Invented in Japan by Yasuo Matsumura, the Lotus Blossom technique adds focus and power to classic brainstorming. Once mastered, the technique helps you create more and higher quality ideas for products and services, find innovative ways of improving your business, and helps you solve a variety of problems you frequently encounter.
What’s the big idea?
The Lotus Blossom technique focuses the power of brainstorming on areas of interest. It does so through the use of a visual representation of ideas and is similar to a mind-map, but is more structured and pushes you in ways you don’t experience in classic mind-mapping.
One starts off with a central idea or theme, and then expands outwards with solution areas or related themes in an iterative manner. The technique encourages you to have a fully fleshed out idea space before considering it complete.
A single real or digital ‘sheet’ is used. Eight 3×3 squares, known as blossoms, are arranged around a center blossom.
The center square of each blossom contains a concept or problem that the other squares of the blossom are related to.
The overall sheet
The following diagram visually shows how the sheet is laid out:
- Box I: The initial problem or concept.This box contains the problem to be solved or the concept to be explored.
- Boxes A-H: Related concepts. These boxes contain concepts or ideas related to the initial concept in box I. Note that the boxes immediately surrounding the initial concept are repeated as seeds for the blossoms arranged around the outer edge.
Further expansion into the outer blossoms
The following is a detail of H to illustrate how the outer blossoms fit in. I won’t repeat the other blossoms because they follow an identical pattern:
- Box H: Concept related to initial idea or concept.This is a replication of what was in the related box from square H above.
- Boxes h1-h8: Related concepts. These are concepts related to the concept in square H.
The outer blossoms follow the same pattern as the inner blossom. Each contains an inner box surrounded by outer boxes that are related in some way, either a concept, idea or solution.
The following are the steps of the process:
- Enter a problem to be solved, an item to be improved, or a theme to be examined in the center box.(Box I above)
- Brainstorm related components, solutions or themes and put these in the boxes immediately surrounding the center box. (Boxes A-H above)
- The values from those boxes should now be used as the center of the eight lotus blossoms on the outer edges of the sheet.
- Brainstorm related components, solutions or themes and enter these in the eight boxes surrounding each of the new center seeds for each outer lotus blossom. Try your best to complete all of the blossoms to maximize ideas.
- Upon completion you will have at least 64 new ideas related to the original problem or theme.
Note: Occasionally you’ll find concepts introduced in an outer blossom that needs to be further broken down. In that instance seed a new sheet with that idea and continue the process.
Applications of the technique
There are many specific applications of the technique but to keep this article focused, let’s look at three ways it can be used to help business. Below I’ll cover how to use it to come up with ideas to directly improvement the ‘big picture’ areas of a business, how to improve an existing product, and how to discover problems of market sub niches.
Example: Find opportunities to improve the ‘big picture’ areas of business
In this example I’ll run through a scenario of ways to improve a big box store. Let’s start with the nine center boxes.
- Put the item under consideration in the centermost square. In this example, I put the big box store here.
- The surrounding squares are either components of the business or concepts the business must consider: Customer service, prices, store hours, the selection of goods, the website, advertising, demographics and shipping schedule.
Breaking it down
One would normally break down all eight of these boxes into their own outer lotus blossoms, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll examine just the website box.
To arrive at the website breakdown I asked myself how the website of the fictitious business could be improved and came up with the following:
- They could improve the look and feel of the site to give it a more contemporary feel.
- They could improve the speed of the site.
- They could add web coupons that could be redeemed in the store.
- They could look for opportunities at cross-site promotion.
- They could pay for web advertisements
- They could have new types of signs in the store
- They could allow people to order products from the site and pickup from the store
- They could allow people to return items to the store that were purchased on the site
I filled in a few more boxes in other blossoms in the downloadable Excel workbook discussed at the end of the article. Check out the tab ‘Example-Big Box Store’.
