June 14, 2021

Cyril Bouquet | Why Thinking Like An Alien is the Unconventional Path to Breakthrough Ideas

Cyril Bouquet | Why Thinking Like An Alien is the Unconventional Path to Breakthrough Ideas

Cyril Bouquet joins us to show us how we can use our 5 patterns of thinking to see the world through fresh eyes. This new intelligent model for innovative thinking allows you to see the bigger picture, develop world-changing ideas and notice previously...

Cyril Bouquet joins us to show us how we can use our 5 patterns of thinking to see the world through fresh eyes. This new intelligent model for innovative thinking allows you to see the bigger picture, develop world-changing ideas and notice previously unobservable patterns.


Cyril Bouquet is a Professor at IMD and Co-Author of ALIEN Thinking: The Unconventional Path to Breakthrough Ideas


Find out more by visiting the Alien Thinking website | https://alienthinking.org



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Srini Rao: Welcome to the Unmistakable creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us.

Cyril Bouquet: Well, thanks for having

Srini Rao: me pleasure to have you here.

So, as I was saying before we hit record here I actually got your book alien thinking quite a while back. And then for some strange reason, on a random drunken night, I picked it up off the living room table and looked at it and thought, wait a minute, this looks really interesting. And I emailed your publicists back and said, yes, I definitely want to talk to you one of the authors of this book.

But before we get into the book I want to start by asking, where were you born and raised and how did that end up impacting the choices that you have made throughout your life and your

Cyril Bouquet: career? Well, that's actually a very interesting question. I mean, I was, I was born in France, but I quite never lived in France.

I've been an immigrant all of my life, believe it, believe it or not. And, and today I think that this probably impacted my interest in, in terms of looking at creative people and what sort of solutions exist to the problems that we face in this world. So I was raised in new Caledonia, which is. You know, not too far from Australia and New Zealand.

And that was when I was a child. And then I moved to rain Yoon Island, which is a fantastic place in the middle of the Indian ocean close to Madagascar or issues. And what's fantastic about this Island is that you have people who came from all corners of the world who are living together in this amazing place that sort of erupted from the ocean.

It's a volcanic Island. And then I lived there until I was 18, went back to France to do my studies quickly realized I wanted to live in a different place, move to Canada, where I spent a few years did most of my studies. And then Indiana decided to come back to Switzerland where I live now. And you know, when you ask the question, how did this impact, you know what I do?

I think it had to, it had an amazing impact because in fact, You know, I got used to the question of people asking me, so where are you from? You know, you probably picked up from my accent, right? The place where, where, where that you can really identify. I mean, obviously I kept my French accent, but, but you know, it feels uncomfortable at first, but then you realize if you can deal with that uncertainty of being in a place that is not, you know, the one that, that, that you've known for a long time, if you, if you go over this feeling of being an immigrant, you realize it's quite nice because you, you get to learn a lot and you realize that people leaving places the face.

Interesting situations always. But they also show different ways of dealing with those situations and there's really no standard way of doing things. And, and that's what I learned from all of those places. Right. I mean, we all have different ways of, of living, of working of, of cooking and, and there's always something you can learn from each place that you go to.

And, and probably that, that, again, influenced my, my interests for, you know, how can we bring progress to this world? You know, how can we understand the, the, the foundations of creativity? You know, there's a lot of different things you can learn from various places around the world. And, and that's important if you're trying to be innovative,

Srini Rao: Yeah.

So I have to ask about the Island because I, when you said that I don't know if you've ever seen the movie twins. It's really old are Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with him and Danny DeVito. And so he, you know, Arnold Schwartzenegger ends up being from this Island where he is not been exposed to popular culture, all he's ever had his books.

So he ends up being sort of this very intelligent person who stuck with Danny DeVito is this so-called twin mother. Who's just kind of a putz. But what that makes me wonder is when you w on a place like an Island, what is the sort of social structure and social life like how does being from somewhere that small impact your social relationships, and then as far as sort of.

You know, popular culture and what's going on around the world. How much are you exposed to when you're in an Island, like living on an Island like that, and how does that shape your sort of value systems and beliefs? Yeah.

Cyril Bouquet: Well, the first thing is that when you live on an Island, you know, you realize that even though it's a small place you know, Rainin is a volcanic Island.

So there are people living in a, in the middle of the Island, in the mountains, literally who have never seen the sea believe it or not. And of course, when you, when you travel on the islands, you go into the mountains. I, I love to hike as a, as a child, as a teenager. And, you know, you realize, wow. You know, there are people who are very comfortable living close to their roots.

And who don't necessarily have the opportunity to travel and discover what the world has to offer. Even though it's only maybe a few hours from, from where they live. There are people who prefer to live in, in their mountains and, and I've never had a chance to discover the rest of the Island. And, and obviously when you live on an Island, there's always a danger that you don't get to to see something else.

Why do you have this Island fever that we all know about? Because you feel that you're somehow confined on the Island. But what's interesting is that obviously the Island is in the middle of the Indian ocean and you can, you can travel really quickly to other places as well. And then you realize that actually the Island was the gathering of several cultures.

There are people who came, you know, it was you know, it was a deserted Island. There was an empty Island. There was nothing people populated this, this, this Island, when they they arrived from, from Africa, they arrived from India. They arrived from. And are all kinds of low middle East as well. And now they're all sort of sharing, you know, their customs and living in peace.

And, and again, the values that it gave me is that in Oregon, we can live peacefully together. We can all bring a diverse set of views and perspectives. And, and when you mix all of that and you see it in the food, you use it in the music, you, you see it in the, in the movie-making, you know, there's so much magic that can be created by colliding and mixing cultures, practices sets of values and belief system as well.

They can co-exist and they can create a fantastic, you know, set of materials that that is required when, when you try to enjoy life and everything that that life can offer.

Srini Rao: Yeah. Well, so having grown up like this with this sort of diversity of cultures in this sort of melting pot, despite being on an Island, when you see something like what's happened in the United States over the last four or five years where we're becoming more and more divided, what do you make of that?

