my article UC Berkeley MEng 103, I provided a really simple framework for case reading. And in this one I would like to enrich the “bones” with some “flesh”, using ideas from IEOR to conclude the whole process into operable steps.

First thing first, let’s set up our goal(s) of reading a case.

The strategic goal is “… proficiency in verbal leadership, through discussions of technology and business case studies… exposure to a wide variety of managerial approaches, technologies, personalities, and business models’’ (ENGIN 270B R&D TECHNOLOGY MANAGEMENT & ETHICS COURSE SYLLABUS, 2019) in the long run, while a short-term target will be improving your understanding of cases with a higher reading speed so you can get yourself well prepared within a smaller period of time.

Next is the guide for improvement of understanding and reading speed. We will take care of the case through timed reading step by step.

  1. Titles & essential components (5~15 min)

When you grab a case, please do not dive in at the first sight. It may be desirable if you can check the title and other essential components, such as subtitles, abstracts, summaries, etc. You can also read the beginning and the ending paragraphs to have a taste of the case.

Right now we know a little about the case:

“Company A, B or Person X, Y faced a problem/ had a failure/ stuck in a dilemma/ made a contribution/ did ethical things/ …”

2. Structures (3~8 min per paragraph)

It is not a piece of cake to divide the 10-page case into several parts right from the very beginning, so we start humbly from a single paragraph. Remember there are possibly 15 more paragraphs waiting in the line so we need to know what a paragraph talks about at a certain rate of reading. We do timed reading and write down a very brief summary (1 or 2 sentences) of each paragraph within 3 to 8 minutes.

Repeatedly, you will walk through all paragraphs with a list of key sentences. And then it is time to find the connection and group single paragraphs into a few sections. What is also encouraged is to write down a summary of each section so you will be pretty clear about the storyline. You can also fill in the 5W1H form (who, what, when, where, why, how) to help search answers for “cold call” questions.

3. “Cold call” questions from syllabus (5~15 min per question)

Based on our summaries of paragraphs and sections, we are able to find answers. When taking notes, you can use keywords, short phrases and even hand-drawing pictures.

Additionally, it is desirable to think further about the connection between these questions and the case. Perhaps you can ask yourself “Why asking these questions? Do they have any relationships? What information do they indicate? What else matters? ” etc.

4. Tables, graphs, charts and others (5~15 min)

Some cases are attached with tables, graphs and/or charts, the purpose of which is to condense a lot of data and show the changes or trends more clearly. After all, graphics are more intuitive and visible than texts.

Others may contain some important details, which are dependent on the case itself.

5. Comparisons between individual answers and class notes (~30 min)

This is really optional but worth doing if you want to take better advantage of the leadership bootcamp. When making a comparison, you know what you did not think about. It is always nice to keep your eyes open and stay curious about the world outside. Not only for information but also for opportunities.

Acknowledgement

A. I would like to show great gratitude to the faculty of Fung Institute for designing such a challenging but amazing bootcamp course. I myself learned a lot from Prof. Lee Fleming — not only about the exposure to business case studies with a variety of topics, but also his personal charisma, humbleness and talents.

B. This article was enlightened and inspired by the books:

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading

— by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking

— by Barbara Minto

I could not say in words how much value I obtained from these two books when I grow up. I cherish all the chances to read the books and every time I re-read them, I have new feelings.

Now I start to apply what I learned to solving problems, I will be more than happy if my method of case reading is logical, clear, concise and can be easily understood and followed.

Thanks for reading!

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