Thought of the Day: The problem with great cases

Since the foundation of the BetaCodex Network, we have often spoken and written about the problem of overestimating the role of pioneering cases in the context of the Necessary Organizational Transformation. One article by of mine that touches upon the “case dilemma” is this:
But put in one sentence: If cases “worked”, then of course every production company in the world would already have adopted something like the Toyota Production System, Lean, TPM or QRM – or any other approach of the sort. Every organization would have applied the principles of great Beta organizations like Handelsbanken, Semco, W.L.Gore, Southwest Airlines and the like. That hasn´t happened, of course. Not even remotely. And the cases are not the problem. Niels´ mentor in the Beyond Budgeting Round Table, Robin Fraser, used to say that “a single case as great as that of Handelsbanken or Toyota should suffice to prove the point and convince anyone, in a rational world.” One case! Not twenty or 20.000!
We believe that trying to use cases as an argument for “transformation” is bad didactics. Because it cannot work. Imagine you were bad at math in school, and your teacher would tell you: “Well, look at Angela here, she is amazing at math, so you can do the same!” It probably would not help you at all. Cases do not have the power to produce the necessary insight into a personal rationale for change. For that, we need (allow me the word) theory. We need didactics “beyond the good example”. Even though it has merit, obviously, to discover and discuss the cases of what we call “pioneers”. Cases can be great for showing us the path to practices that work. But, for themselves they hardly ever produce insight, understanding, faith in a model beyond command-and-control.
Because proof is not the problem.
Niels Pflaeging