8 Characteristics of the “Innovator’s Mindset”

8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset

Recently I explored the notion of the “Innovator’s Mindset”, and have thought a lot about this idea.  As I look to write on the topic of “Leading Innovative Change” within schools, we are looking to develop educators as innovators.  To be innovative, you have to look at yourself as an innovator first, and to create schools that embody this mindset as a “culture”, we must develop this in individuals first.

Building upon Carol Dweck’s work, I have been looking at the traits of the “Innovator’s Mindset”, which would be summarized as follows:

Belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas.

To develop students as “innovators” in their pursuits, we must embody this as educators.  As I continue to research and look at different processes where innovation excel, such as design thinking, there are several characteristics that seem common amongst these themes.  Here they are below and why they are important for educators:

  1. Empathetic – To create new and better ways of doing things, we need to first understand who we are creating them for.  As educators, innovation starts with the question, “what is best for this child.”  For us to create something better for our students, we have to understand their experiences and this is why it is imperative that we not only talk about new ways of learning, but immerse ourselves in these opportunities.  This way we can understand what works and what does not work from the perspective of a learner, not a teacher.  If anything, teachers have to a deep understanding of learning before they can become effective in teaching.  We need to put ourselves in our student’s shoes before we can create better opportunities for them in our classrooms.
  2. Problem Finders As Ewan McIntosh talks about, it is important that we teach our kids how to ask good questions instead of simply asking for answers. All innovation starts from a question not an answer.  The invention of the home computer started with the focus of, “How do we bring the experience of a powerful computer into the homes of families?” Many capstone projects developed by students in their classrooms start with first finding, and then solving problems both locally and globally.  How often do we as educators immerse ourselves in a similar process?  If want to be innovative, we need to look at questions first.
  3. Risk-Takers – Many would argue that “best-practice” is the enemy of innovation.  To be truly innovative, you sometimes have to go off the beaten path.  The reality of this is, that for some kids, the “tried-and-true” methods will still work, but others, you will need to try something different.  In a time where many kids are totally checking out of school, is “best practice” truly “best”, or just “most well known”?
  4. Networked – Steven Johnson has a powerful quote on the importance of networks where he states, “chance favours the connected mind.”  Innovation does not happen in isolation, as it is often ideas that are being shared amongst many that lead to new and better ideas being developed.  The best educators have always created networks to learn from others and create new and powerful ideas.  Now though, many have taken the opportunity to take networks to a whole different level through the use of social media to share and develop new ideas.  Isolation is the enemy of innovation.  Networks are crucial if we are going to develop the “Innovator’s Mindset”.
  5. Observant – A practice normal amongst those that would be considered “innovative” is that they constantly look around their world and create connections.  It is normal to have a notebook or use their mobile device to record ideas or thoughts around them and link them to their own ideas.  In education, we often look to solutions to come from “education”, but when organizations around the world share their practices and ideas, we have to tap into their diverse expertise and learn from them as well.  Wisdom is all around us, we just have to look for it.
  6. Creators – So many people have great ideas, yet they never come to fruition.  Innovation is a combination of ideas and hard work.  Conversation is crucial to the process of innovation, but without action, ideas simply fade away and/or die.  What you create with what you have learned is imperative in this process.
  7. Resilient – Things do not always work on the first try, so what are the tweaks or revamping that is needed?  To simply try something and give up as soon as it fails never leads to innovation only a definitive end.  This is something great teachers model daily in their teaching, as they turn good ideas into great ones.
  8. Reflective – What worked? What didn’t?  What could we do next time?  If we started again, what would we do differently?  What can we build upon?  It is important that in education and innovation, we sit down and reflect on our process.  This last point is definitely lacking in many aspects of education as we are always “trying to get through the curriculum”, yet reflection is probably the most important part of education as the connections we make on our own is where deep learning happens.

For educators to embody this, it is imperative that leaders create a culture where this types of characteristics are not only accepted, but encouraged.  It is also imperative that at both the leadership and whole organization level, these characteristics are embodied.  To many, being “innovative” is no more than a buzzword, but if we truly have innovative students, we need to embody the “Innovator’s Mindset” at all levels.



  1. Stephanie Baron

    Great article! Indeed we fail our students and our employees when we insist on knowledge transfer rather than empowering them to become innovators.

  2. Monica Robles

    Great article! We need to encourage our learners to be innovators. We need to encourage ours learners to take risks and that it is okay to fail. Failing is a part of life, If you have not failed at something than you are not trying hard enough. To many times students do not want to try something new because it is too hard. We need to stop that kind of thinking and start teaching students to continue to struggle until they find a solution. I agree students have great ideas but quickly get frustrated and give up on their ideas. Thank you for sharing this!

  3. William Sanders

    The Importance of Project Based Learning for the Future…
    I am in a Masters class and we are learning about new tips in education. Below one discusses the importance of Project Based Learning and would appreciate some feedback from veteran educators and potential ones. Thanks-Will Sanders
    There have been many topics discussed in our educational community. However, the one that is of interest to me is the topic of Project Based Learning. Project Based Learning affords the students the opportunity to practice hands-on learning. The students are actually in charge of the entire project. One was able to view a teacher in action as she conducted a high school class covering a project which involved a complex multi-tasked project. The classroom set-up was designed in a workshop/station style. In the beginning of the class, the teacher had the students meditate. Shortly thereafter, the students began covering the agenda for the day and then broke off into groups at different work stations. Fifteen minutes before the end of class, the students reassembled in the middle of the room to assign homework. The homework was not addressed as homework, but addressed as important tasks to complete.
    Some of the advantages of Project Based Learning are the personal and social responsibility students receive. Other advantages include planning, critical thinking, reasoning and creativity. We all have to remember the outcome we as educators want. The goal is to produce a well-rounded student, ready to perform in a high functioning world where technology is forever changing. How important is it for educators to evolve to Project Based Learning? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of Project Based Learning for different communities?

  4. Judith Schreiber

    I really enjoyed reading this article. The eight characteristics listed are so important when encouraging students to be innovators, to explore and become learning risk takers. I am a teacher in a masters program and we just discussed the power of reflection on classroom strategies and learning activities that work and those that do not. I read that great teachers are both risk-takers and reflective. This article also confirms that and adds a few more important attributes that describe great educators and what we should be teaching our students.

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