Today’s blog post is by Liz Roberts. Image courtesy of Palle1958 on Pixabay

I am always amazed when I see beautiful flowers grow in unexpected places, such as a city sidewalk. How is it getting enough sunlight? How has no one stepped on it? How did the seed get here? I recently had several experiences that reminded of these amazing flowers as I witnessed surprising ideas bloom during Lotus Blossom experiences.

a 9x9 grid of colored squares

Lotus Blossom – each colored 3×3 square is a blossom with a theme in the middle, each individual square in a petal storing an idea.

What is the Lotus Blossom Exercise?
The Lotus Blossom is an exercise that encourages idea creation. The structure consists of a standard combination of eight blossoms, or themes, where each blossom has eight petals or ideas. Although it is usually done in a group, it can also be just as effective when done individually. There is also no strict limit to the number of ideas generated and you should feel comfortable expanding beyond the original design. Because I am a Sudoku fanatic, the layout of the Lotus Blossom board always reminded me of the 9 x 9 zone-within-a-zone design in a Sudoku puzzle.

So back to the flower.

New Flowers in a Familiar Field
There I was, facilitating a Lotus Blossom exercise to help colleagues become familiar with the core competences needed for a leadership position. I used the leadership competencies, which I have become comfortable with over the past years, as the blossoms. I did the exercise with two distinct groups of participants, and I went into the activity expecting to see familiar ideas. I was blown away by the number of new, fresh ideas that I saw on the blossom petals. In some cases, I saw the competencies in new ways. I also realized that some impressive ideas did not fit into any competency but were amazing and should be demonstrated by leaders. I saw new flowers blossom in a field that I thought I knew so well.

New Flowers Spread Seeds
A few weeks later, I decided to use the Lotus Blossom again for a different event focused on brainstorming ideas on learning and career growth. I prepopulated the themes based on eight broad categories for how MITRE colleagues typically learn and grow. As the participants were adding ideas, I noticed one of the blossoms getting full, so I mentioned that they can add more petals in the white space right beyond the original eight petals. They surpassed the original goal of eight ideas by five additional new ideas! Here is what surprised me though – it was for on-the-job training. I wrongly assumed that blossom would have the fewest ideas. During our discussion, we all agreed that this was very exciting since on-the-job is where our staff spend most of their time. It was encouraging to see so many creative ways to take advantage of this training opportunity. We ended up with an actionable list to share with our staff on ways they can immediately start infusing training into their day-to-day job. This blossom might result in our staff blossoming in their own careers.

Encouraging New Ideas
During the Lotus Blossom exercise, here are some phrases you might try to nurture innovative ideas:

  • “If you think it, ink it” to encourage people to capture their own ides in their own words.
  • “Who have we not heard from?” to encourage quieter participants to join the conversation and share their ideas and can serve as a gentle signal to dominant voices to step back for a moment and make room for others.
  • “Yes, and…” to enable candidness, which unlocks openings for key insights. The phase also enables creativity, which widens the aperture for what is possible and expands thinking in new ways previously blocked. To learn more about this powerful phrase, read the ITK Blog on What is ‘Yes, And…’?! and 7 Tips to Practice ‘Yes, And…’ During Everyday Collaboration.

If you have not tried a Lotus Blossom exercise, I recommend looking into it and seeing how you can help new ideas bloom for you and your teams.