When you see that? Like, what do you fear are the consequences of that?

Cyril Bouquet: Well, interestingly, right? I mean, you live in, in any country where you have a mix of cultures, there's always a potential, if you will, for, for beauty, right? I mean, those cultures when they mix and when they interact with each other can, can create the conditions for Eunice and for great opportunities for learning.

And, and, and would you have a nation and creation? But there's also the potential for clash, right? Where cultures don't really. Talk to each other, don't really understand each other. Don't really mix well with each other. And then you end up with a patchwork of, of conflicting sets of values and, and, and, and systems.

And, and so every time that you have a diverse nation or a diverse set of cultures that are in coexistence, you have to spend quite a bit of time working on unity. Right? And so it all, you see it in, in teams, when you have teams of people that are made up of individuals who all have their own individual voice.

And, and, and they bring a very peculiar sets of expertise and capabilities, and they are trying to work together, they may be very diverse. And so if that's the case, they have a great potential for creativity and innovation, and for dealing very effectively with the complex problems that exist. But they also have, you know, a very.

Interesting sort of probability of, of clashing because they might end up in situations where they never agree. They never see eye to eye on, on any things. And, and so it all, the, the team of people who are very diverse get stark and, and conflicts arise, and people get frustrated and they withdraw their energy from the team.

And so, you know, whenever I work with a diverse group of people, you know, we try to leverage the benefits of diversity, but we also spent quite a bit of time trying to build a United, a team of people. And the same goes for, you know, again, teams in organizations, but also for four countries, right? I mean, we should be working on integrating our cultures, integrating our belief systems, integrating our practices, you know, but keeping our individuality, of course.

And again, we should build bridges and not walls. That's the way I like to think about what makes the world beautiful.

Srini Rao: So, you know, I, you mentioned earlier that you still have your accent, which kind of wonder, and I've asked this version of this question in some way or another to, to multiple people who are immigrants when you were exposed to so many cultures and Gore moving around so much, how, how do you preserve.

Aspects of your culture through generations and at all, you know, expand on this. So this is something I've ever realized. Being an Indian person who has a sister who married a guy who's from a different part of India, where we speak different languages. And you know, at the rate, things are going, my parents, like the likelihood that I'm going to end up with an Indian girl doesn't seem very high.

And my first thought is that the first thing to go is going to be language and I speak my native language fluently. But even to this day, I've been born and brought up in the United States. My parents will speak to me in our native language and I'll reply to them in English. That's just kind of how it's becoming, that's apparently quite common.

So I wonder in your own life, how you've managed to preserve culture and heritage despite having gone and lived in all these different places.

Cyril Bouquet: Yeah. So, so, so obviously, I mean, you know, it's, it's, it's a very interesting question, right? You have to, to stay true to who you are first. I mean, I, I really believe that, you know, again, you, you come to a place that is made up of very different.

In all sets of, of, of principles and, and, and, and you can bring something that is very special, very unique to it. And so you've got to believe in, in your individuality and, and what is it that you can bring to a team, to an organization, to, to a country, right? When you come from, from somewhere else. And that's a very special voice.

And, and, and you have to believe in that and try to preserve it as you, as you mentioned, because there's always a risk, right. That you. You, you end up being like, like a virus, right? You, you arrive in, in, in a new environment and, and the new environment is, is, is made up of a certain set of principles and, and, and your different way of thinking or different way of, of living, you know, different way of doing things might be perceived as, as a risk for, for that system that, that exists.

And so, like any virus you might, you know, you might get rejected. I mean, people might perceive you as the alien people might perceive you as somebody who is clashing with, with established norm that is prevalent in, in a given society. And so like a virus you might do might be rejected, but you might also get infected yourself.

I mean, in all the system will try to absorb you. So if they don't reject you, they will try to, to make you look more like, like, like the other people, right, who are there and who are trying to represent a certain view of how the world works. And so, and so, as you mentioned, is very important to preserve who you are so that you can continue to, to bring to your individual voice.

But also you should adapt somehow so that you will not perceive as totally alien and, and totally clashing with the, with the systems of beliefs that are, that are in place. So how can you preserve yourself, but also mix, you know, nicely with, with, with, with the system, the way, the way it exists. And, and, you know, when I go to my own personal life sweetie, I mean, I, I ended up marrying a person who was who was Canadian, but it was also, you know, coming from different sets of cultures and.

My father was from India or mother was from Trinidad and Tobago. And, and of course our kids were raised in, in, you know, in a very global eclectic, you know, type of environment. And, and, and I always spoke French to my to my kids at home. And my wife we are not separated, but my wife at the time always decided to, to speak English to them.

And so we, you know, I need a table at the dinner table. We could switch easily from French to English, but they were raised in a perfectly, perfectly bilingual environment. They went to bilingual school and for us, it was important in all symbolically, right, that we wanted to preserve in all this part of, of who we were, right.

And the language is important. And I see other colleagues and other friends, who've made a different choice in all the decided for simplicity and practicality reasons to, to just have one language in, in the home. And, and to me, I've always felt that somehow, maybe we were. Missing out on an opportunity to share a part of us that that is important.

Right? And India, my mother tongue was French and I wanted to make sure that my kids, you know, would have access to that language, you know, from the moment they were born. And, and the same thing went on, you know, for, for my wife and an English. Yeah.

Srini Rao: Well, it's funny because I, I very distinctly remember. I grew up in Edmonton Alberta for about four years.

And I remember in elementary school we had classes that were in French and classes that were in English. And I always wondered to this day why my parents didn't put me in their French class, because as you probably know, it's so much easier to learn a language when you're a kid, somehow you just pick it up without even trying.

Yeah. So what, so you leave the Island. What has been the trajectory of your career that has led you to the point where you're writing this book and doing the work that you do after leaving the

Cyril Bouquet: Island? And, you know, I, I left the Island. I was 17 when I went to France, you know, decided to go to university over there and then quickly realized that in fact, you know, I wanted to continue to discover the world.

