Brainstorming: being structured vs. being realistic

brainstorming questions
New answer on May 23, 2020
12 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Mar 07, 2020

I am wondering whether it's always important to have a structure when being asked a specific brainstorming question? Although having a structure is important, I feel like my thoughts will be less practical or creative when I try to think in a "well-structured" perspective.

Is it okay to answer the question by listing 3 main key points, instead of trying to use rigid structures such as internal/external, financial and non-financial factors, etc?

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Emily
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replied on May 06, 2020
BCG Project Leader | 3+ years interview experience for BCG SEA recruiting | Kellogg MBA, NTU, Peking University

There is no conflict here actually.

A good structure doesn't need to be rigid - it doesn't have to follow the internal/external, financial/non-financial, or other typical ways. What matters is you capture the key aspects of the issue, which requires you to be flexible and customise as needed.

And the branches in your structure can totally include creative ideas. You just need to get your creativity communicated in a structured way.

Hope it helps,

Emily

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Anonymous replied on May 07, 2020

Hi A,

I would strongly recommend you to bring initial structure from the very beginning and then simply be creative and brainstorm. So, define the structure first and try to brainstorm and bring your thoughts in this structure. At the very end, communicate it though the top-down approach — presenting your structure, and then presenting the options which you have recognized so far.

This is very impactful reasoning and will help you to make a convincing impression.

Best of luck,


André

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Federico
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replied on Mar 12, 2020
Former Bain (4+ years, UK & Italy) | Ardian (France) | Specialized in Case Structuring, Case Cracking and Non-verbal Comm.

Hi Anonymous,

frameworks can help you in structuring your thoughts, but are not necessarily required to explain your thoughts in a well-structured format. If you answer to a brainstomring question with the proper separators "I believe that ... because of 3 main factors: firstly, ... secondly,... finally, ...", this would still make yourself look like having a structured communication. If you answer to the same question in a way like "I believe that... and also,... and also, ... and also"... this would look to me as much less structured.

For cracking the case, instead, I would suggest to practice on existing "standard" frameworks to learn how to frame your thoughts. Don't stick to frameworks (never), but use them to train yourself, so that you will be able to think about different ways to structure your analysis when you'll be presenting your case analysis approach to the interviewer.

Good luck with your preparation!
Federico

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Robert
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replied on Mar 08, 2020
McKinsey offers w/o final round interviews - 100% risk-free - 10+ years MBB coaching experience - Multiple book author

Hi Anonymous,

Whenever you can think of some specific content-related structures immediately (e.g. financial vs. non-financial) then use those ones to group your thoughts.

However, if there is nothing comming to your mind like that, also grouping your thoughts into e.g. 3 main buckets is perfectly ok.

Bonus 1: Any structure is better than no structure at all. Maybe your generic 3 buckets are not as perfect as it could have been, but it's much much more important to having any structure than no structure at all.

Bonus 2: Once you have your structure, keep in mind that there is also a communications dimensions. Having a structure and communicating in a structured, top-down way is not the same, but the communications part ensures what and how it comes across.

Bonus 3: If you can think of a "rigid structure" like you mention it and you still have some more ideas to add which don't really fit into any of those "rigid" structures, feel free to add a bucket "Others" or "Additional aspects" etc.

A related question was asked on Quora a while ago here - I added some more details in conjunction with structuring case interviews: https://www.quora.com/How-should-I-use-frameworks-in-a-case-interview/answer/Robert-Steiner

Hope that helps - if you, please give it a thumbs-up with the upvote button!

Robert

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Clara
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replied on Mar 09, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut

Hello!

It´s difficult to be categorical here, since it depends on the question.

Normally, a bit of structure is always going to help. For instance, if you were asked, what are the things we should look into in order to launch this new product?

  • Approach 1: Organize the response in 2-3 main bullets.
  • Approach 2: Think of an easy structure to organize your toughts, for instance, thinking about the value chain (producers > transformation > logistics > go to market > distribution > final consumer)

Hope it helps!

Cheers,

Clara

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Francesco
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replied on Mar 08, 2020
#1 Expert for Coaching Sessions (3.700+) | 1.300+ Reviews with 100% Recommendation Rate | Ex BCG | 8+ Years of Coaching

Hi Anonymous,

an approach where you start to brainstorm immediately instead of presenting first a structure is always riskier for a couple of reasons:

  1. You will sound less structured to the interviewer
  2. It will make more difficult to find additional points if the interviewer challenges you
  3. Generally speaking, it will make more difficult for the interviewer to follow your way of thinking

If you find that your structure is not fitting the question, it probably means you have to identify better structures for that question, rather than eliminate it completely.

