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How to develop creativity?

Someone asked on Feb 24, 2019 - 4 answers

Hello!

I have gone through a few interviews with consulting firms. The feedback that I have gotten was that I should work on my creativity a bit more. Personally, I am sometimes thrown off by unconventional cases (not business ones and not "how would you calculate the number of golf balls that could fit into an airplane?"). Therefore, could you please suggest how to develop creative thinking? Any books or reading you could recommend?

I currently work in finance, and the nature of work does not quite imply out-of-scope thinking. I know to some extent creativity is a bit more of a habit and, perhaps, doing something to develop this habit would help me progress.

Thank you!

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Francesco replied on Feb 25, 2019
#1 Expert for coaching sessions (2.000+) | Ex BCG | 1.000+ reviews with 100% recommendation rate

Hi Anonymous,

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:

  1. Recap the situation until that moment
  2. Ask for one minute of time to structure your thoughts
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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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:

  1. we may use lower quality material;
  2. we may negotiate with the supplier;
  3. we may look for someone else as supplier.

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

  1. we may start to use a more efficient technology for our raw material, so that we have to buy fewer units;
  2. we may also substitute some of the units with other types of materials, ideally cheaper.

---

Hope this helps,

Francesco

Vlad replied on Feb 25, 2019
McKinsey / Accenture / Got all BIG3 offers / More than 300 real MBB cases / Harvard Business School

Hi,

These types of cases are actually pretty traditional, especially for McKinsey. The reason why people think that they are rare is that the casebooks (that are in general not a good source of cases) almost don't have them

Feel free to reach me if you need a prep on them. I usually give a homework of 10 unconventional cases and we go through them in a structured way.

To provide a bit of structure, there are several types of non-profit cases:

  1. Factors influencing the price (What are the factors influencing the price of oil? Factors influencing the price of real estate?)
  2. Macroeconomic cases (How will you improve life expectancy in a particular city? How will you decrease the unemployment?)
  3. Public sector non-profits (Increasing the revenues of a museum; increasing the revenues from tourism in a city)
  4. Redesigning the processes (How will you develop a new anti-monopoly regulation?)
  5. Non-profit investments (A billionaire is building a new school. What are the factors to look at?)
  6. Ops and cost-cutting (How to reduce the traffic jams on a bridge? A garbage processing facility is out of capacity, what should they do?) - I personally consider them as a separate type of cases that is pretty traditional in the offices performing a lot of ops projects.

Best

Vasilis
Expert
replied on Feb 25, 2019
Case Interview Expert (300+ interviews) | BCG Dubai | Uber Operations Manager

The best piece of advice I give to people asking me how to be more creative in their case studies, is to think about real life situations. People tend to ignore the wealth of examples they can draw from their own experiences. Think of companies you know and moves they made, brands you love and so on. Hope this helps!

Chris replied on Feb 24, 2019

Dear A,

I watched a TED talk recently. Maybe that approach can help u a bit:

https://www.tedxtum.com/past-events/tedxtum-2018-conscious-reflection/ralph-ammer

Best regards

C

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