And and I, I quite didn't fit in France. Right. I mean, Nigerian spoke didn't speak like, like the Persians I didn't dress like them. And, and, and in fact there was an exchange program with the, with the news of Ottawa in Canada, and I just decided to, to go for it and then discover the culture. In fact, in Canada, that was very welcoming and, and, and allowed me to do exactly what you were saying, you know, preserve who you are bring it to the country because that's, what's what, that's, what makes Canada actually beautiful is this gathering of, of different cultures.

And and, and then essentially I was still a French citizen and at some point I had to do my military service. We realized that you know, I could do it as a civil service, decided to become a teacher in, in Canada for a couple of years and then realized I loved it. And so decided to go back to school.

And after a few years join AMD IMDs is here in Switzerland is a very special. Place it's, it's a business school that is one of the leading business schools in the world, but it was founded by business executives for business executives. And, and so it's a place that gives me the opportunity to work with, with real people.

So I work with senior executives working in large multinational corporations. But I also work with small startups who are trying to somehow bring new value to the world. And, you know, every time, every day when I go to work, I have the opportunity for conversations with, with people who are trying to reinvent who they are, what they do.

And over the years, I've learned a great deal about what makes certain people, certain organizations successful what makes them able to think differently about the world in which we live identify. Important meaningful problems that need to be solved, but also be creative in the kinds of solutions that they, that they bring to the world.

And so I've seen a lot of willingness to reinvent what we do but I've seen interesting journeys with sometimes great successes but also in other occasions, frustrations and, and you learn from all of those experiences and that's what we try to bring in the book.

Srini Rao: Yeah. So two questions. We talked when, anytime you go to a new place, they, they talk about this whole idea of culture shock.

And I wonder when you come from you know, the Island to France, to Canada, when you get to counter, what aspects of the culture shocked you.

Cyril Bouquet: When I came from France to Canada, I remember it all. I mean, you know, one of the big things when you arrive is, is like all those student clubs, you know, that you discover.

And it also, I was doing my MBA in Canada and literally on the first day you get introduced to all the clubs that you could, that you could that you could participate to. And, and, and then I remember the first. People I ended up talking to were absolutely wonderful individuals. W w club of the, you know, sort of gay and lesbians and transgender and NFL.

Wow. This is amazing because I could never imagine. And at the time, I mean, it was, it was, it was, you know, 30 years ago or 20 years ago rather. And, and I could only imagine that that's, you know, this, this could be possible in, in a country like France, who was much more traditional and, and, you know, in France you would expect to see the sports clubs and the chess clubs.

And, but, but here in are very much part of the conversation was a club that was trying to advance in our conversations on a very important societal topic. And, you know, it was part of the university life and, and NFL tr you know, there's something going to learn in this place that, that maybe would have not been possible yet, you know, in France.

I think, I think since then the, you know, we've advanced in, in many other countries around the world, but that's one of my first few vivid images that are remembered, you know, from arriving in Canada and discovering, you know, what the student look life, what the student life looks like, you know, and what sort of conversations can you have when you're trying to think about your place in society.

Srini Rao: Well, I mean, speaking of student life, I knew that, you know, with you being a professor as any academic, who comes to my show has to deal with, there's no way we're going to get out of this without talking about education reform. Because in the United States, I know you probably are somewhat familiar with this.

Students here are often riddled with mountains of debt and, you know, I've even said, you mentioned, you know, you're at a business school that was created for executives by executives. I went to an MBA program that I described as an $80,000 surf lesson at Pepperdine. And I said, you know, I got out of the school and I realized that, you know, going to business school teaches you nothing about running a business and.

That that's the conclusion I drew from my own MBA, but you're a professor which, you know, makes you far more credible than I am in this circumstance. And I, I wonder when you look at the contrast in terms of education, where you're at, versus what you've seen around the world, what are the differences?

And if you were put in charge of reforming the education system in the United States, which I realize is an insane question that I'm expecting you to answer in less than five minutes what would you do? What would you do differently to fix the things that are wrong?

Cyril Bouquet: Well, I mean, it's, it's interesting and that's which level, right?

I mean, I think one of the most sort of impactful Ted talks of, of, of old times, you know, is, is, is around what's, what's wrong with the school system. And it happens to be in the in the UK and the, at least what was describing, how is it that schools from a very young age. All right. Doing things that might be killing the imagination and the creativity of kids, right?

Because we socialize people from a very young age, into the right way of doing things, right. And there are certain standards that, that need to be achieved and there's certain ways of behaving and, and, and who are we to say often? Right. So from a very young age, we kind of teach people what they should aspire to.

You know, what does a good practice look like? And in the process, we also discourage. Deviant behavior, right. Or actually different behavior. And we discourage kids from, from continuing to express their, their creativity. And so I think that, you know, my, my, my first my first level of, of, of interest, if you will, would be around what is happening in schools and, and, you know, are we only emphasizing the academic sort of topics and credentials, or are we creating possibilities for kids to be well-rounded, you know, individuals with who have a chance to explore and develop their character.

We have a chance to develop the appreciation for nature for the arts, for, for essentially all the, the, the dimensions that are important to. To achieving happiness in, in, in, in their lives and contribute to the progress of society and not just business. And so that would be the, the first thing. Now, of course, when you get to continue on this education journey and you, and you become a teenager and an adult and you go to university.

And there's a lot of things that could be changed. Right? And you, you mentioned the, the fact that us universities, but this is also becoming the norm in many other countries are very expensive. And so what is it that we do to provide opportunities for. Individuals who are very talented and are not coming from very rich families to, to have access to the best learning possibilities that, that exist and an ear.

When you think about it, I mean, all those universities are funded by, you know, very wealthy donors and, and obviously, you know, where's the money going to, and so sometimes it is going to research, which I think is very, very important. It is also going to in all to the professors and, and attracting the best talent from around the world.

But it is also an ongoing maybe sometimes in a. In dominance, you know, it's those reserves that universities continue to accumulate. And sometimes you wonder what is the purpose of those reserves? You know, and there's certainly a lot more that we could do to make sure that the companies that contribute funds to the functioning of universities are also creating opportunities for the, the less wealthy individuals to have the right for this education.

