Do You Have an Innovator’s Mindset?

The Essential Conditions for Sustainable InnovationAn Innovator’s Mindset, the second Essential Condition for Sustainable Innovation, builds on Carol Dweck’s work studying the growth
. What is a growth mindset? First, I’ll explain what it isn’t – fixed. When someone has a fixed mindset, according to Dweck,  he/she believes certain traits, such as intelligence and talent are either present or they aren’t. Conversely, someone with a growth mindset believes he/she can develop abilities through hard work and dedication. Think about the implications. If a student believes they aren’t intelligent or a teacher believes they aren’t innovative, what will they achieve? It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The most important take-away from Dweck’s work: a growth mindset creates a love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. George enhanced this idea (Innovation) and developed what is needed to transform education today: The Innovator’s Mindset.

The Innovator’s Mindset is the belief that abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed so they lead to the creation of new and better ideas. – George Couros

I created my own innovation, The Essential Conditions for Sustainable Innovation fuse the work of Judith E. Glaser (Conversational Intelligence), George Couros (Innovator’s Mindset), and a few other well-respected leaders (Michael Stabile, Joe Sanfelippo, and Tony Sinanis). The Essential Conditions set the stage for innovation to continue into perpetuity versus feeling like a “flavor of the month.”  A culture of trust whether it is in the classroom, building, or district, creates a feeling of safety where the Innovator’s Mindset can flourish.

“Build the culture, nurture the mindset.” #sustainableinnovation

To help bring these concepts to life, read the examples of self-talk for each of the mindsets from the view of a student, teacher, and administrator.

Self Talk Examples for Students:

Fixed Mindset: “I wish I could, but I can’t because I’m not smart enough.”

Growth Mindset: “I’m going to Google it, so I can figure it out!”

Innovator’s Mindset: “I found this on Google and think we can make it better with a little tweak.”

Self Talk Examples for Teachers:

Fixed Mindset: “I can’t innovate in my classroom. I don’t even understand technology.”

Growth Mindset: “I need to play with some of these resources, so I can learn to use them in the classroom!”

Innovator’s Mindset: “I saw a cool idea on Twitter and can’t wait to talk to my team and discuss how we can build on this idea to make it work for our students.”

Self Talk Examples for Administrators:

Fixed Mindset: “These teachers are the innovative ones but the rest of the staff will never get it. Once they retire, we can hire more innovative teachers.”

Growth Mindset: “I want to take teachers that aren’t innovating on a site visit, so they can see innovation in action. I know they have an innovator inside of them and it is my job to inspire them to find it.”

Innovator’s Mindset: “I’m going to do a book study of Innovator’s Mindset and work with my staff to come up with some innovations we can infuse in our building and classrooms.”

Any curriculum is usually “what” you teach, but the “innovation” happens in how you teach.  – George Couros

Interview with George Couros

George Couros
George Couros

Since the Innovator’s Mindset is an Essential Condition for Sustainable Innovation (an innovation which took multiple ideas to create something new), I felt that an interview with the author of the Innovator’s Mindset would help readers gain a better understanding!  See George’s answer to  my questions:


Christine: Explain how innovation can improve achievement versus detract from it?


George: A lot of people when they hear the word “innovation” when it pertains to education, think that this is separate from how students do on curriculum and measurements that are being used.  The reality is that if you look at your curriculum, there are ways that educators can bring these ideas to life. Any curriculum is usually “what” you teach, but the “innovation” happens in how you teach.  I was challenged on this and someone said that “innovation” is not in the curriculum, and my response was “neither are worksheets”.  Not only can we bring what we teach to life, so many skills are developed when we think in new and better ways to serve our learner.  The hope is that they will go way beyond “doing well” in school, but being able to adapt and create as they go on through life.


Christine: What is one easy change leaders and teachers can make to adopt the Innovator’s Mindset?


George:  Ask questions…a lot of them. Be curious and look at things that we have become numb to.  I think seeking to understand and create, and wanting to create something better, is an initial step to developing this mindset.


Christine: I designed The Essential Conditions for Sustainable Innovation and The Sustainable Innovation Framework to help spark innovation in a ground-up fashion. My goal is to help as many students as possible enjoy their educational experience and for teachers to enjoy the art of teaching. What drove you to create the Innovator’s Mindset?


George: The same thing. I wanted people to not only see that innovation in education is not only reserved for the few, but many people are already being innovative already, they just don’t recognize it in themselves.  Every year, your curriculum might stay the same, but your students always change.  How we serve them each year will also need to adapt and change.  Being an innovator is not something that we hope for, but it is essential to the growth of education as a whole.


Christine: When hiring new staff, what questions or performance tasks do you ask/use to ensure he/she has an Innovator’s Mindset? What would you ask a potential employer to ensure the organization has an Innovator’s Mindset?


