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Innovate thinking

Brain circuits

Learn the five principles required for innovative thinking 

Published 16 August 2022 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

Leaders across all industries are struggling to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation, and in the era of digital transformation where traditional business models are quickly becoming obsolete, it can be hard to know where to channel your energy. Through exhaustive research, we have identified the core principles that can help executives change their mindsets and foster positive innovation for themselves and their teams. 

The framework dubbed ALIEN Thinking illustrates the five key patterns of thinking that distinguish innovators. This framework can be applied in your quest to become more creative and innovative. 

The Core Principles of ALIEN Thinking 

Attention: Focusing on a particular context or population to understand its dynamics and latent needs. This requires the ability to look beyond your normal point of view and assess whether you are seeing the whole picture. You naturally gravitate toward ideas that fit with what you already believe to be important, but the ALIEN framework teaches you to expand the scope of our attention to see the larger reality. 

Levitation: Stepping back to reflect on the situation and make sense of it. This is often overlooked, but a relaxed brain can engage in more freewheeling thinking. 

Imagination: Envisioning that which does not yet exist and generating avant-garde ideas, often through playfulness. 

Experimentation: Turning a promising idea into a workable solution that addresses a real need. The aim of testing is to improve, not just to prove. 

Navigation: Adjusting to the forces that can make or break your solution. You must consider all stakeholders as you move our ideas forward by becoming a “diplomatic rebel” to ensure buy-in of people who might be skeptical. 

One of the key findings of our research is that people can successfully learn this type of thinking. Using the right tools, anyone can train themselves to think like an innovator. If you would like to know more, the book is out now: ALIEN Thinking: The Unconventional Path to Breakthrough Ideas, 



Cyril Bouquet - IMD Professor

Cyril Bouquet

Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD

Cyril Bouquet is Director of the Innovation in Action program. As an IMD professor, his research has gained significant recognition in the field. He helps organizations reinvent themselves by letting their top executives explore the future they want to create together.

Michael Wade - IMD Professor

Michael R. Wade

Professor of Innovation and Strategy at IMD

Michael R Wade holds the Cisco Chair in Digital Business Transformation and is Director of IMD’s Global Center for Digital Business Transformation. He directs a number of open programs such as Leading Digital Business Transformation, Digital Transformation for Boards, Leading Digital Execution, and the Digital Transformation Sprint. He has written ten books, hundreds of articles, and hosts a popular management podcast. In 2021, he was inducted into the Swiss Digital Shapers Hall of Fame.

Jean-Louis Barsoux - IMD Professor

Jean-Louis Barsoux

Research Professor at IMD

Jean-Louis Barsoux helps organizations, teams, and individuals change and reinvent themselves. He was educated in France and the UK, and holds a PhD in comparative management from Loughborough University in England. His doctorate provided the foundation for the book French Management: Elitism in Action (with Peter Lawrence) and a Harvard Business Review article entitled The Making of French Managers.


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