11 Traits That Unleash Innovative Thinking

October 20th, 2017 4 Comments Creativity, Features

“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.


Saga Briggs is an author at InformED. You can follow her on Twitter@sagamilena or read more of her writing here.

4 Responses

  1. Those recommended 11 traits for educators to develop in students is all well and good. The issue remains how to do it!
    In the realm of ideas, anything is possible. However in the classroom, the best laid plans soon can fall into disarray. Why? Because the teacher did not work at the 11 in their own world. I am a firm believer of the dictum that “you cannot teach what you have not done” ESPECIALLY in the realm of soft skills.
    In the area of language learning these attitudes, traits or ways of working are necessary. Too often language learners fall into the memorise and repeat paradigm. That will not work and is the reason so many people end up believing they have no talent. They do, as long as they do what it takes.
    Language teachers merely replicate what they have done in schools or were taught, rather than work our ways that work for all learners. Seeing the 11 traits work in the classes will ensure they will have many more successful students. All they have to do is to work out how!

  2. Of the 11 traits, abstract thinking differs vastly from problem solving. Similarly, persistence and passion.

    Positive attitude: ‘positive’ is difficult to be explained, as it also conflicts with ‘dissatisfaction with what exists’. Here, optimism is a better expression.

    Unleash innovative thinking? Perhaps, a discussion in terms of the Big 5 personalty traits – extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism – would be more appropriate.

  3. Mark Denial says:

    Hi Saga,

    You have shared amazing traits for innovative thinking. Educators always give their best behind students learning. Appreciate the things you have explained.

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