George: There are several questions that I asked, but I think the biggest one  is this; “Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom, and if so, tell me about the experience from a student’s point of view?”  That question will help a great deal in getting to understand how any educator sees their role and what they create for students.  As someone who is a potential employer, I would want to know their vision for education, and how they develop people as leaders.  If we are going to be “innovators”, we are going to need ownership and the ability to create solutions as we need them, not have to jump through hoops and deal with red tape.


How can we get there? See the 8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset, created by George Couros. Reflect on the characteristics, print it out, make it your computer desktop background. Awareness and intentionality move you forward. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t had the Innovator’s Mindset in the past, tomorrow is a new day. Develop yourself and inspire others.

8 Characteristics of an Innovator's Mindset

Tech Hack: Be bold. Have confidence and learn from those who know. Years ago, getting in touch with an author meant that you sent them a letter and hope to receive a response back. Today, getting authentic feedback is only a tweet or email away. I sent George Couros a Google Doc with some questions on Monday and by Friday, I had my interview questions answered. The entire week, I have to admit, I felt a little endorphin rush when he responded. Drop the mic. Anyone can reach out to anyone today; the world is truly flat and the opportunities, endless.

Tech Hack: Interested in doing a book study in your building or district? Contact Shelley Burgess of DBC for bulk orders. David Knapp, a colleague of mine in the Cincinnati area gamified his book study. It is AWESOME! Reach out to David (@KnappTimeDK) and he will gladly share it! Take it and modify it; practice and model the Innovator’s Mindset!



“Mindset | What is Mindset.”

“8 Characteristics of the “Innovator’s Mindset” – The Principal of Change.” 16 Sep. 2014,

Couros, George. The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, 2015. Print.


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One thought on “Do You Have an Innovator’s Mindset?

  1. After reading your blog series and doing some research myself. I stumbled across Learning Accelerator’s article “So You Think You Want to Innovate: Emerging Lessons and a New Tool for State and District Leaders Working to Build a Culture of Innovation” There are strong connections between George Couros’, Dr. Judith Glaser’s, and Learning Accelerator’s work that answers a challenge I see in education.

    The CHALLENGE: Educators are working to engage and empower students to own their learning and achieve improved results, navigating the constantly changing digital landscape, and learning new strategies to ignite the hearts and minds of millennials who find value in following their passions, solving the world’s biggest problems, and having a more personalized learning experience. This is big work and all the while we are trying to IMPROVE THE SYSTEM WE HAVE instead of INNOVATING THE SYSTEM WE NEED. The graphic from the Learning Accelerator article really illustrates the concept well.

    It shows that incremental change yields diminishing returns while innovating for the future is “difficult” and “promising” These two words DIFFICULT AND PROMISING seem to cripple many because of fear of the unknown. In education we need to learn how to “innovate the system we need” and not be afraid to fail forward or we are going to find ourselves irrelevant.

    As educators it is our moral imperative to take the initiative in our own situations, supported by whatever resources, research and ideas we can acquire. We have to put our own oar in the water and row while simultaneously setting the stage and conditions for success for this “new promising system” to take shape. Judith Glaser’s, George’s Couros’s, the Learning Accelerator and 2Revolutions point to practical ways we can create a NEW FUTURE instead of spinning our wheels IMPROVING THE PAST

    Dr. Judith Glaser’s research shows, “To get to the next level of greatness depends on the quality of the culture, which depends on the quality of the relationships, which depends on the quality of the relationships. Everything happens through conversations.”

    A message from George’s Couros’s Principal of Change blog reveals Innovation is a process, not a product.

    Learning Accelerator and 2Revolutions (2Rev): Do What you Love for Good’s work show that Communication including (clarity, framing, champion, engagement, transparency, frequency) and Leadership including (vision, purpose, permission, routine, urgency, trade-offs and humility) are catalysts for sustainable innovation.





    If sustaining a culture of innovation in education requires conversation, process vs. product, communication and leadership, what ways can we inspire this focus? How do we organize our districts/schools to open up opportunity for conversation and opportunities for processing? How can we influence synergistic relationships? How can we empower all stakeholders, and how do we celebrate and reward those putting their oars in the water?

    We do it by exposing leaders continually to new ideas and ways of thinking and then providing support to help put their new ideas into action.

    We do it by growing strong leaders who value conversation and relationships, are gifted in asking the right questions and who know the power of listening more than speaking.

    We do it by building capacity in teachers and students to have authentic experiences that bring meaning to their life.

    We do it by getting everyone working together in Professional Learning Communities toward common goals and working across silos like never before in education.

    I’m left with one more stirring question based on my new learning and I’m curious about what you think.. As school districts continue to work on “Continuous Improvement” models are we just asking for more of the same? Is just simply the language of continuous improvement communicating the message of fixing the old instead of innovating the new? Is our messaging about continuous improvement and innovation seemingly so polar opposite that leaders just can’t wrap their brains around how the two concepts work together? How can our conversations, process, leadership and communication change this?

What's your opinion? Leave your comments here!