That is, that is very special. But, you know, sometimes we think that the answer to, for this is for governments to do, to provide, you know, free access to education and some countries have been successful with those models and, and other countries less. So. Right. So we should go back to the case of France.

I had to really have a two tier system, unfortunately, and you've got a lot of universities that are free and you look at their classrooms and they are crowded. And the professors have very few budgets to be able to, to realize their full potential. And then you have the elite schools very very rich, but also very expensive.

So yeah, there's certainly a lot of things that could be changed. But that requires, you know, new types of conversations between the government, between the companies that are contributing funds to the functioning of universities and from universities themselves. So it's about, you know, creating the right conditions for success for everyone involved.

Srini Rao: Yeah. Well, I think that, that makes a perfect segue into talking about the book up first off. How did you even come up with this framework of alien thinking?

Cyril Bouquet: Well, this, this, this was again it interesting. I mean, I, I, I had you know one of my colleagues who is actually also a professor in, in, in, in Canada is.

Just teaching at McGill university and her name is and she, she was in all sort of teaching of session and in one of my programs and she did it a few times around overcoming biases and looking at the world with new eyes. And in fact, her inspiration was also was also based on the, on the book that was called future think, which is a book that was written by a, by a fisheries edit Wiener.

And, and, and they had a chapter, just a little chapter of the being of the book that was called looking at the world with alien eyes. And I thought this was a great metaphor, right? That if we want to be creative, we have to think like an alien. We have to imagine that we're coming from a different planet and we are seeing the world fresh as if.

You know, we had never seen it before. And, and, and that's very much the conditions that are required if you're trying to be creative while we all come with a set of assumptions, a set of principles that we've often evolved from what we've done in the past. And that very much colors the way we think about the problems that need to be solved, the solutions that make sense, the way we look at the future.

All right. If you're in the content, you see the world in a certain way. If you're coming in from marketing, you see the world in a different way. If you're an expert in a given field, they will provide you with a lens from which you will derive all the truths that you're willing to windows and end. If we want to be creative again, we have to build multiple lenses into our reasoning and our making sense of, of, of the world.

And, and the best way to be able to do that is to really force ourselves to think more like an alien. Would you see the world, you know, as if it was like, if it all, it was the, the, the first time that you ever had a chance to, to experience it. Now, the metaphor is powerful also in another way is when you are Analia and when you're creative, you come into the world and it's, it's a very dangerous place, right?

I mean, again, you don't fit, you come up with different ideas, you don't fit. People will look at you with, with suspicious eyes and think about the movies you've seen, right. How often does it end up pretty well for the agents except for each year, except for 80. But even he has to kind of like escape if you, if you difficult situations right then.

And so that was a great metaphor, right. For us. But it's a little bit like saying, well, you've got to think like an immigrant or you got to think like a child, you know, you don't know yet, you know, you think, you know, but you don't know. And, and that's not very useful. So also like to think, like, you have to, to think outside of the box, right?

You have to escape the prevailing logic. You have to fight orthodoxies, but how do you do that? How'd you do that? And, and this is where beyond the metaphor, you know, we also use the metaphor to provide a very useful. Set of techniques that people can actually apply from any sphere of life. So whether you're working in, in a government or you're working in a company, or you're working in the hospital, or you're working, you're an independent, independent entrepreneurial, or you're a writer, or you're an artist, you know, what is it that we can learn from, from pioneering thinkers and change makers in terms of how they approach the world and how they become creative?

Well, we've studied quite a few and we come up with a set of strategies and that's why alien is also an acronym. It's, it's a, a word that stands up for five lenses. And so, you know, the aimings something and, and, and, and so on, then each letter is, is essentially your letter, a letter that presents a part of the mindset that you need to embrace and, and a set of strategies that you can use to foster IDs, a particular take on, on, on, on the world.

And that's what we go through in the book.

Srini Rao: Yeah, well, let's get into those because I think that, that was my favorite thing about it is the fact that you took that acronym and you created this brilliant framework for how to look at this. And let's start with attention because it's funny, all the conversations that we've had about attention here on unmistakable creative have typically centered around managing your attention and dealing with distractions.

But I think what I appreciated about this is that you had a very different take on this. It was a sort of new idea when we're talking about attention and you say, when we turn our attention towards something, we must necessarily turn it away from something else. Because attention is a selective activity.

We must choose where and what to focus. The attention allocation directs, how individuals and organizations interact with the external environment. It terms, which stimuli they notice in which they look at. And then you go into these concepts of zooming in and zooming out. So can you expand on that and talk about how it affects our

Cyril Bouquet: work?

Sure. You know, and, and again, we tend to zoom in often, right? When we are leaders and, or we are creative people, we actually immediately zoom in on some aspects of a situation that we think is interesting, right. There are people we talk to that give us insight. And then immediately we sort of zoom in.

We, we focus our attention. We focus our time. We focus our effort, right on, on, on, you know, on, on a certain type of phenomenon that, that, that we think we can explore, that we can change, that we can improve. And, and that's important. We have to be able to do that. Right. But all the primes that we might be looking, looking at the wrong thing, right?

I mean, we may be zooming on the wrong set of people or the wrong set of issues. And, and, and we might be solving the problem that doesn't need to be solved, or that is healed formulated if you will. And, and that will lead us in, in the actions that are not, you know, very productive for, for, for the type of progress that will.

That we want to bring to the world. And so, so we have to be able to zoom out. We have to be able to see the whole sort of system, if you will, and consider multiple lenses of stakeholders that could inform the way we, we make sense of the world that we live in. And so we have to see the, the, the, the, the forest and not just the trees, but we also have to switch focus.

And I'll give you an give you an example, because even if we do that, why so I take my MBA students every year and we try to improve the, the way we, we we make sense of, of, of the hospital, right? And, and, and, you know, if we are trying to improve the patient experience you get admitted to the, to the hospital and there's all kinds of things that could go wrong, right?

And so we might zoom in, we might have privileged conversations with the nurse that will tell us, you know, her own reality on what is happening and what is problematic for patients. And, and we zoom in on that. But, but, but unless we talk to multiple set of stakeholders, right we won't really understand what can be done.

