Do anyone have any tips for improving answers on brainstorming type of questions?
Overview of answers
Hi, a couple tips:
- Always ask if you can take ~30 seconds to structure your thoughts. Just because it's a brainstorm, doesn't mean it shouldn't be nicely structured. Worst case, they say you shouldn't take a break, and you are in the same position if you had not aksed.
- First think in terms of buckets, then specific ideas. For example, if you are asked to brainstorm ways to increase revenue, before you start suggesting ideas like marketing campaign, pricing promotion, etc. - break down the revenue - you can do it in a number of ways depending on the specific case
- P*Q, then Q--> number of customers x purchases per customer, etc.)
- Business units - e.g. By division, by geography, etc.
- Read through a lot of cases with brainstorm elements. Also, when you find a brainstorm and want to find more ideas, just do some googling /searches on old preplounge questions to get ideas
- Keep a log of brainstorm ideas from typical brainstorm questions (e.g. ways to increase revenue, ways to cut costs, risks faced, etc.). This is important to actually absorb information you learn and find in different cases.
Hope this helps!
Here is how you should answer these questions:
- Ask an interview for a minute to think
- Think of several buckets of ideas (e.g. scope / value proposition). Remember to think as big as possible
- Narrow down to each bucket and generate as many ideas as possible (e.g. scope: vertical growth, horizontal growth, new products. Value proposition: additional services, improved quality, etc.)
- Present the structure (buckets) and then your idea
Creativity is in direct correlation with your business judgment. Business judgement is directly related to industry knowledge. Focus on the most common industries in the following priority (sorted by probability of getting a case): 1-retail and CPG; 2-airlines; 3-Telecom; 4-banking; 5-natural resources; 6-tech
There are several sources of info to develop industry knowledge:
1) Cases - you simply solve 50-70 cases and get a broad knowledge of different industries, common pitfalls and questions. The key here - find good partners who already had case interviews with MBB companies
2) Company reports, equity reports, IB roadshow docs - usually have a good overview of company and industries. Annual company reports are probably the best source of information about the industry
3) HBS cases - quite useful, but not sure if lot's of them available publically. Probably worth buying
4) Books - one good book about airlines with numbers and industry analysis can give you all needed industry knowledge
5) News, Industry blogs
For each industry, you should understand:
- Revenue streams
- Cost structure
- Key performance indicators
- Key revenue drivers
- Industry trends
Also some comments about particular industries:
1) Retail - make sure you understand key retail metrics (P&L lines, same store sales, revenue per square meter and per person, etc) and how distribution works as well as its metrics (share on shelf, etc)
2) Airlines - read about profitability issues, different routing models, cost structure, industry metric s like load factor and make sure you know all possible additional revenue streams
3) Telecom - I would read industry reports and try to understanf how telecom is transforming with internet penetration and tech innovations
4) Banking - you should know the key products in corporate and retail banking and how they earn money (Interest, commision, transactional)
5) PE / M&A - go through available case examples and read about different PE strategies
the tricky thing with brainstorming is to identify new ideas when you’re stuck and to manage to deliver your ideas in a somehow structured way. I personally proceed as folllw :
- third ideas Poping are usually very specific and detailed
- I then try to identify a macro category at higher level where this idea could be allocated
- then I try to navigate at this higher level to identify the other macro categories that could be relevant
- for each macro category I drill down to generate a more specific idea
that’s My way, I am sure other coaches will offer alternatives. In the end this is very personal and you should leverage the different feedback to build what works for you.
+1 on the need to structure your thoughts. The big danger in a brainstorming session is you just start rattling off random thoughts as they cross your mind. I actually made this mistake post-BCG while interviewing for an industry role - shame on me!
Do ask for a minute to gather your thoughts, and do come back with a structure, however simple. Then follow the structure and bucketize the various thoughts you come up with.