What does innovative thinking mean?

If you’ve ever wondered what does innovative thinker mean or what does innovative thinking mean for organizations, this blog explores these topics as part of our celebrations for World Creativity and Innovation Week.  

What does innovative thinker mean?

If I were to answer the question what does innovative thinker mean with the response, Leonardo da Vinci, I think you’d have a pretty good definition come to mind.

Celebrating creative and innovative thinkers

One thing that might not come to mind is how Da Vinci is linked to World Creativity and Innovation Week that runs from April 15 – 21 each year.

Since 2001, creativity and innovation practitioners such as those in our organization, and other individuals and organizations who value and want to explore the benefits of creativity and innovation celebrate World Creativity and Innovation Week (WCIW). WCIW was inspired as a response to the 2001 headline, “Canada in creativity crisis” that appeared in the National Post newspaper.  Well aware of the challenges the creativity created for mainstream thinking, Marci Segal, a Toronto, Canada based graduate of the International Centre of Studies in Creativity wanted to do something about it.  She wondered and asked – wouldn’t it be great if people knew how to use their natural ability to generate ideas, make new decisions, take new actions and achieve new outcomes to make the world a better place, and their place in the world better too. So she set off to make a bigger place for creativity in the world. 

On a global scale, in 2017 the United Nations designated April 21 as World Creativity and Innovation Day to raise awareness of the role of creativity and innovation in problem solving in all aspects in human development. In their declaration of the day they linked the need for creativity and innovation in problem solving to the achievement of their 17 sustainability goals.  

World Creativity and Innovation Day concludes World Creativity and Innovation Week celebrations that start on April 15.


What does World Creativity and Innovation Week have to do with Da Vinci? The week kicks off on his birthday. One could say he’s the epitome innovative thinker. He fused science and art to create works that have become part of humanity’s story. 

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 a fantastic observation skill. 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 technology of the day 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 he had such a dedicated practice to keep notebooks and write his ideas, and then develop them in detail. 

At some point in the past decade I was in Washington, D.C. and did a tour of many of the national museums.  I remember going to one where they had an exhibit of da Vinci’s work. As a student of creative process and an innovation strategist I was completely mesmerized by what this man conceived and invented in detail. His notebooks and drawings drew me in and completely held my imagination. He invented for land, sea and air. I looked in awe at his drawings for airplanes, parachutes and other flying machines, a robot, catapult, armoured vehicles, machine guns, kites and the diving suit. I got completely lost in that exhibit, time stood still. My friends growing impatient with me, I told them I’d catch up later. I didn’t want to miss any part of my immersive experience of da Vinci. You can watch a short video about Leonardo da Vinci’s top 7 inventions here.

What does it mean to be an innovative thinker?

In my mind, an innovative thinker is someone who thinks creatively and positively to achieve a meaningful, and valuable outcome no matter what comes their way. It’s thinking on purpose and holistically to make your space in the world better and the world a better place. An innovative thinker is a creative problem solver.

Innovative thinking is more than a creative mindset. It's emotional.

mind heartiStock-1179127378 copy

You need creativity and emotional skills to engage in innovation.  Innovative thinking isn’t only about being a logical, analytical thinker. Creativity is emotional and it is fed by positive emotions. Which means that you need to be able to recognize, feel and manage an entire range of negative and positive emotions so you can elevate your emotions as you engage in creative problem solving to move through the innovation process.

Building on research conducted at the International Centre for Studies in Creativity our colleague Ismet Mamnoon has elegantly pulled together the concept of a "Creative Operating System" to show how creative potential is a function of select mindsets and heartsets that interact in the mind and body. The importance of being creative becomes evident when attempting to be an innovative thinker. Without the right mindset and heartset for creative thinking, innovation take much greater effort and is far less sustainable.

People who learn to be innovative thinkers share a number of creative characteristics. They’re curious, open-minded, flexible, self-aware, persevering, perceptive, possibility focused and comfortable with taking risks to move towards their goals, and they know how to manage the emotions associated with doing so. Below are the nine components of this "Creative Operating System". 

Being open

Being open Image (c) BridgePoint EffectThe act of positively accepting and considering all ideas; operating from the belief that every idea has some merit that can be further explored.



Being curious

Being curious Image (c) 2011 BridgePoint EffectThe act of viewing the world with wonder and a desire to learn more; seeking answers to understand the world around us.



Being ORiginAL

chair springThe act of letting go of the obvious and searching for more novel options; letting go of judgment and taking your imagination someplace new.



Being playful

Being playful Image (c) 2011 BridgePoint EffectThe act of engaging with the world in a child-like openness to discovery and learning without any reservations. Not taking everything so seriously; improvising, engaging in safe practice; using humour and joy; employing the senses for discovery.

Being optimistic

Pessimist Optimist quote - churchillThe act of finding positive attributes in ideas, people and situations; focusing on the possibilities of what could be; uncovering the opportunity in every moment.



Being mindful

Being mindful Image (c) 2011 BridgePoint EffectThe act of paying attention to emotions and experiences as they unfold; making time and effort to make sense of complex issues; understanding the impact of what you think and how you act; being fully aware and attending to thoughts, feelings, sensations relative to the present moment.

Being deliberate

Being deliberate Image (c) 2011 BridgePoint EffectThe act of continuous and focused practice towards achieving a goal or task while improving your skills; being intentional and having the discipline to have your vision come to life.



Being driven

Being driven Image (c) 2011 BridgePoint EffectThe act of motivating and propelling yourself forward to realize a dream or goal; the belief that you can accomplish anything and complete the task in front of you.



Being courageous

Being courageous Image (c) 2011 BridgePoint EffectThe act of facing a fear or constraint and accepting the challenge without any assurance of success; taking chances and putting yourself in a position where you may fail and yet you make the effort anyway; tolerating ambiguity and complexity in a situation.

Image © 2011 BridgePoint Effect. All rights reserved.


What happens when individuals are innovative thinkers?


What are the benefits of being an innovative thinker?

Agility and resilience in the face of change.

An ability to thrive, rather than barely survive.

But here’s something you might not know about the benefits of being an innovative thinker.

There’s good science that shows innovative thinking helps you keep a healthy mind and body. In fact, there are significant immune system benefits when innovative thinking is your modus operandi. 


What does innovative thinking mean for organizations?

Think about this. An organization is nothing without the individuals and teams that contribute to solving the problems and making the decisions that support the organization in achieving its goals. Without the people, there is no organization.

When innovative thinking is the modus operandi of individuals in an organization, it has positive impact on 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? 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.

Not surprisingly, research conducted by the Conference Board of Canada found that innovation is critical to an organization’s ability to sustain success. 

Developing Innovative Thinkers

The good news about innovative thinking is that it's teachable and improves with practice.

Want to develop innovative thinkers in your organization? Check out our Creativity and Innovation Training programs. 

About BridgePoint Effect

Doing business in an evolving, dynamic environment brings unique, never-before-seen challenges for business leaders.

We have a framework that helps leaders and their teams to know what to do when they don't know what to do. We help teams discover and deliver innovative solutions so they can achieve their goals

A boutique consulting firm located in Toronto, Canada and doing business globally, BridgePoint Effect provides innovation and strategy consulting that helps teams win. 

Our services are delivered at your-site, our-site, virtually and in blended on-site and virtual formats. 


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




in "Building Capacity for Innovation"
in "divergent thinking"
in "Innovation Articles"

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