Example: Improving an existing product
In this example I’ll run through a scenario of ways to improve an existing product, in this case playground equipment. Let’s start with the nine center boxes.
- In the centermost square, I put the item under consideration, a playground/playground equipment.
- The surrounding squares are either components of the product or concepts the related to the product: A swing, parents, slide, teeter-totter, spring horse, tire swing, jungle gym, merry-go-round.
Breaking it down
As mentioned above one would normally break down all eight of these boxes into their own outer lotus blossoms, but in the interest of brevity I’ll just cover one.
Important: You’ll notice that most of the generated concepts are playground toys that could be improved. However, one box takes things in a different direction – it considers the parents of the kids. I think this particular choice brings up a couple interesting points:
- The “Parents” concept shows that you don’t need to break things down in a classic hierarchy. Just because all the other boxes were types of playground equipment doesn’t mean that all the boxes have to be types of playground equipment. The only restriction is that the outer boxes have to be conceptually related to the inner box. Nothing dictates that they have to share the same type of relationship.
- By allowing myself to not get stuck into thinking that I just had to plop down different types of playground equipment for all boxes, I opened up the possibility for a very interesting way in which we can find improvements – by looking at the needs of a niche who currently isn’t utilizing the product but who is in close proximity to it, thus could become future customers of the product with some creative thought.
Now let’s take a look at the “Parent” blossom:
- The playground could be enhanced to include exercise equipment so parents could get a workout while they wait.
- A Wi Fi hotspot could be added in the area so parents wouldn’t need to burn up their cell data plans.
- A couple outdoor chessboards could be added so parents could play each other while they wait.
- Some of the equipment could be enhanced to handle the weight of an adult so parents could join in the activities.
- The equipment itself could be enhanced to act as exercise equipment to the parents
- A laptop or mobile charging station could be added so parents won’t waste batteries.
- A tire inflation station could be added so bikes tires could be easily refilled.
- An area could be added that allows the family pet to get a drink of water.
I filled in a few more boxes in other blossoms in the downloadable Excel workbook discussed at the end of the article. Check out the tab ‘Example-Playground’.
Example: Breaking down a niche and finding problems
In this example I’ll run through a scenario of breaking down a niche into sub niches and then coming up with problems of the sub niches. This type of activity can be very helpful when you’re trying to figure out a product or service to offer since any decent offering has to be able to solve problem or satisfy a desire.
- In the centermost square, I put the niche under consideration, ‘Teachers’
- The surrounding squares are sub niches of the teacher niche: teachers of young kids, middle school teachers, junior high teachers, high school teachers, community college teachers, college professors, trade school teachers and business trainers.
Breaking it down
Lets take a look at how the ‘High School Teachers’ sub niche problem discovery blossom:
- Kids get unruly in class
- Homework takes a long time to grade
- Some kids cheat in class
- Teachers don’t get much pay
- Some high school teachers get bored in summer when school is out
- Teachers get frustrated by kids not wanting to challenge themselves
- Teachers don’t like that the curriculum is often dictated to them and want to have more freedom to choose how they run their own class.
- The classes are too full thus kids aren’t getting the individual attention they need.
I filled in a few more boxes in other blossoms in the downloadable Excel workbook discussed at the end of the article. Check out the tab ‘Example-Niche Breakdown’.
From problems to products
As mentioned, a blossom like this can be really helpful when you want to develop a product or service because niche problems are what business’ try to address with their offerings.
To go that extra step and actually come up with a solution idea you could take the discovered problems and seed another blossom sheet to generate new concepts. To generate ideas for these offerings you could employ either informal brainstorming as we’ve been doing throughout this article or use a more powerful technique such as provocation and movement.
Get the Lotus Blossom Workbook
Get the Excel workbook I used in the article. It has:
- Sheets containing more complete information from the examples
- A blank sheet that you can use to easily apply the Lotus Blossom Technique to your own problems and themes.
Fill out the following information to receive the workbook in your email.