Rodin's famous sculpture, The Thinker, seen here at the AGO portrays a solitary man thinking deeply. The world needs innovative thinkers who know how to solve problems creatively and collaboratively. If you're wondering what does innovative thinker mean or what does innovative thinking mean to organizations, you might be surprised to learn that the United Nations links creativity and innovation in problem-solving as critical to human development.
What does innovative thinker mean?
If I were to answer the question, what does innovative thinker mean with this response – Leonardo da Vinci – I think you'd have a good sense of what it means, right?
Da Vinci had a wide range of passions, pursuits and expertise; a diverse group of adoring friends, an insatiable curiosity, the ability to take disparate ideas and see connections others didn't.
He was emotionally intelligent and had superb observational skills. He relied on more than logic to understand a situation. He looked beyond what was immediately apparent and searched for meaning in expressions and emotions. He sought to understand the day's technology and made unusual connections to find opportunities for the future.
He was authentic to himself, embraced diversity and possessed what in the day was called sfumato – he wasn't afraid of gray areas and didn't attempt to operate from black and white thinking. Instead, he wanted to understand the whole and the components. He understood things as systems. By looking holistically and broadly, he could understand in new ways, open to other possibilities, and create extraordinarily; imagining and detailing things in his notebooks, some of which have only recently come to see the light of day. We are fortunate to have such a dedicated practice to keep notebooks, write his ideas, and then develop them in detail.
I fondly recall a trip to Washington, D.C., where I visited a museum exhibiting da Vinci's work. I had recently completed my MSc in Creativity and Change Leadership, where I studied applied creativity (the thinking kind) and found myself completely mesmerized by what this man conceived and invented in detail. His notebooks and drawings drew me in and captured my imagination. He invented land, sea and air. I looked in awe at his detailed sketches of airplanes, parachutes and other flying machines, a robot, catapult, armoured vehicles, machine guns, kites and the diving suit. I got utterly lost in that exhibit; time stood still for me that afternoon as I drank it all in.
In a nutshell, da Vinci was highly creative, and because of that, he could be an innovative thinker.
If you think of people, like da Vinci, who you could describe as creative, you'd think of someone curious, imaginative, willing to try new things, and surprising in their ability to look at things in new ways. They are playful, courageous, and driven by a sense of purpose. They get deeply immersed in their projects – some of which might seem absurd to others – and lose track of time, only to emerge days later, excited at having figured out something challenging or having learned something new.
What does innovative thinking mean to organizations?
The Conference Board of Canada found that innovation is critical to an organization's ability to sustain success.
Following Leonardo's example, innovative thinkers don't just have ideas; innovative thinkers know how to fully develop them and stick with them through the long haul, so they get accepted, adopted and implemented.
In organizations, innovative thinking means drawing on creativity, problem-solving and engaging in continuous improvement. It also means being entrepreneurial – seeing opportunities and managing the challenges that come with doing something new and knowing how to assess and manage the risks associated with going in new directions. And it means understanding that it takes a village to develop and implement a good idea – which means that developing interpersonal skills, building relationships, enhancing communication and strengthening your implementation skills are key to your success.
When innovative thinking is the modus operandi of individuals in an organization, it positively impacts the organization's ability to be agile and resilient in the face of change. It boosts the organization's immune system. It makes it easier to overcome adversity, like competition for resources, staying relevant in the market or afloat when the world around you flips into VUCA mode.
VUCA, you ask?
You know, those "situation is by no means normal" times when you find yourself dealing with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Think pandemic: you know what I mean.
How to develop innovative thinking
As we saw in the example of da Vinci's behaviour, at the core of being an innovative thinker is being creative. And an outcome of being creative is adaptability, agility, resilience and well-being.
The good news about innovative thinking is that it's teachable and improves with practice.
Below we outline what these skills are and offer some ways to develop them.
Build your Creative Operating System™
Building on research conducted at the International Centre for Studies in Creativity, our colleague Ismet Mamnoon conceived the concept of the Creative Operating System™ to show how being creative is a function of balancing thinking skills (mindset) and emotional skills (heart set) with transformational skills that turn ideas into outcomes that create and sustain change.
