Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The contributions of T. Grandon Gill
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Management Decision, Volume 52, Issue 9
The man on stage in the city of Porto, Portugal, soon had his audience captivated by his topic: complexity, in its various forms and dimensions. The man was T. Grandon Gill, Fellow of the Informing Science Institute, speaking to the mostly information and technology wizards seated in the university auditorium. He lost no time in getting to his message: case studies as the most appropriate research genre to identify problems and opportunities that occur in complex or "rugged" terrains, as arising in all fields of management.
He was referring not to formal case study research but the kind of case studies that are developed and discussed in the amphitheater-style classrooms at the Harvard Business School (HBS). He should know: as one of the few HBS students to graduate with high distinction, Grandon had led his study group in unraveling hundreds of discussion cases, which he was later to describe as "informing pathways" for learning among instructors, researchers, students, executives, and the case protagonists themselves.
Grandon was no stranger to Harvard, having spent four years at "the college" where he earned his bachelor's degree cum laude in applied mathematics and economics. Upon graduation in 1975 he volunteered for submarine duty and was assigned as a nuclear reactor controls officer and communications officer on the USS Sam Rayburn. After five years of living complexity on a nuclear sub, he returned to Harvard and upon graduation from the Business School in 1982, he ran a small agricultural chemical manufacturing and research firm in Dallas, Texas, for a year before joining Agribusiness Associates, a non-profit consulting firm, where he worked under Professor Ray Goldberg:
Co-founder of the term "agribusiness" and author or supervisor of more than one thousand HBS cases, Professor Goldberg served as an ideal mentor for Grandon. They shared a passion for the case method. In a conversation between the two at Ray's summer home on Cape Cod in the fall of 2012, Ray explained to Grandon that, "I still have people come up to me [at age 85] to tell me how much they appreciated a particular case, or the approach, or the way it was taught. They didn’t have to come and tell me that, and it makes me feel that they are getting something out of the conceptual frameworks that we are still using here today. The feedback that I still get from these former students has enabled me to improve the cases and improve the research."
At Goldberg's urging, Grandon entered the doctoral program at HBS in 1986, where he specialized in Management Information Systems, and found enough spare time to set up his own firm, GG Consulting, to develop computer programs for such projects as a medical emergency simulation model to assess the economic and medical impact of ambulances vs emergency rescue vehicles. He developed an intense interest in education and pedagogy, designing and programming the College Expert, an expert system published by Orchard House in 1991 and marketed to high school guidance counselors.
Upon completing the doctoral program in 1991, Grandon accepted an assistant professorship in Information Technology and Operations Management at Florida Atlantic University, where his use of the case method won him "outstanding teacher" and "most memorable teacher" awards in the MBA and Executive MBA programs. He went on to the University of South Florida in Tampa in 1996, winning six awards in teaching excellence and instructional innovation, and where he remains to this day as Professor of Information Systems and Decision Sciences. During this period he achieved widespread academic recognition, publishing over 50 articles in top refereed journals and writing 12 book chapters. What perplexed him was that the very method that students valued and that made him a prize-winning teacher was not valued as research. "The several dozen discussion cases that I have written," he recalled, "were valued similarly to a typographical error when it came to promotion and tenure."
Convinced that case writing and rigor were not mutually exclusive, Grandon began focussing his research on how technologies and case method pedagogies could be combined to increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning across a broad range of topic related to Information Systems (IS). He found support for his ideas in a group of IS intellectuals in the Informing Science Institute, and he teamed up with ISI founder Eli Cohen to edit "Foundations of Informing Science, 1999-2008." In 2009 Grandon was named Fellow of the Institute and Editor-in-Chief of its journal, Informing Science: The International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline. With the publication of his first major book on the topic, Informing Business: Research and Education on a Rugged Landscape, he demonstrated the relevance of case research to situations of complexity.
Another concern that accompanied his experience at FAU and later at the University of South Florida was the use of the case method in a novice audience. At the Harvard Business School, a student had analyzed some 225 cases by the end of the first semester. In contrast, USF students had as much experience with the case method by the end of the first semester as Grandon had on Thursday afternoon of his first week at HBS. This made him acutely aware of the dilemma facing instructors at those institutions that did not have a strong case method culture, and it motivated him to write his second major book, Informing with the Case Method, published in 2011.
The Case Method book is truly a landmark in the richly diverse and highly productive but relatively little known and still blossoming career of Grandon Gill. The participants of the Porto Conference of the Informing Science Institute were largely information scientists from around the world, highly rigorous in their methodological approaches but at the same time so highly receptive to Grandon's message on complexity and the case method of discussion and learning. It may be appropriate that the conference occurred on the Iberian Peninsula, home to Don Quixote. Though his quest has at times appeared quixotic, Grandon Gill's message deserves to be heard and remembered. It is our hope that this Special Issue will contribute in some small way to this memory.
Professor John C. Ickis, INCAE Business School, Alajuela, Costa Rica