How to change your thinking and allow radical ideas to become reality

The good news is that it is possible for individuals and organizations to change their mindsets about how they approach change to foster positive innovation.
57 min.
February 2021

“We see barriers dropping, minds are opening all around us, and this means there are great opportunities to innovate. Products, services, business models are being developed right now that are going to dominate the future. We are in a kind of a crucible of innovation,” says IMD Professor of Innovation and Strategy Michael Wade, about how COVID has forced everyone into new behaviors.

IMD Professor Cyril Bouquet notes “The common thread across organizations is that they are trying to innovate. They are trying to make sense of changes that are occurring in the industries and trying to reposition themselves, bring progress to the world that we live in.”

The good news is that it is possible for individuals and organizations to change their mindsets about how they approach change to foster positive innovation. Professors Bouquet and Wade have identified five key patterns of thinking that distinguish innovators from the rest of us. This framework can be applied intuitively or consciously, meaning anyone can adopt their brain to an innovation mindset.

The principles behind ALIEN thinking are:

  • Attention: focusing on a particular context or population to understand its dynamics and latent needs. It requires the ability to look beyond your normal point of view and assess whether you are seeing the whole picture. “We naturally gravitate to ideas that look interesting to us because they fit with what we already thought about what was important,” says Professor Bouquet. “When we look at the world we must multiply the scope of our attention… so we can see more of the reality that truly exists.”
  • Levitation: Stepping back to reflect on the situation and make sense of it. This is often overlooked, but a relaxed brain can actually become very active.
  • Imagination: envisioning that which is not and generating avant-garde ideas, often through playfulness.
  • Experimentation: turning a promising idea into a workable solution that addresses a real need.
  • Navigation: Adjusting to the forces that can make or break your solution. This requires innovators to make sure they are considering all stakeholders when they are moving their ideas forward. It requires people to be a bit of a “diplomatic rebel” to ensure buy-in of people who might be skeptical about the new idea.

Once individuals and organizations have shifted their mindset and are ready to explore new ideas, digital technology is enabling innovators to test their ideas, collect data and overcome the inevitable resistance their ideas may face when exposed to the real world. There are three digital amplifiers facilitate the process of ALIEN thinking:

Data without observation

Traditional data collection involves a massive time commitment as it relies on direct observation. Digital tools and technologies provide new ways to observe behavior without having to directly observe it. Cameras, beacons, sensors, cookies, wearables, and other connected devices allow ALIEN thinkers to collect data remotely with high levels of accuracy. This gives us an ability to see new and emerging opportunities and threats that may not be visible to most people.

Insights without bias

As humans, biases are hardwired into us, and hard to overcome. For example, we tend to overestimate the importance of data that’s in front of us and underestimate the importance of data that’s not. Data is less prone to these biases and more likely to provide an accurate picture of the world.

Scale without compromise

Digital tools can help transform an interesting but small insight into something large and impactful. Analysis at scale has traditionally been a very human-centric activity because computers were not able to easily capture or analyze unstructured data. Non-intuitive inferences were beyond computers initially because they were simply too logical, but this is changing with new tools such as AI.

It is important to emphasize that one of the lessons of the research on ALIEN thinking is that anybody can be an innovator. “It’s a learned behavior,” says Professor Wade, “it’s not magic, it’s not innate, it’s not a trait that you’re born with. Everything we have studied suggests that if you have the right tools and the right attitude you can become a succesful innovator.”

The book ALIEN Thinking: The Unconventional Path to Breakthrough Ideas, by IMD Professors Bouquet, Barsoux, and Wade will be released on 16 March.


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