problems with creativity are usually due to a lack of structure for questions the candidate didn’t see before, which leads to partial/incomplete brainstorming. Therefore, to improve your creativity, you have to follow specific steps to be able to derive creative brainstorming in a structured way, even for unusual questions.
I would recommend the following steps to improve your creativity:
- Recap the situation until that moment
- Ask for one minute of time to structure your thoughts
- Identify some key MECE areas. This is something you can do even if you have never seen that question before. Potential divisions include: Number of units - Price per unit (eg to identify the components to reduce costs); Current-New (eg to structure product, customers, distribution channels); Financial - Non financial (eg to compare ways to enter a market). The more you practice cases in the right way, the more you will be able to derive appropriate MECE areas.
- Brainstorm inside each of the areas. Your creativity in this area is directly correlated with the number of cases you have done. If you feel weak in one specific industry, the most effective strategy is to go through consulting MBA casebooks (there are many available for free online) and screen the list for the industries interesting for you. MBA casebooks are not good in terms of the structure of the case but can help to develop creativity.
I provided an example below.
Interviewer: So, generally speaking, how would you decrease the cost of raw materials?
Step 1: Recap the situation
Interviewee: So, if I understood correctly, 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. In 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.
(Note you may have gained 30 seconds of additional time summing up information)
Step 2: Ask for one minute of time to structure your thoughts
Interviewee: Do you mind if I take 1 minute to think about it?
Interviewer: Please take your time.
Step 3: Identify some key MECE areas
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.
(Note that even if you are brainstorming, you are first presenting a list of the MECE areas. This is fundamental to brainstorm correctly)
Step 4: Brainstorm inside each of the areas
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:
- we may use lower quality material;
- we may negotiate with the supplier;
- we may look for someone else as supplier.
In order to decrease the number of units, we may do two things:
- we may start to use a more efficient technology for our raw material, so that we have to buy fewer units;
- we may also substitute some of the units with other types of materials, ideally cheaper.
Hope this helps,