So we need to talk to the hospital, administrators, we need to talk to the doctors. We need to talk to the patients themselves. We need to talk to the families of the patients. You know, we, we, there's all kinds of stakeholders. So again, zooming in. But also a zooming out. I look at the world from multiple answers and then often you also need to switch focus, because even if you zoom out, you often still bias.

You see you're looking at the wrong system, if you will. And I'll give you an example and they'll choose a different example to illustrate the point. You know, there's a story that we tell in the book about Kellogg, right. So I don't know if you like cereals, you have kids who like cereals, right? Yeah. But you know, at one point with cereals is that often they're plenty of sugar and they are not so healthy.

So, so, so they were trying to come up with a better. Food diet for kids. But also one that they would be able to, to bring to school and enjoy at school for those kids who don't necessarily want to, you know, to, to, to have a lunch provided by the school. So how do you do that? And so again, they, they, they zoomed in, you know, on, on the current practices and what is it that families do.

And so on and this zoomed out, they, they talk to nutritionists and they talk to the teachers themselves to have their view you know, what could be done. They, they, they talk to the, in all to, to, to, to pediatricians and, and, and so on. And then they realized, wow, you know, they were not getting anything really new, really interesting.

Antionne one person said, well, what if we talk to the janitors, the janitors, you know, the people cleaning the school premises. And, you know, this is interesting because it turns out that the janitors, you know, See, all kinds of things that everybody else ignores. I, so they are all sort of present in the school corridors.

You know, they see the kind of chats that are going on between the kids. They are. They're also during school recess this year, what food items get traded in all the, the school black market. They see what food items end up in the, in the bin. So the parents put them in a bag, thinking the kids are enjoying and also nice healthy snacks and all, but in fact, you know, those are kind of being fallen upon by their kids themselves, that they just throw them in the beans, never tell the parents, but the school janitors.

See that they see what creates excitement this see also, you know, what is not appreciated by, by a group of social beings at this very young age. And, and, and, and this is when this started to get, we are insights that they are not heard from the experts, so to speak. So not only you need to zoom in, there are specific ethicals of people that you need to spend privileged time with because they have coincides on the phenomenon.

You're trying to change. You have to zoom out and often you've got to switch focus, right? So as you go back to the hospital example, I was giving you earlier, you could probably still talk to the janitors, but you could also, if you're trying to improve, you know, the experience of patients at the hospital, you could also go to their homes because in fact, one day, right, they will not be at the hospital.

And so the best insights maybe you get from other settings than hospitals switch, focus, and you might see the light. So that's for attention from different angles. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Sorry, sorry. Sorry. So, so the S stands for mutation, and as you can imagine if you do what I've just described around paying attention to the world in, in all kinds of new and interesting ways, it can become overwhelming and often, you know, as creative people, we neglect in order the importance that is of, or the, the importance of, of taking time off and, and timeouts and, and creating the space for you to stop doing what it is that you're doing.

And, and, and in fact gain perspective and in which our understanding, and if you look at all the high performers in any discipline and the people who are performing, but also finding ways to continuously reinvent themselves, they do take time out of the zoo in sports. You know, when things don't work out, stop what you're doing.

Reflect on what is working, what is not working so well and give yourself a chance to, to do something else, right. Something new, but often in, in, in, in, in big companies or in various aspects of our lives, we're so busy. We just going on to the next activity to the next task, but we don't take timeouts. We don't say, okay, you know, this is not really working out.

Let me just disconnect. You know, let me take a little walk. You know, 30 minute walk. Let me think about what it is that I'm doing. I might come back and be more creative, right. In, in the resolution of the problems I'm trying to solve, but also take time off. Sometimes we need time off to actually recharge our batteries.

And it all we tell the story of the chef who created elBulli one of the restaurants that was voted, the number one restaurant in the world for five years in a row. It used to close his restaurant six months every year, six months every year, because he said the kind of world that we live in, doesn't give me the space I need, right.

To remain creative. So obviously very few of us can go to our boss in the organizations we work for and say, you want me to be creative? I need six months sabbatical every year. But the point is you need space, right? And, and all the very creative ideas that we see often have taken a long time. To incubate to germinate.

So we can just order creativity for the next six months. We can just expect a team to come up with a very, you know, innovative concept in three weeks or in six months, often those ideas that are very creative, take time to incubate, to germinate. And, and we've got to be able to be comfortable, right. With longer timeframes.

If we try to, to change the paradigm that that we operate in and organizations are not very comfortable with that.

Interesting. I'm sorry,

Srini Rao: go ahead. Sorry. I did have a question levitation, actually, that you brought up and you, you talked about the echo chamber effect where you said technology is can also create an echo chamber effect that buffers you from novel sources of ideas, because the notifications you opt to receive are tailored to your interests.

You've described the creative freedom that comes with browsing. How do people stop doing that? Because to your point, you know, I saw this when I started watching Trevor Noah on YouTube. And next thing I know all my recommendations were Jon Stewart, you know, Stephen Covera, pretty much everybody who get, would basically fall into the category of being on the left.

Cyril Bouquet: Yeah. So, so, so, so your competitor, right, right. I mean, we live in a world where the shows we watch on Netflix are customized to our tastes. You know, every application that we use on, on our mobiles is, is essentially trying to code, you know, what is it that we're interested in and, and tries. To provide content that, that fits, you know, with, with what we want to see.

And, and, and, and, and that is working against us when we are trying to be creative, where we need serendipity, we need to be exposed to ideas that we would have never come across otherwise why it was so, so, so we need to fight this, right? And, and, and indeed, that's the problem with digital tools. They are so efficient, right?

That they bring the information we need. At our fingertips, but sometimes I to come up with better solutions to the problems we face, we don't know what information we need. Right. The learnings can come from anywhere and, and topics that we would have never explored. You know, if, if we had been rational about about, and so, and so we need to fight that and, and, you know, there's simple things that we can do, right.

