Wouldn’t it be nice if we could summon up amazing ideas on-cue? Even for the most imaginative among us, coming up with the right ideas can be tricky. The worst part? Stress puts a damper on creativity, so the more you worry about coming up with ideas, the less likely you are to have that lightbulb moment.
Most of us have had to solve a problem at work — whether that’s figuring out a schedule, planning budgets, or working out who stole your lunch. And most — if not all of us — have had moments where we’ve drawn a blank under pressure. This is where ideation techniques come in handy. They kick-start the thinking process and provide a framework that structures your thoughts.
Brainstorming sessions and spider diagrams are great options for sparking ideas, but they’re not without their limitations: the former can be chaotic and not everyone works well thinking as part of a group, whereas the latter occasionally lacks focus and can be too superficial.
Luckily, there’s a third option. Introducing the lotus blossom technique, your new favorite creativity hack.
The lotus blossom method is about thoroughly exploring one idea before moving onto the next. It’s creative, yet thorough. Free, yet structured. Ready to get started? Let’s dive in.
How does the lotus blossom technique work?
First, decide who you’ll be working with. You can do it alone, or in a small group. According to science, you should have no more than 5 people in each group. So if you need more individuals in this discussion, split off into teams.
Next, create a three-by-three grid, either on paper or digitally via a collaborative diagramming tool.
In the center square, write your problem. In the surrounding eight boxes, write an idea related to the problem. Don’t elaborate at this stage. As with mind maps, you just want to get your thoughts down — being critical will only limit your creativity.
Tip: There is no such thing as a bad idea. Even something seemingly unrelated or far-fetched can spark something an innovative thought.
Once you have your eight ideas, it’s time to flesh them out. Or, to use the lotus flower imagery — add another row of petals. But instead of adding another layer around your existing eight boxes, we take each idea and make that the center of its very own lotus flower. Then, we’re going to repeat the process all over again.
Once all your boxes are filled in, you have a grand total of 64 ideas for that one single problem. Pretty impressive, right?
Tip: If you have more than eight ideas for one flower (I’m calling each grid a flower), then see if you can combine or merge ideas — or feel free to add another level of squares (or petals). You don’t need to do this across the board, but if there’s one particular area that’s sparking loads of though, don’t limit yourself.
Organize, filter, sort
By now you should have 64 ideas — maybe more. So what do you do with them all?
You need to sort through your list. If you’ve worked on paper but want to store all this information digitally, then now is the time to do that.
If you want to stay working on paper, you’ll need to gather everyone together and spread the ideas out so everyone can see them. It might be easier to stick everything up on a board so you don’t lose bits, and take photos on your phone so you can refer back to it when you’re back at your desk.
Once you’re ready to start, refer back to your central problem so that when you assess each idea, it’s at the front of your mind. As you go through the list, ask yourself/the team the following:
- Does it answer the initial problem?
- Does it align with the project?
- Does it align with the company vision?
Start on the outside layer and work your way in. If an idea gets three ticks next to it, then keep it. If it doesn’t, but you like the idea, see if you can reshape it so it does answer all of the above. If not, then chuck it. Be ruthless.
Once you have your list of approved ideas, you need to filter it down even further. This is where things become a little trickier (and subjective).
You need to pick your top three. If you’re working in a group, ask each team member to mark their faves (either with stickers if you’re working on paper or via comments if you’re working digitally).
Tip: It’s a good idea to mix teams up (if you’re working in teams) so people are looking at ideas that aren’t their own. We sometimes get too attached to our own creations, so shuffling the group removes the possibility of favoritism.
Chances are not everyone will pick the same three, so take your list of favorites, then filter it further according to priority. You could use a SWOT analysis to assess the pros and cons of each solution, which should help you narrow it down further until you have your winner.
Then, as a final check, refer back to those three questions above (does it align with the problem, project, and business) and make sure the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
Last, last step
So you still have loads of potentially amazing ideas you didn’t use. It’d be a shame to chuck them in the trash.
If you’re working on paper, take photos or type everything up into a list. If you’re using diagramming software, save your work in a shared folder so you can refer back to the original version in the future.
Solving problems is an iterative process, and you may discover a little later on that you need a fresh approach. Luckily, you’ve already done the hard work, so you can delve back into the lotus blossoms for inspiration.
The traditional lotus blossom technique is done on paper. But paper is messy, bits get lost and editing is harder. Using a cloud-based diagramming tool makes this whole process more organized.
The good thing about having a digital version is you can easily edit it, save different versions, and — most importantly — share it with everyone. You can also annotate it and ask team members to hop in and simultaneously leave comments from wherever they are — whether that’s from the other end of the room, or a different continent. It just makes the whole thing that much more collaborative — and when it comes to creativity, the more flexible and inclusive you can be, the better.