3 Areas Where Having “The Innovator’s Mindset” is Crucial

As I have contended for years, “Innovation” is about mindset, not skill set.  How we look at the world, is how we move forward, learn, and create.  In my book, “The Innovator’s Mindset“, I defined it as the following:

“Belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas.”

Yet the term “innovation”, has often been equated with either technology or directly with business.  Innovation is NOT synonymous with the word technology, but how we create and use technology can lead to innovative practices in many elements.  That being said, I was thinking of this graphic created by Alberta Education several years ago:

Alberta Education Competency Wheel

Although this image is no longer being used, I still see it as very relevant graphic to many things we are trying to do to school today.  Yet how does  innovation and “The Innovator’s Mindset” (or even does it at all) in education apply to the three outside elements of this wheel (Entrepreneurial Spirit,Ethical Citizen, and Engaged Learner)?

I wanted to talk about each “E” individually and what their connections are to the characteristics of “The Innovator’s Mindset”, and how this is crucial to our thinking in education today.

8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset


(The definitions of each of the three “Es” in italics under each area are from the Peace Wapiti Public School Division website.)

Entrepreneurial Spirit

“…who creates opportunities and achieves goals through hard work, perseverance and discipline; who strives for excellence and earns success; who explores ideas and challenges the status quo; who is competitive, adaptable and resilient; and who has the confidence to take risks and make bold decisions in the face of adversity.” 

This is probably the easiest connection to innovation, not because it makes the most sense, but because of a long standing notion that “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” go hand in hand.  Googling the definition of the word “entrepreneur”, here is what I have found:

“…a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.”

Since “risk-taking” is one of the crucial characteristics of  “The Innovator’s Mindset”, there is a crucial connection to the definition alone.  But if businesses are to thrive (0r start) in today’s world, they will have to focus on understanding the needs of the people they are trying to serve.  If you understand those that you are trying to connect with and what they need, the “risks” tend to go down.

Yet our notion of “creation” is changing.  Creation can be that of a product, but it also can be a service, or media, amongst other things.  This is why students need to not only consume in schools (consumption is not a bad word nor should it be seen as something bad to do in schools), but we have to ensure there is time for students to “create”, as well as share these ideas with the world.

Developing resiliency is also a crucial step in this process.  What we create may not turn out the way we want it, or get the reception that we had planned.  What do we do after this process?  I am reminded of this quote:

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill

Although these skills are important to develop as an “entrepreneur”, they obviously connect with so many facets of life, both during and after a student’s time in school.

Critical Questions Moving Forward

  1. Are you giving students time to create within their classroom experiences?  How do they develop resiliency through this process?
  2. Do they have the opportunity to “share” and promote these ideas beyond the classroom setting?
  3. How will they measure success in these endeavours that goes beyond “grades”?


Ethical Citizen

“…who builds relationships based on humility, fairness and open-mindedness; who demonstrates respect, empathy and compassion; and who through teamwork, collaboration and communication contributes fully to the community and the world.”

Over the past several years, I have focused on going beyond citizenship, and focusing on leadership.  The way I see leadership is that it is the ability to help others move forward in a positive direction.  It is about the positive influence you can have on others, and as an “ethical citizen”, this part of contributing “fully to the community and the world.”

There are several reasons why having an “innovator’s mindset” is crucial to the notion of being an “ethical citizen”.  First of all, how we work with others is extremely important, whether it is online or offline. That being said, some create a disconnect and separate them as if they are two entirely different worlds.  Our ability to network, both online and offline is part of helping us to move forward.

Another reason this is extremely important is how we view our world, compared to that of others.  It is easy to see things from our own perspective and experiences, but it is crucial to try to put yourself in the place of others (and often very hard) to try understand their own circumstances.  This understanding and empathy is crucial to how our world moves forward, and part of the work of schools is not only to teach our students how to exist in the world, but to create a better world than the one they currently live in.  There is no shortage of areas or initiatives that students can share their passions and talents in that make the better place, so it is critical that we give them the time to develop these ideas in school.  If we help students develop the solutions to make the world a better place, they will take more ownership over this world we all live in.

Critical Questions Moving Forward

  1. How do we give students multiple opportunities to develop empathy and understand experience and perspectives of others?
  2. How do we give students opportunities to lead and create solutions that enhance the community (problem finders-solvers), both locally and globally?
  3. How do we provide opportunities for students to collaborate (both online and offline) in meaningful ways, while appreciating the contributions of others?

Engaged Empowered Learner

“..who thinks critically and makes discoveries; who uses technology to learn, innovate, communicate, and discover; who works with multiple perspectives and disciplines to identify problems and find the best solutions; who communicates these ideas to others; and who, as a life-long learner, adapts to change with an attitude of optimism and hope for the future.”

First of all, I changed the term “engaged” from “empowered”, because it implies ownership, and as an educational system, we have to understand that with information abundance, engagement is not enough.  Empowerment is crucial.

One of the critical aspects of “The Innovator’s Mindset” is the notion of “problem-finders/solvers”.  Ewan McIntosh really pushed me towards this thinking and how this is crucial for our students in our world today.

Currently, the world’s education systems are crazy about problem-based learning, but they’re obsessed with the wrong bit of it. While everyone looks at how we could help young people become better problem-solvers, we’re not thinking how we could create a generation of problem finders.

Why developing students as “empowered learners” is so crucial in our world today is that they need to learn to go beyond simply waiting to be told to do, and start developing their own ideas, solutions, and creations.  This is not only about school, but the world is demanding.

“Mere survival today depends on being able to do something that overseas knowledge workers can’t do cheaper, that powerful computers can’t do faster, and that satisfies one of the nonmaterial, transcendent desires of an abundant age.” Dan Pink

An empowered learner does not only learn math; they do things with the math they have learned. To get to that level, they have to have an ability in math, but they also need to go beyond, see relevancy to their own lives, and then apply and create their knowledge.  Focusing on this notion of the empowered learner, does not simply have students become “good at school”, but to be able to learn and create far beyond it.

Critical Questions Moving Forward

  1. How do you give students ownership over their learning so they can develop as “problem-finders/solvers”?
  2. How do we go beyond the notion of the “growth mindset”, and have students create with their learning?
  3. How do teach students to look critically at information, and then create something meaningful with this information?


As stated earlier, the notion of “innovation” is not meant to be reserved for a few, but it is a change in the way that we look at school, the world that currently surrounds us, and ultimately, the world we could possibly create.  Making these connections to the importance of having this mindset to a wide range of “initiatives”, shows us how these skills that are developed are not in isolation, but are connected in a very powerful way.  Ultimately, this will make school not only meaningful to our students, but hopefully educational organizations can eventually become leaders of innovation, not playing perpetual catch-up to the rest of the world.

Source: George Couros


  1. Elizabeth said:

    Thanks for writing this. I am constantly hearing that I have to be innovative in my teaching to demonstrate how I am changing. I am a school librarian with many ideas of how to support teachers to use tech in the classroom. Some are very basic like using the library catalogue to find books and websites that I would recommend. I have always felt that this IS using tech in an innovative way because it is enhancing the search levels of our students. However I am praised more if I encourage teachers to talk to other students across the world. It’s my wow factor and it should not be the case. To answer question 1 Give students ownership by teaching them information and digital literacy skills so they can find the answers themselves. . My next blog post is going to link with this one.

    January 9, 2017

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