In the seventh, (and fifth virtual) installment of The Book Club hosted by Zone and Campaign, in partnership with Penguin Business, Campaign’s commercial editor Suzanne Bidlake, caught up with Cyril Bouquet and Michael Wade. Together, along with Jean-Louis Barsoux, the professors of innovation and strategy have just published Alien Thinking: How to Bring Your Breakthrough Ideas to Life.
The book takes a fresh look at what enables innovators to make leaps of creative genius and how the rest of us can adopt this style of thinking. During the virtual session, Bouquet and Wade outlined the core principles of Alien Thinking and shared practical tips for professionals looking to apply this to their own work.
A repeatable formula for innovation
“Creativity has always been important,” said Bouquet (pictured left), “but now is a special moment in history, in which creativity is deemed more important than ever before. If you look at the world we live in, everything is changing. There is an expectation that we don’t want to create a future that is just a repeat of what we had in the past. We need to change the way we work, the way we live. There is a need for more innovative solutions.”
In Alien Thinking, Bouquet and Wade distil their analysis of the factors behind successful innovation into five categories:
- Attention: the ability to see the world through fresh eyes and look for new ways to solve problems.
- Levitation: Being able to put yourself at one removed from a problem, as if you were hovering above it, as a way of gaining perspective.
- Imagination: engage with new and unorthodox ways of thinking about problems and the solutions to those problems.
- Experimentation: test your ideas, learn from them and move on in a rapid cycle of continuous improvement.
- Navigation: learn how to deal with, and navigate your way through and around the various stakeholders who will determine or influence the success of your idea.
Properly understood, and taken together, the authors contend, these are a repeatable formula for creativity.
“How many of the people connected listening today, used to think that to get work done you needed to do it in the office? Now we know – and are living proof – that this is not true. We are all capable of radical change and we realise it now. We should be looking at the current period as one which is ripe for radical change, because everyone is ready for it.”
A less dogmatic approach to innovation
“Most diets fail”, explained Wade, “because they’re too dogmatic”. People find it hard to change, if change means following an inflexible plan or a well-defined methodology that disintegrates on contact with reality. “The moment you have to be creative and innovative,” he went on, “you forget all that.”
Alien Thinking, Wade (pictured left) explained, is different. The ideas are designed to be mixed and matched, so that the reader can use them to build a creative strategy that works for them. Innovation and creativity are not possible with prescriptive approaches.
Another concept the authors are keen to explain further, is the idea of the “slow hunch”. “We often think that innovation happens in a flash, that eureka moment,” noted Bouquet. “In all of the people we’ve studied, it’s quite clear that the eureka moment actually reflects insights which have been developed over a very long period of time. The only certainty is that people who are innovative are very curious, they’re always looking around them, but they also give themselves time to reflect.”
Perhaps most interestingly of all, for anyone who has ever worked on a creative endeavour, Bouquet is quite clear on the value of doing things which may not instantly be recognisable as work. “The neuroscience is clear. There are lots of moments in which we’re not working and we might not think we’re doing anything productive. But actually those moments are the ones that truly matter in the creative process.”
Allow yourself the time to be bored
But if moments of unplanned reflection are key to creativity, how do we build those not just into our private lives but also into our working day? “Answering this question is a systemic challenge in our work and private lives,” said Wade. “We don’t give ourselves the time to be bored any more. Anyone listening to this, ask yourself, do you habitually take your phone into the toilet with you?” He laughs. “If your answer is ‘yes’, you have a problem.”
Wade, who — if he keeps on with this line of reasoning — is well on the way to becoming a beloved and iconic figure for writers and other creatives everywhere, suggests that procrastination is no bad thing. “Organisations,” he explained, are terrible at this: “They prioritise filling your time. Think about how many hours in the day are filled with meetings. How often do you block time in your agenda to just do nothing?”
Wade also stressed how important it is for creatives and innovators not to fall too in love with their own ideas. “One of the people we talked to in the book was Eric Schmidt, who is now the chairman of Alphabet. He said that Google needs to stop falling in love with its products. Instead, it has to fall in love with the problems of its customers’. It’s easy to take things personally if people criticise you. But criticisms, honestly traded, are gifts. They help you get to the solution faster.”
Zone, a Cognizant Digital Business, created its Book Club series to champion innovation, diversity and creativity in the technology industry, with a specific aim to inspire, educate and inform.