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Not structured enough in brainstorming session..always ask for time to think?

brainstorming questions
New answer on Oct 31, 2023
5 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on Mar 01, 2020

I have got the feedback that my thoughts (especially the brainstorming part) are not structured a few times. I would like to hear some advice on:

(1) Is it okay to "always" ask for time to structure thoughts whenever there is a brainstorming question? In real interviewers, there are much more "brainstorming" type of questions to test candidates' reaction. What would be a reasonable frequency to "ask time to structure thoughts"?

(2) I understand it is important to think in a "structured" way to answer brainstorming questions. But without being given time to "structure my thoughts", is it possible to answer the questions instantly in a structured way? How could I train this skillset?

(edited)

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Cristian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Oct 31, 2023
#1 rated MBB & McKinsey Coach

Yes to both questions - take time to think and provide a ‘structured’ answer. 

Taking time helps you get depth to your thinking and then also figure out what is the best way to communicate your ideas in a structured manner. 

Providing a structure helps the interviewer better navigate the discussion and also make the answer more operational. 

Here's a resource I put together on brainstorming techniques that you might find helpful:


Best,
Cristian

 

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Sidi
Expert
replied on Mar 02, 2020
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi!

I have a clear opinion here:

(1) Yes. Always! This is also what is expected from you on the job! There is nothing more dangerous than a young consultant on the team who doesn't properly think before talking to clients. Always moderate it in a way like "Good question. Let me take an instant to think this through and outline which aspects are important to consider here."

(2) No. Never start talking before having thought it through! As such, the question is obsolete.

Cheers, Sidi

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Nathaniel
Expert
replied on Mar 01, 2020
McKinsey | BCG | CERN| University of Cambridge

Hello there,

1) Yes, absolutely. Much better to ask for 1-3 minutes to come up with a very concise and structured answer then trying to think on your feet and risking unstructured thoughts as a result.

If anything, asking for time will not result in penalty or bad impression on you, it will showcase your tendency on being attentive and careful on what you say.

Reasonable time to think is between 1.5 - 2 minutes.

2) It takes time, but you would better ask for time, even just 30 seconds to do this.
Refer to "Pyramid Principle" by Barbara Minto on how to communicate in a structured manner.

Mind you, it takes lots of practice to get comfortable with this as it's not a natural state of thinking for people.

Good luck!
Hope it helps.

Kind regards,
Nathan

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Anonymous A on Mar 01, 2020

Thanks for your feedback! The first question should be about the "frequency" of asking time to structure thoughts. If the partner keep asking open ended questions, is asking for more than 3 times too much?

Clara
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Mar 02, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut

Hello! This is the classical struggle that many of my coachees share. Here are my toughts:

  1. Yes, for sure! No downside for this, worst thing that can happen is that they say no.
  2. Yes, indeed, and it gets better over time. Even when thinking on your feet, there are some tips and tricks u can leverage (e.g., when doing a market entry, if they asked you what are the things you would do to start with the introduction of a new product, you can organize your toughts in a sequence way: 1. production, 2. packaging, 3. logistics, etc. and then break down all those points into specific actions: 1 > who will be our producers? will we do it ourselves or outsource that part of the value chain? etc.)

Hope it helps!

Cheers,

Clara

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Luca
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Mar 01, 2020
BCG |NASA | SDA Bocconi & Cattolica partner | GMAT expert 780/800 score | 200+ students coached

Hello,

Here are my answers:

  1. Absolutely yes, you can ask for 30 seconds every time that you have to do a brainstorming or a list of potential answers. The amount of time depends on the question, for example at the beginning of the case you can take around 2 minutes to wrte down your framework
  2. You will get used to answer in a structured way practicing a lot. Of course without having time to recap is harder but when you will get the right mindset you will start to naturally think a structured way. A good way to start is to prepare and study list of things/factors that can be useful during case resolution (e.g. variable costs, plus and minus of different ways to enter a market ecc..) Whenever you will be asked abouth these topics, you have already something to say in your mind and you can think just how yo customize them to the specific case

Hope it helps,
Luca

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Cristian gave the best answer

Cristian

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