Lotus Blossom: Design Thinking Exercise

One day the frog poked his head out of the well and boasted to the sea turtle that no creature was happier than he. Why he could dive up and down in the mud and enjoy a freer range of movement than all those shrimps and tadpoles living around him, he invited the turtle to come down into the well and see for himself. The turtle declined and instead boasted of his perspective outside the well. “A distance of a thousand miles is not sufficient to describe the extent of the ocean, nor can one ever hope to sound its depth,” the turtle said. “It’s sad to see you peeping at the sky through a tube.” The frog was awed when he heard this and realized how living in a well limited his perspective.

In a way, are we not like the frog? All of the elements of a customer/project are in separate wells, and we see only what is in our particular well.

We need to get an oceanic view of our problems. We need to know the goals, themes, and sub-themes to generate meaningful ideas. Yasuo Matsumura of Clover Management Research in Chiba City, Japan, developed Lotus Blossom, a creative-thinking technique that diagrammatically helps us do this.

You start with a problem or idea and expand that theme into themes until you’ve created several different entry points. In the Lotus Blossom, the petals, or themes, around the core of the blossom are figuratively peeled back one at a time, revealing a key component or sub-theme. This approach is pursued in ever-widening circles until the theme is comprehensively explored. The cluster of themes and sub-themes that are developed in one way or another provide several different possibilities.


Eight 3-by-3-inch squares are arranged around a center blossom. The center square of each blossom contains a concept or problem related to the other squares of the blossom. Enter a problem to be solved, an item to be improved, or a theme to be examined in the center box (Box I in the example).


Brainstorm related components, solutions, or themes and put them in the boxes immediately surrounding the center box (Boxes A-H).


Use the values from those boxes as the center of the eight lotus blossoms on the outer edges of the sheet. (You’re propagating ideas.)


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 the blossoms to maximize ideas.


When the exercise is complete, you will have at least 64 new ideas to explore related to the original problem or theme. Review and determine which are viable or important to move forward with.