Peer influence is something we’ve experienced for our entire lives, often without a great deal of thought or effort. In the post Peer Advantage Speaks Our Language, I described peer advantage as what can be realized when we engage our peers in a manner that’s more selective, more strategic, and more structured.   That if you want to grow as an individual, become a better leader, and prepare your organization to meet the challenges of the future, surround yourself with a group of peers you respect and who are committed to the same goals, and watch what happens!

This may be true, yet it doesn’t happen automatically. Unless your peer group is able to foster the kind of valuable interaction that can really help you address tough challenges or identify new opportunities, you’re not likely to experience much advantage at all.   One incredibly effective way of inspiring this level of dialogue is through what Etienne & Beverly Wenger-Trayner and others call “Case Clinics.”

You’re probably familiar with the Casebook Method that’s used in law school. Developed by Christopher Columbus Langdell, dean of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895, the casebook method is essentially a retrospective analysis of cases that help students grasp principles of the law. By 1920, the case method (which grew out of the casebook method) made its way to Harvard Business School (HBS), but with a very different focus and purpose.

The Case Method used in business schools is prospective in nature. The idea is to take a business case from the past and to place yourself in the position of the protagonist to determine what you may have done under the same circumstances and with limited available information. Students work together in groups to analyze the cases and reach their own conclusions. HBS professor David Garvin once said that the case method helps students “learn how to take a stand.” Today, business schools including HBS, Michigan (Ross), and University of Virginia (Darden), among others, publish case studies used at MBA programs all over the world.

Case Clinics are an important evolution because they not only help build intellectual muscles around judgment, they offer real-world, personal benefits.   As opposed to studying cases from the past, case clinics involve peers working together on their own business challenges in real time, helping those who bring these challenges to the group to arrive at their own solutions. No matter what the issue (whether it directly involves you or not), everyone learns from the experience of participating in the case clinic, and later, learns from what happened after the solution was implemented.   Vistage Chair Chris Noonan once told me that case clinics are valuable in two important ways:  They help you identify a path forward, and they empower you with the courage to act.

The casebook method illustrates why, the case method explores what if, and case clinics dive into what is and what could be. By working with peers who share your commitment to excellence, yet who offer different perspectives, case clinics will help you explore new answers and pressure test innovative solutions in a highly effective manner – hence the case for peer advantage.