Management: Theory and Practice, and Cases

21 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2013

See all articles by Richard L. Nolan

Richard L. Nolan

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Date Written: September 11, 2013


This working paper reports on a major Harvard Business School project designed to enhance MBA and practicing executives in case learning. The work is built on the foundation of HBS field cases employing the monomyth "hero’s journey" classic story structure along with the creation of associated fictional case characters designed to engage readers in the dimensions of human behavior, decision-making, and judgments in carrying out the work of the modern corporation. A most fortuitous event in starting the project was the engagement of our research assistant with a theater academic background, and experience as a scriptwriter and director at a repertory theater. Shannon O’Connell noted that our collection of field cases on learning to become a successful functional manager had the potential to be organized into an executive’s "hero’s journey." This setoff a process: (1) completing our field cases to encompass the issue domain of an IT functional manager; (2) recrafting the cases from multiple industries to include one industry; (3) integrating the key characters of monomyth hero’s journey, and (4) writing the case dialogue for the protagonist’s, Jim Barton, hero’s journey. The result was our novel-based Harvard Business Press book: Adventures of an IT Leader (2009).

In our Adventures book, we experimented with mechanisms to facilitate active learning such as Jim Barton’s "living whiteboard," whereby Barton kept a running list of ideas associated with a set of evolving principles of IT management. Another mechanism we used to facilitate reader/student introspection was end-of-chapter/cases Reflections. Also, we experimented with audio versions of book chapters in the classroom. We went onto continue Jim Barton’s hero’s journey in a second Harvard Business Press book using the same novel format, but a different industry and executive context: Harder Than I Thought: Adventures of a twenty-first century leader (2013). Harder focuses on CEO leadership in the global economy and the fast-changing IT-enabled pace of business. We extended the mechanism of Barton’s living white board to interludes in the book of simulations and avatars to explore CEO decision-making.

Keywords: cases, innovation, management, CIO, CEO, hero’s journey, monomyth

Suggested Citation

Nolan, Richard L., Management: Theory and Practice, and Cases (September 11, 2013). Harvard Business School Research Paper Series # 14-026, Available at SSRN: or

Richard L. Nolan (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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