Case #7 – The Fate of the Vasa

By • on November 16, 2011

Admittedly, it has been a lot longer than a few weeks since my last case update – apologies for that. In turn, I will use the chance of this “comeback” to introduce to you a case that is not exactly on open innovation, but is one of my all-time favorites on the execution of innovation projects: Fate of the Vasa by Alan MacCormack and Richard Mason.

There are several aspects of this case that I absolutely love. First, there is the story itself: one of Sweden’s greatest kings, Gustavus Adolphus, commissions the build of the largest ship in the Swedish navy to be able to use it in the Thirty Years’ War. They build the ship – and it sinks on its maiden voyage! Second, you can actually look at the ship, in fact, Wikipedia tells me its Stockholm’s most popular tourist attraction. Third, the case is super-crisply written – including exhibits, it’s a mere eight pages! And finally, it is very versatile. Usually, I use it to teach the management of innovation projects, but you could just as well us it in courses on project management, leadership, the innovation-marketing interface, and many, many more, and it’s a brilliant fit to all of them.

In my experience, people find it extremely easy to resonate with this case. Admittedly, I have only taught this class to Europeans, who are by and large familiar with the historical setting of the Thirty Years’ War, so it’s extremely easy for them to get involved in and excited about the case (please – if you have experience about teaching this case in a non-European setting, share it by posting a comment!). Also, the information in the case, and backup information available from other sources makes it extremely easy for students of any background to grasp the case setting without any technical (or, for that means, nautical) knowledge. Based on that, I usually find it quite easy to bring across the more general teaching message, because students see how it applies to the case.

The icebreaker question on this case can be very, very easy if you have Swedish students in the audience and you simply ask them to tell the story of the Vasa (which they are usually familiar with) – alternatively, you could also have a Swedish student wrap up the discussion by having them talk about the Vasa of today a little bit in the end. Since I have actually been to the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, I sometimes show pictures to give students a sense of the enormity of the ship – of course, these are also available from the Internet.

Finally, the teaching note (HBS Case 5-606-102) to the case is quite nicely written – and actually longer than the case itself! It provides excellent assistance in making full use of this tremendous case. It provides both an in-depth description of the key insights that can be gained through the case as well as an outline of how to convey them to students. Ship ahoy!


Alan MacCormack, Richard Mason “Fate of the Vasa” HBS Case 9-605-026, June 29, 2005, last accessed November 15, 2011

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