Brainstorming vs Brainsteering

brainstorming McKinsey
New answer on Jan 06, 2020
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Anonymous A asked on Jan 05, 2020

McKinsey's approach to problem solving is brainsteering (a top-down approach we learn when we do cases). IDEO and Design Thinking have a bottom-up approach where you see more traditional brainstorming (e.g., Affinity Diagramming in Design Thinking:

I'm applying for McKinsey Digital - I do think that McKinsey also focuses on designing products and customer experiences for consumers.

I have two questions
- Is this open and unstructured brainstorming methodology IDEO and design firms use relevant at MBB firms
- How does MBB firms adopt Design Thinking - is the experience I have with Design Thinking something that I should bring up during the interview?

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Content Creator
replied on Jan 06, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


Indeed both of them are used, just at different stages/seniorities during the engagements.

When you do LOPs (letter of proposal, so the docs you do to sell an engagement to a client) and present it, it´s where you could see most brainsteering.

However, once the project kicks-off, the operational day-to-day work has more to do with brainstorming.

Personally, I learned about Design Thinking when I was working in McK -we were even given a course by an expert- and then applied it.

Hope it helps!



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Content Creator
replied on Jan 05, 2020
McKinsey | MBA professor for consulting interviews

the top-down brainsteering is used during the first problem-solving sessions with partners, to identify a structured approach to the problem. It is the one simulated during case interview and it will be important to practice.
The bottom-up brainstorming instead is adopted during the engagements by the team, once the structure is clear.

Hope it helps,

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Anonymous A on Jan 05, 2020

Thank you, Antonello! Good to confirm that McKinsey also does bottom-up brainstorming too. It is easy to think that McKinsey only does top-down brainsteering. Do you have a rough idea about how much top-down brainsteering you will do at McKinsey compared to bottom-up brainstorming? I want to communicate in the interview that I really appreciate the top-down thinking "e.g., lets focus on fast and healthy snacks as an outcome". I see a clear value of brainsteering with partners. I also see the value of bottom-up traditional brainstorming in questions like "what are the customer pain-points engaging with this product", "how might we change change the user experience, how might we prototype and pitch ideas to solve the customer pain-points" (typical design thinking activities). Would this be something a McKinsey interviewer would relate to?

Antonello on Jan 06, 2020

It depends on the project, but top-down approach is used mainly at the beginning of the engagement, in case of a new scope and when you draft the document for the final Steering Committee.

Content Creator
replied on Jan 06, 2020
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School


I would not discuss those topics in the interview unless you specifically know that the person you are talking to is responsible for design thinking. McKinsey Digital interview is very similar to generalist McKinsey interviews and you will be mostly interviewed by the generalist consultants who don't necessarily understand those concepts


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Anonymous A on Jan 06, 2020

Hi, so mentioning experience with Design Thinking would not be appreciated by generalist consultants during an interview?


Clara gave the best answer


Content Creator
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut
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