How to Brainstorm During Cases

Being able to brainstorm on command is very important during cases. However, I’ve noticed that most people struggle in coming up with ideas because they don’t naturally think in a structured way.

Here’s a 5 step process to brainstorm in a structured way:

1. Define the problem.

2. Define your constraints.

3. Come up with categories; use a framework if necessary.

4. Break down your categories as much as possible and add as many ideas in each section as you can.

5. Eliminate ideas that don’t meet your constraints

Step 1: Define the Problem

Make sure you really understand what you’re trying to brainstorm about. Confirm it with your interviewer, yourself, and write it down.

Example: Let’s say I asked you to brainstorm ways to improve a companies profitability, but that you have a limited budget.

Step 2: Define Your Constraints

Based on what you’ve heard in the prompt and case, what are the clients needs and what can you not do?

For example, in most of these cases shutting down the business or firing all of its employees is probably not an acceptable option.

Example: The constraint here is a limited budget.

Step 3: Create Categories

For this step I often use frameworks. Your ability to come brainstorm depends on the number of categories and sub categories you come up with.

The frameworks that I most often use in brainstorming questions are 3 C’s (Customer, Competition, Company) which can be applied in pretty much any situation and the profitability framework.

Example: Our example is about increasing profit, so we can apply the profitability framework and break profit down into increasing revenues and decreasing costs.

Step 4: Break Down Your Categories

Once you choose a framework, you need to break each category down into as many possible sub categories as possible. For example, we could break customer down into segments, needs, behaviors, etc. if they apply in this situation.

Once you break things down, try to break them down as much as possible and come up with as many ideas per category as you can.

Your ability to brainstorm is only limited by how many sub categories you can come up with at each step.

Example: We can break down increasing revenues and decreasing costs into subareas and break those down as well until we come up with practical suggestions:

Increasing Revenues:

1. Increase Prices

2. Sell More Existing Products

3. Expand

4. Acquire

Decreasing Costs:

5. Decrease Fixed Costs

6. Decrease Variable Costs

Now, you can break things up even more:

1. Increase Prices

2. Sell More Existing Products – Marketing, New Distribution Channels, Redesign Products to meet Customer Needs, Differentiate from Competition, Hire a Larger Salesforce

3. Expand – Expand into new markets, and introduce new products.

4. Acquire – Supplier, Distribution Channel, Related Business

5. Decrease Fixed Costs – Reduce Land costs, equipment costs, selling / marketing costs, labor

6. Decrease Variable Costs – Reduce raw material costs, manufacturing costs, distribution costs, maintenance costs, storage costs

A total of twenty one ways to increase profit. And I could probably come up with many more.

Step 5: Eliminate Ideas

Compare your constraints with your ideas. It’s possible that you’ve come up with ideas that violate your constraints, so eliminate them.

Example: With a limited budget, acquisitions are probably out.

Conclusion

To efficiently brainstorm during a case you should:

1. Define the problem.

2. Define your constraints.

3. Come up with categories; use a framework if necessary.

4. Break down your categories as much as possible and add as many ideas in each section as you can.

5. Eliminate ideas that don’t meet your constraints

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