I mean, it's still okay in all to go to the library and just chore food through the books, you know without any purpose in mind, and then just pick a book randomly and say, you know, I'm going to read this, you know, and maybe I might learn something in this, that, so of course it requires a little bit of time, but it might be an investment in your creativity.

It's so good to go to a conference that has nothing to do with your field of inquiry. Right? You might see your speaker talking about a topic that again is very different from your own, but the way that speaker. Is making sense of the world might give you an inspiration that will find its way into your own context and make you very creative.

Right? We say with pride, right, innovators don't have, you know, sort of Eureka moments where they think about concepts that are never been envisioned before that they're not as interesting things that come in very different horizons than their own, and they, and they find a way to, to bring them and boredom and add on to them.

They steal with pride and that's what's so DPT can give you. Well,

Srini Rao: it's funny you say that because one of the things that I make a point to do, because I know how Amazon works, I've been particularly, cause I read a lot of books is I will go to the bookstore because there, I will discover things that I would've never thought about reading, whereas on Amazon, I'm going to get things recommended to me based on all my previous purchases.

Cyril Bouquet: That's right. That's right. So, so, so invest in Sandy pity, I'd be humble, you know, go there, give yourself a chance to explore and exactly as you do, you go to the bookstore and you just see what's out there, right. You talk to your friends, you know, I mean, I constantly ask my friends, you know, what are some of the, the, the, the books you've, you've, you've read lately that, that, that really it all brought you some nice, interesting surprise.

And and, and maybe a there's something you can learn from that as well. Right. And you don't exactly know what it is when you start, but, but give yourself a chance to explore.

Srini Rao: Yeah. So you opened the section on imagination by saying alien thinking, avoids cognitive biases. It prompts imaginative leaps by rejecting default responses and exploring novel alternatives.

And I think this is what probably made me really like the book was the fact that you talked about cognitive biases because this is something I've been thinking a lot about over the last year or two. Even when I create my own content, I realize I'm doing it from a somewhat biased perspective. And I learned this actually from a woman who was in one of our programs.

You know, I talked about productivity and I realized I'm giving productivity advice based on the fact that I am a single guy who has more time than she probably does. And she would show up to our weekly zoom calls with a baby. And I realized it was okay in the context of her life. My advice is potentially bullshit,

Cyril Bouquet: you know, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's interesting. It's never bullshit, right? I mean, but, but, but you know, for us imagination again, there's nothing magical about it, right? It's you know, sometimes we have this idea that there's the creative type and, and, and there are the, the rest of us, right. Or there's the very much native people as if they, they have, again, a unique innate capability to be imaginative.

And, you know, we can even test for imagination with, with personality. And I hate this idea. I think. All of us. I imagine 80 of the kids are very imaginative, right? Because they play, they play with ideas. They don't have very sort of developed hypothesis or do stuff. I did don't exactly know the only they are to learn.

Right? So they experiment with ideas. They play with ideas. They put things together in new and interesting ways. And, and then they find their way right into the, into the future. And that's what imagination is, is, is, is all about, right? And there's plenty of examples of people. Again, who've taken their aspiration, their inspiration from, from all kinds of domains that are nothing to do with their own and ended up being very creative.

So, you know, we talk about the example lately of radio Pearlman. I don't know if you know her. She's, she's a legend in tech circles. She's actually the woman who brought the internet to life, believe it or not, she was the inventor of those protocols, the STP protocols that help people communicate across interconnected corporate networks.

So you've got computers that are talking to each other on the internet these days, but they used to be a time when in fact, you know, companies that computers, they had corporate networks that were very private, right. I mean, they did not want any information to leak on the outside because it was supposed to not be very secure.

And in fact, right, radio or you know, is, is the woman who essentially created right. The protocols to orchestrate the communications across those computers, you know, between the walls of, of corporations. And where did she get her inspiration from nature. All right. And from the image of a tree in particular.

So she was not a techie, right. But she observed nature and she looked at how trees were interconnected. And somehow she managed to bring that inspiration to the world of computing and to create the conditions for the internet I, to to, to, to arrive and, and for us connecting the dots. So in this case with nature and computers is what imagination is, is, is, is all about.

And there's a very similar example that we tell in the book. And this is the story of van Phillips and van van Phillips is, is, is a young gentleman who had lost his lower leg in a water skiing accident. And he was so dissatisfied with the performance of, of the names of the doctors, like sort of give him after, after the accident that he decided to design his own.

And basically what he realized that the doctors at the time and the, the, the prosthetic. Doctors, you know, wanted to give him a leg that, that looked like a leg, like a human leg, but he realized that in fact, that was not the point. You know, what he needed was a leg that function like a leg, even though it didn't look like a leg.

And so you approach a problem from a very different perspective. And he ended up being very imaginative because he drew his inspiration from diving boards but also the white cheetah. And he's like, you know, what is it that I can learn from a diving board and found the wild cheetah. And he made connections between the elasticity of the, of the the, the, the, the, the tendons in, in, in the wild cheetah and the and the resistance of the diving board.

And he basically created the famous protesting limb that powered, maybe, you know, that Oscar Pistorius, right. To succeed as a professional sprinter. But, you know, if you look at the at that sort of invention, it has nothing to do with, you know, how we thought about. Prosthetic limbs, you know, in the past.

And again, he draws inspiration from nature and from objects that nothing in all that, and never found their way to the medical field, if you will. And, and, and that's what really we believe is the power of imagination. Don't assume you know, where your inspiration is going to come from and try to make links across domains that have nothing to do with each other often.

This is how great creativity is going to emerge.

Srini Rao: Hmm. Wow. So let's talk about, about experimentation. I think what struck me about this was something that you said, do you say experimentation is the process of turning a promising idea into workable solution that addresses a real need? The top reasons that startups fail according to startup founders is that they offer something nobody wants therefore to establish whether an idea is desirable and viable.

You must engage in experimentation just as important. Experimentation is essential tool for exploring your options and testing your assumptions. But I think what struck me most was you make this distinction between how alien thinkers conduct experiments and the scientific method. Can you expand on that?

