The Problems With Brainstorming and Why “Structure Sets You Free”


My guest for Episode #389 is Elisabeth Swan. She is the co-author of The Problem-Solver's Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe Podcast. As her bio says, she's “been helping people successfully build their problem-solving muscles for over 30 years, and she loves what she does every single day.”

In the episode, we discuss brainstorming, using an article she wrote for as the starting point: “Green Belts: Group Brainstorming Is a Waste of Time.” Why has classic brainstorming proven to be ineffective, especially in the context of Lean, Six Sigma, or process improvement? And how can it be better given the reality of remote teams?

The conversation also veers into talking about Elisabeth's history in improv comedy and how lessons from the improv approach influence her to this day. Why does “structure set you free” in improv or Lean Six Sigma? We'll talk about that and more.

I hope you enjoy the conversation like I did. You can listen to the audio or watch the video, below.

Streaming Audio Player:

Video of the Episode:

For a link to this episode, refer people to

  • How did you get started with Lean Six Sigma?
  • What are some of the problems with brainstorming as it's usually taught and practiced in the context of improvement work?
  • “research says it doesn't work”
  • Want to avoid “jumping to solutions”
  • Quantity over quality is not really helpful?
  • What do you recommend?
  • “Structure sets you free” when it comes to improv comedy or Lean

Here is Elisabeth's webinar on that subject:

And here is a panel discussion that Elisabeth participated in:

Thanks for listening or watching!


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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