This article provides a practical explanation of the Lotus Diagram. After reading, you’ll understand the basics of this powerful management tool.
What Is the Lotus Diagram?
The Lotus Diagram is a brainstorming tool for which a visual representation of an idea is used. In a certain sense, this can be compared to mind mapping, but the structure of the Lotus Diagram often yields better results can be achieved than traditional mind mapping. The tool is also referred to as the lotus blossom technique.
The Lotus Diagram, or lotus blossom technique, starts with a central idea or theme and is subsequently expanded in an iterative manner by means of solution areas or related themes. The technique encourages the user to have a fully formed idea before it is considered complete.
The Lotus Diagram can be applied in various ways within the organisation. It offers the possibility for endless collaboration between different departments, and can be used to improve business processes or to discover problems. This creative tool for creatively solving problems was proposed by Michael Michalko.
Michael Michalko is one of the most valued creativity experts in the world and is specialised in offering creativity workshops, seminars and think tanks. His customers vary from private persons to large companies. Many of his books, such as Cracking Creativity and Thinktoys, have gained worldwide popularity and have been translated into 15 languages.
Design Lotus Diagram
The Lotus Diagram is drawn on regular paper or a digital sheet. Generally, the Lotus Diagram consists of 3 by 3 squares. These are known as blossoms and are arranged around the centre of the blossom.
The middle square of the Lotus Diagram of each blossom contains the main concept, idea or question. The other squares of the blossom are related to this. Below is an example of a Lotus Diagram.
Square I (main concept)
This box of the Lotus Diagram contains the central question, concept, idea or problem. This first box contains the problem that must be solved.
Squares A-H (related concepts)
In squares A-H, concepts or ideas are noted that are related to the central question. These squares are directly connected to the initial idea and are displayed around the centre of the blossom.
Each of the related concepts around the centre blossom gets its own Lotus Diagram, explained below.
Expansion Boxes A-H
As you can see in the image below, each of the squares A-H receives its own diagram in which related aspects are included. This creates an initial problem or concept, with eight related concepts (box A-H) that are each individually treated.
Step-by-step plan Lotus Diagram
Conducting a brainstorming session based on a Lotus Diagram is simple and explained in five steps below.
1. Identify a problem or concept
As stated, the Lotus Diagram can be used for various purposes, but it proves to be most effective in solving problems. Therefore, take an organisational problem as the basis and ensure that the right people are involved in the process. Bring the people together, select a problem or concept, and get started.
2. Brainstorm about related components, issues, problems or themes
An organisational problem is almost never a stand-alone issue and can affect multiple matters or departments. Therefore, take the time to note down various relevant matters that are connected to the main subject and subsequently fill these in around the main concept in the boxes A-H.
3. Draw the remaining squares
A new box must be drawn for each of the relevant matters related to the main concept. If there are eight connected matters, eight new boxes are drawn with the letters A-H.
4. Brainstorm about the remaining squares with concepts and related subjects
For each of the secondary matters or issues, a new Lotus Diagram is drawn and all matters connected to this concept are noted down. This creates a complete image of the problem and of all matters that affect the problem or are otherwise connected to it.
5. Study the new ideas
The result is a collection of 8×8 new ideas or aspects that are related to the concept. Take the time to study these and think about how secondary matters are connected to the problem and which measures or actions could solve the problem. If you can’t figure it out like this, use the root-cause analysis.
Practical example Lotus Diagram
Imagine that manager X of company A seeks to create more value for the organisation by increasing productivity or reducing costs. The manager makes sure that he holds a brainstorming session with the right people, in combination with the Lotus Diagram.
The Lotus Diagram is drawn on a large whiteboard, in a central place in the office. ‘Adding value’ is written down in the centre of the blossom, and the eight other squares are drawn around it. The manager and his team write down the most important areas, ideas or concepts to increase productivity or decrease costs in each of the squares. These are written in the squares around the central square.
There are often more than eight ways to increase productivity or decrease the costs. By brainstorming about the effectiveness of these activities, a selection can be made of the concepts that are believed to be the most promising. For instance, the manager can include various matters in the Lotus Diagram: suppliers, products, travel expenses, partners, technology, facilities or training. These are all placed in the centre of a new Lotus Diagram.
Subsequently, eight new ways to add value must be noted down for all themes. Constantly ask yourself: how can we add value or decrease the costs through suppliers? And, how can we deploy technology in such a way that productivity is increased?
Write down the ideas and applications surrounding the theme concerned and repeat this until the Lotus Diagrams of all eight concepts have been completed. When the entire diagram is completed, the result is 64 new ideas or ways to lower the costs or increase productivity.
Lotus Diagram summarised
The Lotus Diagram, also called the lotus blossom technique, is a highly effective tool used to support the thought process. A central problem or issue is written down in the centre of the diagram and eight matters connected to the problem and solution are noted down around it. Subsequently, a new Lotus Diagram is drawn for each of the secondary matters and this results in an overview of 64 new related ideas or concepts.
To safeguard maximum effectiveness, but also creativity, it’s important that the problem is discussed from different angles. A way to do this is to make sure to have a diverse group of people in the brainstorming sessions.
Now It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Are you familiar with the explanation of the Lotus Diagram? What do you believe are pros and cons of this tool? Do you see similarities with mind mapping or other thinking tools? With which tools discussed in the article are you most familiar? Which other creativity tools are you aware of?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Couger, J. D. (1995). Creative problem solving and opportunity finding. boyd & fraser publishing company.
- Couger, J. D. (1996). Creativity & innovation in information systems organizations. Boyd & Fraser Publishing Company.
- Michalko, M. (2010). Thinkertoys: A handbook of creative-thinking techniques. Ten Speed Press.
- Michalko, M. (2011). Cracking creativity: The secrets of creative genius. Ten Speed Press.
- Proctor, T. (1995). The essence of management creativity. Pearson PTR.
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