Hope this helps,

Francesco

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Anton
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replied on May 08, 2020
FREE 1st session in November | From Lawyer to MBB | Top in FIT | 10x your structuring skills | Message to get Free Prep Checklist

Hi,

Yes, you should build your recommendations around the key drivers of client’s business but use brainstorming to come up to creative solutions.

There are typically 3 stages of brainstorming potential solutions to a problem during McK interviewer led cases:

1) Prepare a long list of potential solutions to a problem

You need to create a MECE list of relevant ideas, which can solve the problem. Ways to approach:

  • Zero drafting - this technique helps establish what you currently know and get your initial ideas out of your brain and onto paper
  • SCAMPER technique
    • Substitute - take a part of the product, service or process etc. that you could replace with another to see whether it will result in improvements, such as efficiency gains
    • Combine - one idea might not work alone, but you could combine several ideas, processes or products into one more efficient output. A great example for a combination of two different products are cell phones with an integrated camera
    • Adapt - an idea that worked to solve one problem could also be used to solve a different problem. An example for the successful adaption to a new situation is Netflix. The company started out in 1999 as a DVD rent provider, but they quickly realized that the future belongs to online streaming and changed their product
    • Modify - Changing part or all of the product or process, or distorting it in an unusual way
    • Put to another use - put the current product or process in another purpose or use the existing product to solve problems. For example, this technique can be used to learn how to shift an existing product to another market segment or user type
    • Eliminate - eliminate inefficient processes with the goal of streamlining them. An example for eliminating is Apple’s approach to not include an optical CD drive in their laptop to make them thinner and lighter
    • Reverse - explore the innovative potential when changing the order of the process in the production line
  • Analogy thinking - explore inspiring cases and mix their top features with your industry, to come up with new powerful concepts
  • Forced connections - take two unrelated concepts and forge a relationship between them

2) Prepare a shortlist of solutions

You need to select solutions that would be financially adequate, could be achieved in the foreseeable future and do not face any constraints of the client situation.

3) Prioritize solutions

Apply 80/20 rule to select 20% of initiatives that would generate 80% of the upside effect.

Best,

Anton

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Nathaniel
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replied on Mar 08, 2020
McKinsey | BCG | CERN| University of Cambridge

Hello there,

A structure need not to refer to a fully developed framework taken from exisitng textbooks.
By mentioning x number of key drivers and your logic on isolating the root causes and formulating the approproate solution, you are approaching the issue in a structured manner.

Hence, do structure as much as possible, but no need to limit this only with existing frameworks. By doing this, you can check the box on both having a structured approach and being creatie as well as flexible.


Hope it helps.

Kind regards,
Nathan

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Luca
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replied on Mar 08, 2020
BCG |NASA |20+ interviews with 100% success rate| 120+ students coached |GMAT expert 780/800 score

Hello,

Having a 3-bullet answer is something that can be already considered enough "structured".

Generally speaking, the structure is an important tool that should boost your performance and not to slow down your thoughts. I suggest to have a structured approach in order to have a strong base and academic answers, but then to take 15-20 seconds of "creative session" to come up with some out of the box ideas.

Best,
Luca

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Iman
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replied on May 23, 2020
BCG | Strategy& |Roland Berger | Interviewed >100 candidates in formal hiring process

Hi, if you mean by being structured is following the typical framework then the answer is NO. Being structured is basically your answer follows a logical sequences that are easy for the interviewer to understand. So you can be creative with how your answer with 1 goal in mind, help the listener to have an easy time understand you.

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Jan
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replied on Mar 07, 2020
95% practise, 5% theory. We can make 2-3 real cases in a session or split the time 50:50 between case study and general background

Not so easy to say...

I think it is safer to be structured, even if you know the answer straight away...

The interviewer wants to see the "overall thinking approach"

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Antonello
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replied on Mar 07, 2020
McKinsey | MBA professor for consulting interviews

It depends on the question, but for most common ones an answer with 3 bullets is structured enough.

Best,
Antonello

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Emily gave the best answer

Emily

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BCG Project Leader | 3+ years interview experience for BCG SEA recruiting | Kellogg MBA, NTU, Peking University
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