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Traditional brainstorming meetings are still one of the most conventional ways of generating ideas and solving problems in companies across the globe. With traditional brainstorming, participants of the sessions simply contribute ideas at random but remain an essential way to bring together diverse ideas and recommendations. Brainstorming sessions can be structured or unstructured. Many believe that unstructured brainstorming is a tremendous waste of creativity and potential. When you brainstorm with structure, you have a goal in mind and you start by asking the appropriate questions. 

Understanding Structured Brainstorming

In order for brainstorming to be structured, there are few things that need to be present:


  • Clear and concise guidelines for the conversation, this will ensure the input is made in a controlled manner and is constructive.
  • Having a diverse group is the best way to collect ideas and follow creativity from many different angles but there must be mutual respect and trust between the participants. Distrust or feeling uncomfortable can limit creativity and free thinking.
  • There must be a stated objective or goal. If the participants comprehend what is expected from the session, they are more inclined to think along those specific lines. 
  • Each participant must get the chance to provide their input.

Brainstorming Methods and Framework

The most important step in a brainstorming session is for the participants to clean up the inputs, discard the duplicates and review each remaining idea. The groups should sort, organize and discuss how to prioritize the remaining ideas in a logical order for further discussion. The end objective is that ideas must be actionable.

Click here for further information on priority driven frameworks.

Structured Brainstorming in Case Interviews

The candidate will usually brainstorm alone during a case interview. Using brainstorming as part of the analysis will be a little different to traditional brainstorming sessions. Structured brainstorming in case studies will assist the consultant to work through the problem-solving process in an organized, logical and analytical way and keep the consultant focus on moving toward the objective. 

Brainstorming using a structured framework like MECE or Logic Tree in case interviews will allow the consultant to quickly move through solving problems through a hypothesis-driven approach.

Customized Framework-Client Driven Structured Thinking

Structuring your thoughts in a logical, organized way is best done adopting a framework that will assist in navigating you through the problem-solving process quickly and efficiently. This is extremely essential during a case interview where you have limited time to identify solutions. There is, however, one critical fact that you must remember. Never adopt the framework just as it is in a case. Solving the case in a structured way is not about how many frameworks you know how to use. It is about how you use the framework as a foundation and develop it considering the context of the case at hand. A structured framework must be client driven. 

A number of popular analysis frameworks can be used as a foundation to brainstorm case interviews. Below we have briefly outlined a few of the core frameworks most often used for case interview brainstorming:

Logic Tree

This framework can be applied to breaking down the problem to its core. The logic tree represents a graphical method of breaking down a complex problem using a hypothesis-driven approach to focus on the most pressing problems first. The logic tree can equally be applied to achieving a solution for the problems identified.

MECE Principle

The MECE principle represents a way of breaking down and grouping information logically. The groupings will be mutually exclusive (ME) and collectively exhaustive (CE). Simply put, the information will be broken down into distinct elements. Each element can only go into one box. The elements cannot be duplicated. If it fits into more than one box, it is NOT mutually exclusive. Once the information has been grouped, each will then be broken down further until all possibilities have been exhausted, leaving no alternatives. 

Click here for further information and examples of how to apply the MECE principle.

Remember:

  • Familiarize yourself with the basic, most commonly used core frameworks and concepts. These will serve you well as a foundation for developing your case driven structure. 
  • Be flexible. A few case interviews will require you to utilize a series of concepts/structures in order to identify solutions. For example, if the case interview is for a client launching a new product you need to understand the key customer segments, complete a market size and competitor analysis.
  • Practice is key to finding solutions using structured frameworks. Take time to practice case interviews that will enable you to apply the various concepts and frameworks. 
  • Remember your framework is just as important as the solutions.

An Example

    How many petrol stations are there in the UK?

    To get to this answer, we have to determine the answer to the following 3 steps:

    Step 1 - What is the demand for the gas stations?
    Step 2 - What is the demand for one gas station?
    Step 3 - Determine the total number of gas stations

    • To start off with and until we have the real numbers, we will start with the number 1 to determine the total number of gas stations.
      • Let's accept that the population is 80 million and there is 1 car for every 4 people. This means that we would have a total of 20 million cars. 
    • Now that we have established the number of cars, we need to reach the estimation for the total demand by day/week/year.

    Step 1

    Assumptions are based on my own experience. I visit a gas station one in every two weeks, therefore I am using the assumption that the entire population visit a gas station every two weeks)
    Population with cars = 20 million visit the gas station every two weeks (let's say every 15 days) which means that approximately 1.35 million cars visit a gas station daily. (20 m divided by 15 = 20/15=4/3~1.35 million)
    • Step 1-What is the demand for the gas stations? 1.35 million is the total demand.
    Step 2
    Now we need to determine the demand for one gas station during a day. To keep it simple, we can assume that there are always 3 cars occupying the gas station for 5 minutes throughout 18 hours of the day (the remaining 6 hours of a day the gas station is empty).
    • Step 2 - This would give us ~650 cars every day. This is the number of cars served by a gas station in one day.
    Step 3
    In order to answer the question, how many petrol stations are there in the UK, we have divided total demand (1.35 million) by local demand (650), and reach ~2000 as our final answer.


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