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Brainstorm more ideas?

Anonymous A

Hi,

When I am asked a brainstorm/creativity question in an interview, I can normally think of 2 to 3 ideas, then I get stuck. How can I improve this? What are some tangible ways I can practice brainstorming?

Also when an interviewer asks a brainstorming question, is it ok to ask for a bit of time to think?

Thank you!

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Ignacio
Expert
replied on 03/01/2017
Incoming Associate Consultant @ Bain & Co. - advanced casing techniques that will make you stand-out

Brainstorming creatively in a structured/MECE way when under pressure is one of the hardest things to do.

Let's have a look at a basic example: "how can client X gain market share?". A great start to answering the question would be; "Let's look at ways that X can do this in the long-term vs the short-term", OR "Let's see, in general, to grow a business you can change WHAT you sell (e.g., new product vs. old product) or change WHO you sell to (existing customer segment vs. new customer segment).". This way the interviewer can see that you have a structured mind and that you can also prioritise what really is important. Next, you would create yourself a table with Existing Product & New Product ( on the horizontal axis) VS Existing segment & New segment (on the vertical axis). Then, you start brainstorming ideas into each of the 4 boxes. This way, you will be able to come up with loads of things and the interviewer will be very happy with your structured mindset.

Other examples of dimensions that can be used to encourage structured brainstorming are:

  • Existing VS New (applies to customer segments, products, distribution channels)
  • Organic VS Inorganic (e.g. when thinking about growth)
  • Short-term VS Long-term (e.g. when making a decision that required direct implementation)
  • Internal VS External (e.g. when talking about operations)
  • Customer-focused vs Non-customer focused
  • Revenue-based vs Cost-based

Once you have gone through a few ideas and have structured them into sections/buckets it is good practice to select the best ones according to some parameter. For instance, select ideas which have high impact and high implementability. It is important to note that every case is different and so you must always put a lot effort into customising the answer and prioritising what is most relevant.

Francesco replied on 03/05/2017
Ex BCG | MBB Specialist | #1 Expert for meetings done (800+) and recommendation rate (100%)

Hi Anonymous,

in addition to the previous points, I think it would also be useful to practice how to gain more time initially, in case you are not sure about the structure to apply. In order to do so, the most useful thing would be to recap all the information you received until that moment. This will give you time without giving the impression you don’t know where to go, and also help you to sound more structured. After that, you could move to the points mentioned by Vlad and Ingnacio, (i) asking for one minute of time to structure your thoughts (which, to answer your last question, is ok to ask), (ii) identifying the key pillars of your structure and then (ii) brainstorming for each of them appropriate elements.

I have reported below an example from a previous post that I wrote.

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Interviewer: So, generally speaking, how would you decrease the cost of raw materials?

Step 1: Recap the situation and ask for time to think

Interviewee: So, if I got it right, you would like now to move to the elements that could decrease this cost. If it is fine for you, I would like to do a small recap and then move through the key elements that can help to do so. At the beginning you asked me what brought a decline in profits. We have identified the problem lays in Product A, and in particular in the cost area. We then found out that the main increase in cost was related to raw material.

Interviewer: That’s right.

(Notice you may have gained 30 seconds of additional time summing up information)

Interviewee: Do you mind if I take 1 minute to think about it?

Interviewer: Please take your time.

Step 2: Present the key pillars of the structure

Interviewee: Thanks; I believe there are two key areas to decrease the cost of raw material; we may decrease the cost of each unit, or we may decrease the number of units we buy. I would like now to go a bit deeper in these two components.

(Notice that even if you are brainstorming, you are first putting down a list of the MECE pillars of a structure. This is fundamental to brainstorm correctly)

Step 3: Brainstorm elements inside each pillar

Interviewee: Well, in order to decrease the cost per unit we may do a couple of things, keeping in mind we want to maintain revenues at the same level:

  1. number one, decrease the quality of the units that we use;
  2. number two, negotiate with the supplier;
  3. number three, find another supplier.

In order to decrease the number of units, we may do two things:

  1. we may implement a more efficient method to use them, so that we would have to buy fewer of them.
  2. We may also substitute some of the units with something else that may be cheaper and with the same effect on the final product.

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Hope this helps,

Francesco

(edited)

Vlad replied on 03/01/2017
McKinsey / Accenture / More than 300 real MBB cases / Collected all Big 3 offers / Harvard Business School

1) Ask an interview for a minute to think

2) Think of several buckets of ideas (e.g. organic growth / non-organic growth / differentiation). Remember to think as big as possible

3) Narrow down to each bucket and generate as much ideas as possible

4) Present the structure (buckets) and then your ideas

Creativity is in direct correlation with you business judjement that can be trained by solving more various cases with partner / studying various frameworks / reading industry reports / reading HBS cases (google them)