Cyril Bouquet: Yeah, absolutely. Because indeed we spent quite a bit of time running experiments at IMD and with the organizations we work with. But often we is that the way we, we, we run experimentation in organizations is, is totally wrong because in fact, we are too attached to the scientific method, right? And again, the scientific method is very powerful and it tells us, you develop a theory on any given in all sort of subject.

And then you need to to look for evidence, right? That is going to either validate or assumptions, right. Or invalidate your findings, and then we'll help you to evolve that, that theory. And that sounds great. It's great in practice, but you know, when you bring it to the world of organizations and you bring it to the world of, of, of us as individuals trying to be creative, This is how the scientific method gets implemented.

I do. I'll give you another version where I have it. It, and now I'm going to look for evidence, right? That will tell me if this hypothesis is right, or if it needs to evolve. The problem is that when we look for evidence, right, we are often just trying to find, and in fact, we see only the evidence that is going to support the initial theory that we have developed.

And, you know, we all do this. I mean, I, I was a PhD student in Canada and I developed a set of hypothesis that I presented to a jury of professors. And the only way I could get my PhD is if I found data that supported. The iPod is, is if I just find data that contradicts my hypothesis, they will tell me to go back and study more so.

And the same goes, you know, we are trying to be creative in organizations. We are expected to succeed. And so we developed a set of assumptions around a new product, a new service, a new solution that meets customer needs in new ways. And then of course we are testing those ideas, but the only thing we want to find is data that confirms that we are right.

We are there to prove not to improve. And that's the problem. And one executive I worked with told me if you torture the data long enough, it will confess. And that's what we do when is that we should be letting the data speak. And so sometimes we don't need an hypothesis. Right. We don't need an iPad. Is we, we could, we could just look at data and see all kinds of things that are interesting and derive a theory from it.

Right. And, and, and, and, and we often don't do that. We think it's wrong, but we have to be able to play with ideas without the clear hypothesis at the start and see how the future unfolds as we see it. Right. Without always nuclei puts this at the start. So, so that's why we try to explain and how to do that in the book as well.

Srini Rao: Yeah. So when you get to navigation, you say successful navigation starts with preparation to respond appropriately, to threats and opportunities on the spot you need to be physically and mentally prepared. And then you say something. I think that this is what I really wanted to ask you about. You said whether working independently or within an organization, innovators often delude themselves in two ways.

They overestimate the ability of their breakthrough solution to speak for itself and succeed on its own merits. They fall to pray to the, if you build it, they will come fallacy. Second, they underestimate the potential hostility of the environment. How do you actually avoid both of those? Yeah.

Cyril Bouquet: You know, that's, that's for us, you know, probably one of the most important aspects of, of, of, of the book and one that is often neglected by people.

Wow, creative. Right? And, and because you are creative because you have an identified a better way potentially of solving problems that exist in this world, that, that you emphasize that, right? I mean, you, you go and you meet people and you engage all kinds of stakeholders and you focus on what makes your solution disruptive.

What makes your solution better than what exists already out there. And of course, we've spent so much time perfecting developing those ideas that we've fallen in love with them. And, and, and we somehow expect that everybody will, will kind of welcome us with open arms and say, thank God, you know, you've arrived.

And you know, that solution doesn't speak for itself. In fact, that disruptive solution is going to clash with a number of belief systems that exist and. And so disruptive innovators need to work extremely hard to just explain, you know, why their solution has merit, even though it's perceived to be so different from everything that, that exists out there.

And that we've experimented with in the past, because it's not obvious. Right. And we also have to take special measures to engage people in our vision because often there are people who are there to protect the study school. Right. For good reasons. Because again, you come up with a different practice. Is it really going to bring progress or is it going to disrupt what is there and is somehow working right.

And we're never quite sure where to start. And so that's why in case of a doubt, when you, when you see your new practice, should it, because it might be a virus, right? That is, that is going to be disturbing. So there's plenty of examples, right? In, in, in the book that, that we describe and there are ways you can deal with those situations.

All right. One example is is, is James Dyson, right? And you know, of course he, he worked and he perfected the system of, of, you know, vacuum a vacuum, a bagless sort of vacuum cleaner. And, and, and, and initially you just wanted to sell that, that concept by two, the, to the big vacuum manufacturers. And so you put them in and say, what are look at this?

You know, you can have a bagless vacuum cleaner. How neat is this. And of course it was met with a quite level of skepticism because for them, it all, it totally clash with the business model that was in place, you know, no more bags to sell and, you know, and, and and Steve Sasson, the inventor of the first digital camera at Kodak made the exact same mistake.

He developed the first digital camera, presented it to the senior executives that could, I can say, ladies and gentlemen, this is filmless photography. And the moment you do that, you clash with all the belief systems of executives who spend their whole carrier, trying to build a company that would be the leader.

And that would be extremely proud of, of, of, of, of the success it had on the processing of, of film. And so if you propose a filmless paradigm, you're clashing with everything that people actually believe in. So maybe it is a new technology for the future, but you've got to work hard and they are very simple things that you can do Sweeney.

So in fact, it took him a few years. I go back to the, to the Steve Sasson example, to evolve the language to digital film. And the moment you talk about digital film. You show how you relate to, to, to, to who you are as an organization and what makes this company special. And the roots of, of, of, of what has made this, this company successful in the past.

And, and so is digital film is just a new way of, of doing what we know is important. And that is often a better way of engaging people than saying whatever you've done in the past is, is whatever is obsolete. And look at me, I'm so smart that I came up with a better way of doing things. So, so we've got to find the right balance.

We've got to emphasize the disruptive nature of the ideas that, that we bring, that that can be better in, in many ways, but we've got to wrap those disruptive concepts in a language that will resonate with people that they are willing to embrace, that they are willing to support one of the great inspiring executives that I worked with in the past, John Paul by years, the, the former CEO of French first and the post, like many other.

Post organizations around the world was, was getting disrupted by digital in many important ways. And he said, you've got to change so that you can stay yourself. All organizations exist for a reason. They have a vision of who they are, what is it that they do that is important. And when you bring a creative idea, you have to show the link to this DNA, if you will.

