11 Traits That Unleash Innovative Thinking


“We do not need to try to create innovative characteristics in the individual, we simply need to show them how to cultivate innovative thought.”
What is innovation, and how can it be cultivated? These are two of the questions being raised by researchers at the University of South Florida. In a new issue of Technology and Innovation, Victor Poirier and his team examine how innovation can be fostered in individuals and how educators in particular can help unleash it in their students.

Poirier and his team define innovation as “the introduction of something new and different that is created by inspiration and creativity.” It is “critical to improvements in how we live” and provides “social value.” In the early stages of the innovation process, we experience “fragmented inspiration” that, in subsequent stages, coheres into a single idea by “joining with other fragmented thoughts to finally arrive at a creative inspiration.”

It’s not about waiting for inspiration to strike, Porier adds: “Contrary to the view that inspiration is purely mystic or divine, [innovation] is best viewed as an interaction between one’s current knowledge and the information one receives from the world.”

It’s also not necessarily about discovering something new: “Innovative processes do not always create something new. Sometimes they greatly improve something already in existence or help to solve a problem.”

His team identifies six key contingencies of innovation in their report:

  • The timing of an innovative idea

  • Innovation happens when there’s a need for a particular idea at a particular time.

  • The environment in which the idea is formulated and developed

  • Innovation thrives in the proper environment or shrivels on the branch in the wrong environment.

  • The time to develop an idea or inspiration

  • Innovation requires sufficient time for an idea to unfold.

  • The time and organisational environment that allows for idea cross-fertilisation

  • Innovation arises out of input and/or inspiration from multiple sources

  • Learning from errors

  • Innovation presupposes a willingness to experiment and learn from mistakes.

  • The development of an idea in one field that can be adapted in another

  • Innovation benefits from interdisciplinary thinking.

Poirier says his team’s goal is to “develop an educational process whereby we could show individuals how to fully utilise the [innovative] traits they have, [and] awaken traits that are dormant.”

So what can educators do? Poirier recommends developing the following eleven traits in your students:

  • Abstract thinking and problem solving
  • A desire to “fill gaps”
  • Motivation
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Taking risks with no fear of failure
  • A positive attitude
  • Persistence and passion
  • Dissatisfaction with what exists
  • Open-mindedness
  • Vision

“While education may not be able to create innovative traits in individuals, education may be able to improve the ability of individuals to better utilise the traits of creativity and innovation they already possess,” he says. “These characteristics can be foundational to an educational process aimed at unleashing the creative and innovative potential that students possess.”

Poirier’s team is currently involved in an experimental training program in innovation at USF. They acknowledge that, while “there may be roadblocks or resistance to this process from both students and faculty, as there are many who think that innovative thinking is something inborn in the individual and cannot be learned,” the potential payoffs will be worth the challenge. We look forward to featuring their results in the near future.

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Saga Briggs is Managing Editor of InformED. You can follow her on Google+ or @sagamilena

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