Foster Creativity by Thinking Like an ALIEN With Cyril Bouquet

My guest on this episode is Cyril Bouquet. He’s a professor of innovation and strategy at the Switzerland-based IMD Business School and helps executives bring progress to a changing world. He’s also the co-author of “ALIEN Thinking: The Unconventional Path to Breakthrough Ideas.” In our conversation, Cyril discusses how people can come up with truly original ideas and foster creativity, even under stress, by thinking like an ALIEN.

What does that mean? “When an alien comes to the earth, it sees the world with fresh eyes,” Cyril explains. “It’s not constrained by all the assumptions, the biases that we often bring to a situation.” Thinking outside the box gives us a chance to innovate and find creative solutions. “ALIEN Thinking” isn’t only a metaphor; it’s also an acronym for the major components of creative thinking. Sit back and listen to our conversation about how to shake things up and apply the ALIEN approach to your next creative project.

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The first part of the ALIEN approach is attention. “Attention is really about switching your focus to see the world from different angles so that you can notice different things,” says Cyril. One way to do this is to find solutions from perspectives that may frequently go unheard from. Cyril discusses a story about a cereal manufacturer looking to produce a new type of food for children. In addition to talking to nutritionists, parents and kids themselves, they thought of a novel approach: listen to school janitors. Through their work on the ground level, janitors are able to pay unique attention to what kids are eating at school and what they are throwing away or trading to other students. 

It’s important to step out of your own experience and look around. Finding those fresh individual perspectives from all backgrounds and professions will help us to foster creativity in a major way.


The next word, levitation, is interesting because the conventional way of interpreting that word is to float above things in an almost spiritual way. For Cyril, this choice was intentional. “It’s about stopping to pay attention,” he says. “And so this involves taking timeouts. When things don’t work out, and you need to reflect and maybe envision a different way of proceeding into the future.” 

If you feel stuck, retreating from the world as it currently appears and finding a way to observe it from a different angle are essential actions. The idea that you can foster creativity by taking time away and recalibrating is also backed up by science. “The neuroscience is pretty clear. Our brains need to be given the time, the mental space that is required to reflect and create,” says Cyril.


The default assumption is that imagination is something that’s ingrained in us, and that you’re either born with it or not. That’s why I’m always moved when people remind me that imagination is something that can be improved through effort. “Imagination is a skill that is developed with practice,” Cyril explains. 

He goes on to discuss that adults tend to lose the innate sense of imagination that they once possessed as children. “Kids are imaginative because they are not so obsessed with performance,” he says. “But when we become adults, we set a very high bar for performance. We want to succeed all the time. We know that other people are watching, and we stop playing with ideas.” Instead of sticking to the rules and expectations that we’ve picked up somewhere along the way as we grew older, we need to take a step back, practice embracing our inner child, and explore new ways of doing things.


Cyril mentions a common trap that people fall into during the creative process, which involves first coming up with an idea and only looking for evidence to support that idea rather than continuing to experiment and improve upon the original plan. “It might be that there’s still an interesting idea, but it could have been so much better because they were not open to new learning and new discoveries. And so we really want to motivate people to avoid that trap,” he says.

I think about all my friends in finance or HR who are trying to implement new ideas with tight budgets and have shareholders who demand certain results. This can make them feel like they don’t have any room for experimentation. This is so limiting because, according to Cyril, great innovators don’t have just one idea. “They have a portfolio of ideas in their back pocket and they are not committed to any of those ideas until they start to experiment,” he says. “If we believe we have only one shot, then we want to make sure that we succeed, and we are hesitant just to play with concepts.”


The final way to foster creativity through the ALIEN approach is navigation. “Navigation is all about finding ways to get your solution accepted without getting shocked in the process,” says Cyril. Here’s where the alien metaphor works so well again. In movies, aliens are often portrayed as evil forces that humanity must fight off to maintain the status quo. This perfectly illustrates the pushback that innovators will receive when developing and implementing their ideas.

“People underestimate the difficulty of success,” Cyril discusses. “As a creative thinker, you have intuitions, you believe in your ideas, but you need to transmit that passion to other people. Innovators and creative thinkers underestimate the importance of the opposition they will get, and they also overestimate their own capability to convey their sense of mission.” 

Cyril’s book does a fantastic job of providing examples of the types of obstacles and threats that innovators are likely to face when trying to get their ideas out into the world and how those challenges can be overcome. If your goal in the second half of 2021 is to start putting some of your plans into action, the best way to foster creativity and create something truly engaging is to take Cyril’s advice and start thinking like an alien.

[bctt tweet=”‘Always be confident in your capability to bring progress to the world. Creativity is not a skill that is ingrained in your genetic repertoire. It’s something that you can develop over time.’ ~ Cyril Bouquet. Hear more on this episode of Punk Rock HR!” via=”no”]

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