And if you can do that, you can engage people and have much better conversations around the disruptive nature of what you do. But often innovators neglect that and they clash very violently with established system of beliefs that exists, and then they get rejected. Yeah.

Srini Rao: So, you know, one thing you say when you get into the section on alien thinking and action, and this really struck me, you said alien thinking is not something you do at a particular time in a dedicated space with clear rules and staple props like whiteboards and sticky notes.

It's not a set of gimmicks, but a mindset change to achieve creativity and turn ideas into solutions. Anything you're thinking of something you can call on at any time, whenever you hit a roadblock, it's something you have on tap when needed. And I loved that. You said that because I think the tendency for anybody who, you know, is a knowledge worker, anybody who's a creative when they see mental models like this, they, and I know this because this is my own tendency.

They will tend to go into, okay, how do I follow this? You know, sort of step-by-step approach to get the results that Cyril is saying I can get. And yet I love the fact that you, you looked at it much more as a mindset, as opposed to a series of tactics. But. How do people get out of that sort of map seeking mentality of, Hey, give me the formula, give me the steps and I'll just follow them too.

Wait a minute. I need to basically take this and treat it as a compass and, you know, come up with my own interpretation.

Cyril Bouquet: Yeah. You know, and that's the whole point. And I think, frankly, it's funny. That's why we wrote the book because we were getting increasingly frustrated with the way people try to implement design thinking and lean startup principles in organizations.

I mean, I'm a big fan of design thinking. I'm a big fan of during startup, but often the way people implement those answers in organizations is wrong. And because they fall into the trap of, you know, following a need series of steps and they fill out a few templates and of course they say, I need those bean bag chairs and they need the stack of post-it notes.

And somehow it's all innovation theater, right? They give themselves the impression that they are being creative because they follow a series of steps or they fill out templates. But in fact they are not because they are missing. The essence of what it means to be creative and what it means to see the world in a new light and what it means to, to create those connections that we've talked about.

It cause very different, you know, sort of domains of inquiry and, and, and, and to give yourself a chance to experiment with ideas and give yourself a chance to engage people in new types of conversations and build support for the concepts that you've, that you've created. And so it is a mindset that doesn't necessarily require a very nice sequence of steps.

And, you know, most of the creative people that have met, they don't have like a, a nicer use of steps that they are following. They just do it their own way, their own way. But, you know, it's interesting that whatever they do. They actually embrace. Right. We fundamentally believe, and that's why we have so many interesting stories in the book, the principles that we're describing.

And so, whatever it is that you do, are you asking yourself the right questions, right? Are you considering the world from multiple lenses? Are you giving yourself a chance to pause and reflect or are you just chasing the next impossible dream all the time and diluting yourself in the, in the process?

Right. You know, are you making those connections between domains that have nothing to do with each other, playing with ideas like a kid would do? Are you experimenting really to improve and not just to prove that you're correct. Right. Are you navigating all the forces that can. Support or block your progress.

Right? And, and if you ask yourself those kinds of questions and they are things that you can do to, to give yourself a chance to, to, to embrace those, those questions and integrate them into your day to day practice, then you will add being creative regardless of the process and the steps that you follow.

Srini Rao: Hm, wow. Wow. Well, I have absolutely loved talking to you. I think that this has just been a really just eye-opening insightful conversation. I love this book because it really teaches you to question your own assumptions and then think differently, which I love. So I have one final question for you, which is how we finish all of our interviews at the end mistake.

We'll create a, what do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable.

Cyril Bouquet: Tell me, tell me, say

Srini Rao: it's funny because people have answered this question in different ways. And of course, when you write a book called unmistakable, you have to define it. And I have always defined it as you're doing something that is so distinctive that nobody else could do it, but you in the way that you do it

Cyril Bouquet: well, you know, and, and, and it's interesting because when you asked me that question, I thought about the French expression, which is

And I don't know if you've, you've heard it, but we are all beautiful. And, you know, it doesn't matter, you know, who you are, how you look, what you do. We are all beautiful and we can all bring something very special to this world, but where things tend to go wrong is when we lose that sense of individuality, which in other French refer to the expression, , there's something quite interesting about each one of us.

And, and, you know, we have to spend some time to think about what that is, right. And what is this you know, mistakenly quick creative part of, of, of us, right? That, that, that we have to find out. And if we can preserve that, if we can preserve that sense of individuality, you know, then we can, we can bring it to everything that we do and we can make the world and it can be a small part of it, more beautiful and more interesting for, for all of us to enjoy.

Srini Rao: Hmm. Amazing. Well I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and sharing your story and insights with our listeners. Where can people find out more about you, your work, the book, and everything else that you're up to.

Cyril Bouquet: Well, in fact, we, we, we put up a website that is called alien thinking.org.

And, and I really encourage everybody to take a look at the website because we we post a number of stories and that we've written very current stories of individuals and especially women leaders also that, that, that we've met that we've enjoyed spending time with that, that are very alien in their approach to the world.

And I really hope that you can find inspiration in, in those stories. Very soon there'll be also a little diagnostic tool that that you can take factor is going to be up in the, in the next few days. And so you can put yourself to the test, you know, there's a few questions that you can answer and, and and, and you can see what are some aspects of, of your mindset that you can, that you can work on.

And we'll provide you with a tailored set of recommendations that you can follow. And, and all of this is accessible on the website. And so alien thinking.org we want to maintain it and make it a place that that you like. So, you know, feel free to to visit it. And there's even a contact form.

So if you want to get in touch with us through the website, you know, we'll be delighted to do a chat.

Srini Rao: Amazing. And for everybody listening, we will wrap the show with that.

Cyril BouquetProfile Photo

Cyril Bouquet

Cyril Bouquet helps organizations reinvent themselves by letting their top executives explore the future they want to create together.

He is passionate about helping organizations transform into one united force capable of embracing the future and letting go of the past. He pioneered the mega dive approach to orchestrating discussions for big groups of executives, which has been successfully implemented on a number of programs at IMD.