The core mindset skills in the Creative Operating System™ are, being open, being original, and being curious. They enable our ability to suspend judgment, actively seek novelty and genuinely explore something new.
Without these skills we couldn't tap the power of a deliberately creativeprocess like creative problem solving to enable innovative thinking. To master these skills we need to develop observational and questioning skills, reframing and critical thinking skills; the ability to look at things from multiple perspectives, idea generation skills, listening and acceptance skills.
Heart set Skills
The emotional skillset – what we call the heart set skills, influences how we engage with the world around us. They involve the skills of being mindful, being playful and being optimistic, allowing us to augment the mindset skills with the power of awareness, humour, and hopefulness so that we can develop the inner resilience needed to foster a sustainable effort for change. Innovative thinking needs adaptability, agility, and stamina – we need to be able to weather the ups and downs of the creative process, make sense of how we feel about our experience in it, and find the good in things that knock us off-kilter. To develop these skills we need to learn to be present in the moment, aware of our feelings and experiences; to develop our imagination and sense of humour; to learn to find joy in even the most adverse of situations and recognize and celebrate all wins. We also need to learn how to build on ideas, hold the vision of a compelling outcome and believe in possibilities.
And finally, transformational skills allow us to bring about the changes necessary to produce tangible results. They include the skills of being deliberate, being driven, and being courageous. These skills allow us to stay focused on meaningful purpose, motivate us to manoeuvre around obstacles and rise when we run into setbacks. They help us steady the ship when things go awry and give us the means to keep moving towards our goal. Taking the first step, or even the next step when we do something new and creative requires a tolerance for uncertainty and risk; the ability to embrace vulnerability and ambiguity. These are the skills that fuel growth – in individuals and organizations. Developing these skills involves learning to use a deliberately creative problem-solving process, being accountable, nurturing strong intrinsic motivation, understanding that setbacks aren't failure, they're chock full of valuable learning; and becoming comfortable with vulnerability, ambiguity and uncertainty.
How to develop innovative thinking
Wondering how to develop innovative thinking?
Here's a simple way to get started.
Sign up for our FREE 7-Day Creativity Challenge.
The 7-Day Creativity Challenge helps you develop a deeper understanding of creativity and its related skills and habits so that you can incorporate creative approaches into your daily life, inspire innovative solutions and enhance your well-being.
This online mini-course has seven micro-lessons delivered straight to your inbox.
Each email, which will take no more than one minute to read, contains a micro-lesson and a creative challenge for the day.
Complete each daily challenge as you go about your day. Use it as a way to jumpstart your creative thinking, an opportunity to make shifts in the status quo, and to engage with the world around you creatively.
You then have 24-hours to:
- Complete the challenge
- Reflect on what happened
- Log into the course online to join our moderated discussion forum to share ideas and insights about your experience.
In the discussion forum, you'll learn from other 7-Day Creativity Challengers and gain access to the course facilitator to ask questions and deepen your learning. The skills included in the 7-Day Creativity Challenge help you develop your creative mindset by Being Curious, Being Open and Being Original.
Ready to join us in the
7-Day Creativity Challenge?
Can't make the 7-Day Creativity Challenge?
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Davis, G.A. (1986). Creativity is forever. 4th ed. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing.
Mamnoon, I. (2019). The Creative Operating System. Buffalo, NY : creativitycards.net.
NowUknow (Dec 6, 2014). Top 7 Leonardo da Vinci inventions retrieved 2020-04-11 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwOlIGGDVjE
World Creativity and Innovation Week https://wciw.org/
Puccio, G.J., Mance, M., Murdock, M. (2011). Creative Leadership: Skills that drive change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Torrence, E.P. and Safter, H. (1999). Making the creative leap beyond. Buffalo, NY: Creative Education Press
Worrall, S. (November 4, 2017). What made Leonardo da Vinci a Genius? National Geographic Retrieved 2020-04-11 from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/11/leonardo-da-vinci-genius-walter-isaacson/#close