Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

Can MBA students learn to effectively do competitive analysis?

I just finished my most recent MBA course teaching Business and Competitive Analysis to our newest crop of students here at the University of Windsor's Odette School of Business. I actually did this version of the course over two straight weeks, with only a weekend in between to allow people a chance to absorb the material. It was a fast and wild ride, but the students and I seem to have come through it okay. It was nice seeing them rise to the challenge, as I've always been known as a demanding teacher and one who expects his students to "raise their games."

I gave my students a recently written, 2008 Harvard Business School case on Apple Computers to do for their final examination. The case is a lengthy one (as many of the Harvard ones are) and, unlike at least a few of the Harvard cases I have liked to use teaching this in the past, doesn't necessarily offer clear guidance on either their strategic decision needs or what the executives of the company consider the key challenges facing them in the future. Having said that, I like having my students face this ambiguity, primarily because I have run into too many executives who cannot satisfactorily articulate their future decision making paths (i.e., they have unclear intelligence needs). In that respect, the students actually had an assignment that was more "real world" than many we can conjure up to assess their learning.

Making it even more useful, the case was one we (the MBA faculty) used to help the students understand how to analyze cases in the pre-program a few months ago, and were reading it this second time. I hadn't told them that I would be "re-visiting" the case at any point so it was a surprise until they actually had it given to them for the exam. I used it to do a "before and after" assessment of how much progress they had made, and was pleased that the students had progressed in a measurable and positive fashion. This time around, the students had twenty more analysis tools in their arsenal to employ, unlike the mostly disorganized and unsystematic sense-making processes they tackled it with the last time.

Teaching business and competitive analysis to MBA students is still something I love to do. Just watching them sense-make in more powerful ways is a joy, and several of my students had powerful learning experiences that will stick with them for years to come. At least a few of them also now think that business or competitive intelligence is a potential career route that they will pursue further. I wonder if they will be the next wave of individuals to push our field ahead?

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