Creative problem-solving: Think like an alien

What if you could look at your problem from an outside perspective – outside this galaxy, even?

Here’s a common situation: You’re stuck, and stressed about it. All the ways forward are impossible. You’ve tried everything. It’s useless.

Then, suddenly or slowly, a totally new way of looking at the situation dawns on you. You take some small steps and more options appear. Later you wonder what you got so worked up about…

This is a fun, creative way to speed up that problem-solving process.

Give yourself some distance

You know what it’s like to listen to someone’s problems and think how easy it would be for you to fix them if you were in their situation. You’d just…(talk to the person they’re complaining about, do a budget, do an okay job instead of a perfect one, stop lighting cigarettes off the toaster, etc.) Perhaps you’ve shared this insight in the form of advice, and in response gotten an irritated, despairing: “Yes, but…” Strong feelings are trapping them in either/or thinking, and round in circles they go, getting more and more worked up.

It’s useful to be able to step outside of your very deep attachment to your own situation, and look at it as you would if you were on the outside. You need to glimpse the bigger picture of reality, in all its complexity and possibility, than your current emotions allow. This can be done by getting some distance and looking at it with fresh eyes. Alien eyes.

Create your alien avatar

This exercise helps you think like an alien. You start with deep curiosity, and work towards new ways of looking at the situation.

1. Think of a part of your life that is bothering you, a problem you have or something that you want to make easier.

2. Get a piece of paper and a pen, or whatever you like to make notes on.

3. Now imagine yourself as an alien being. Take time to really feel like an alien – you may want to imagine what you look and sound like, or name yourself even. Ridiculous is good - humour takes us away from a blinding involvement in what’s happening.

4. Next, imagine the situation that’s bothering you from the point of view of you as an alien. Look around it, listen to it, examine its pieces, what feeds into it and its consequences.

5. Now, as your alien self, write down 10 to 20 questions. These could be about the situation, people  involved, why something is how it is, what could be different, and so on. Example questions: Why does this matter so much? If you were fearless, what would you do? Who could help you to get what you want? Why is it yellow rather than another colour? Could you work on it before breakfast instead? (Keep going a bit after you seem to run out of ideas – after an uncomfortable patch, the questions are likely to get flowing again, and these ones can be the most interesting.)

6. Have a break. Take your new alien persona out for a walk, do the dishes, whatever. Refresh, and come back as your ‘normal’ self.

7. Answer the questions. Write as long as you want for each one. Go beyond single word answers and explain things. Sometimes you won’t know the answers – that in itself is useful information, and is a chance to write about how you can learn more.

8. Now you have a lot of new, useful data and ideas. Read through your writing, highlighting and taking notes. Make an action list, put ideas in a mind map, do whatever processes you find useful.

Options + clarity = moving forward

Now you’ve investigated the situation from an ‘outside’ perspective, free from the strong feelings that distort information. Give yourself as much advice as you like! Even small insights have big knock-on effects.

One of the key benefits of this exercise is that it can make you clarify for yourself what exactly it is you want. It’s also vital to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. (Sometimes the answer is ‘Pure play’ or ‘Venturing into the unknown’, or even ‘Getting through the week’.)

When you know what you want and why, it's easier to let go of stuff you’ve been obsessing over that isn’t core to your mission. This often includes perfectionism and other people’s expectations.

Bonus: you now have a little alien in your imagination toolbox that you can watch the world through any time you want. Meetings will never be the same again!


If you'd like more help with creative problem-solving, you can contact me.

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