Business School Students Agog over Gaga

Famous entertainer Lady Gaga is the subject of case studies at numerous business schools.

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Whether the discussion centers on the growth and adaptation of KFC in China, customer service amid chaos in the Indian hotel industry, or JetBlue's Valentine's Day crisis, one of the most stimulating aspects of the b-school classroom is the use of the case method. Invented by faculty at Harvard Business School in 1920, the case method of teaching aims to put students in the same decision-making situations that executives have faced. Cases come from all industries, from sports to finance and fashion.

Just a few weeks ago, in fact, HBS published a case on Lady Gaga. Yes, that Grammy-winning, headline-grabbing, meat-dress-wearing, musical maven—who is reportedly worth $110 million—has a thing or two to teach tomorrow's M.B.A.'s. The Lady in question is actually the subject of two Harvard case studies; the first contemplates the possible choices Team Gaga faced after the cancellation of Kanye West's Fame Kills tour, while the second looks at the release of "Born This Way" and Gaga's numerous brand partnerships.

[Learn more about the case method at Harvard Business School.]

According to the executive summary, before Gaga's fame skyrocketed in 2009, her manager faced decisions that could have derailed the performer's career. Written by Anita Elberse, an associate professor at Harvard who teaches the second-year M.B.A. course Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries, the case examines the manager's strategic marketing choices that instead turned Gaga into a global brand.

"Above all else, I hope the case will help students understand the economics and intricacies of the concert business," Elberse says. "When it comes to touring, the risks increase as the venues get larger, but the potential rewards increase, too."

Harvard isn't the first business school to bring Lady Gaga into the M.B.A. classroom. Earlier this year, the European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) and Antwerp Management School co-created the case study "Lady Gaga: Born This Way?" to teach M.B.A. students about strategic innovation. When asked how studying the unconventional artist could benefit established companies, ESMT faculty member and study co-author Martin Kupp points to Gaga's use of social media to create a community and her use of a variety of platforms to continuously publicize herself.

[Read six college admissions tips for artistic students.]

"The case study can help teach [students] how to develop a good understanding of the elements of strategic innovation and how an individual or organization can shake up an established industry merely by framing and answering the fundamental strategic questions 'Who is the customer?', 'What do I offer this customer?', and 'How do I create value for the customer­—and ultimately myself?' differently," says Kupp, who recently published The Fine Art of Success, a book about the lessons managers can learn from artists. "It provides rich data to discuss the way in which new technologies like social media can be used as tools for [business] innovation."

Vince Mitchell, professor of consumer marketing at Cass Business School in London, disagrees about the value of a case study on Lady Gaga. "Gaga is an extremely talented artist, that's the main reason for her success, not the business decisions she makes. So to examine her with a music course is legitimate, to examine her within a business school is not," he says. The best people to learn from, Mitchell asserts, are "businessmen who make business decisions and we want to know how and why they took them. There are lots of great business entrepreneurs to learn from. I'm not sure that artistic entrepreneurs have anything more to teach a general business audience, unless it was on the curriculum of the Simon Cowell School of Business."

In reaction to the HBS case study, The Wall Street Journal's Smart Money published a great piece riffing on the "Laws of Gaga" for small business owners. By presenting a "Lady Gaga Version" and a "Mere Mortal Version" of three key business lessons, The Journal says it appears that tomorrow's entrepreneurs really can learn a lot from the irreverent yet influential pop idol.