Innovative Thinking Meaning, Skills & Strategies

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Innovation is a key driver of success in today’s fast-paced and highly competitive business world. Organizations that can innovate and transform quickly are better positioned to thrive, while those that remain stuck in traditional thinking patterns risk being left behind. Innovative thinking is the key to unlocking new possibilities and opportunities, enabling individuals and organizations to find creative solutions to complex problems and drive growth.

At Digital Leadership, we understand the importance of innovative thinking and are committed to helping organizations of all sizes and industries transform and innovate. Our team of experienced Agile Consultants has a proven track record of helping businesses unlock their full potential, create innovative products and services, and stay ahead of the curve in today’s dynamic marketplace.

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Innovative Thinking Meaning: What is Innovative Thinking

Innovative thinking refers to the ability to generate new and original ideas and solutions that break away from traditional or established thinking patterns. It involves taking a non-conventional approach to problem-solving and finding novel ways to address complex issues.

In today’s fast-paced and competitive business environment, innovative thinking can be a key driver of success. By fostering an innovation culture and encouraging employees to think creatively, organizations can stay ahead of the curve and gain a competitive advantage. Innovative thinking can help companies identify new market opportunities, create innovative products and services, streamline processes and operations, and respond effectively to changing market conditions.

In addition to enhancing organizational success, innovative thinking can also benefit individuals by helping them develop a growth mindset, improve their problem-solving skills, and increase their adaptability and resilience. By embracing innovative thinking, individuals and organizations can unlock their full potential, drive growth and innovation, and achieve their business goals.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

Albert Einstein

An innovative thinker is a person who can find new solutions to problems. Of course, in the business realm, “problems” can be any number of things: customers’ Jobs to be Done, sourcing of materials for manufacturing, finding the right human resources platform, and so on. Innovative thinking allows us to find solutions to those problems that haven’t been found before.

What does innovative thinking look like? It depends, really. We often have this romantic idea of how a truly innovative thinker operates in the world. A little different than the rest of us, troubled by an insatiable curiosity, glasses askew and hair dishevelled, colours everywhere a little brighter. In truth, innovative ideas come from innovative thinkers who use a set of skills and approaches that can be learned and developed. Such a dedicated practice is valuable in the work environment.

Here, we hope to describe what we believe innovative thinking looks like, and the skills innovative thinkers can develop to enhance their problem-solving abilities.

Innovative Thinking Examples

Innovative thinking is characterized by creative, unconventional, and forward-looking approaches to problem-solving and idea generation. Here are a few examples of innovative thinking across various domains:

  1. Design Thinking in Product Development:
    • Companies like Apple are known for applying design thinking to create user-centric products. The iPhone, with its touch interface and intuitive design, revolutionized the smartphone industry.
  2. Agile Methodology in Software Development:
    • The Agile methodology promotes iterative and collaborative development. Companies like Spotify use Agile to continuously deliver updates and improvements, allowing for quick adaptation to user needs and market changes.
  3. Cross-Industry Collaboration:
    • Collaborations between industries can lead to innovative solutions. For instance, the partnership between healthcare and technology sectors has resulted in telemedicine, wearable health devices, and data-driven healthcare solutions.
  4. Tesla’s Electric Vehicles and Sustainable Energy:
    • Tesla’s approach to electric vehicles, solar energy, and energy storage represents innovative thinking in the automotive and energy sectors. The integration of clean energy solutions with cutting-edge technology sets Tesla apart.
  5. Google’s 20% Time:
    • Google’s innovative work culture allows employees to spend 20% of their workweek on projects of their choosing. This approach has led to the development of products like Gmail and Google Maps.
  6. Coca-Cola Freestyle Machine:
    • Coca-Cola introduced the Freestyle machine, which allows customers to create their beverage combinations by choosing from a variety of flavors. This innovation in the beverage industry enhances customer engagement and personalization.
  7. SpaceX’s Reusable Rockets:
    • SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, achieved a breakthrough in space exploration by developing reusable rocket technology. This innovation significantly reduces the cost of launching payloads into space.
  8. 3D Printing in Manufacturing:
    • The use of 3D printing technology has transformed manufacturing processes. Companies like Adidas leverage 3D printing to create customized, on-demand sneakers, reducing waste and increasing efficiency.
  9. Uber’s Disruptive Business Model:
    • Uber disrupted the traditional taxi industry by introducing a platform that connects riders with drivers using a mobile app. This innovative business model has been replicated in various industries.
  10. Drones in Agriculture:
    • Agricultural drones equipped with sensors and imaging technology offer farmers real-time data on crop health. This innovation improves efficiency in monitoring and managing large agricultural areas.

These examples showcase the diverse ways in which innovative thinking can drive progress and transform industries by challenging traditional norms and embracing creative solutions.

Innovative Thinking Skills

The bad news is that most of us are born with inherently good innovative thinking skills. The good news is that innovative thinking can be taught and practised. Over time you can develop the ability to think creatively and with innovation in mind.

The difference between a person who is an innovative thinker and a person who is not isn’t genetics; it’s training. With work, anyone can develop the skills necessary for innovative thinking.

Examples of Innovative Thinking Skills

Depending on who you ask, many skills can be considered innovative. We think some of the most useful, and most teachable, forms of innovative thinking skills are in the list below:

  • Creative problem solving: Can you overcome adversity presented by a problem by finding new ideas that work as a solution? Can you understand a problem for what it really is?
  • Design: Can you create extraordinarily complex designs that are universally accepted as perfect? Do you have the emotional skills necessary to understand how people from varied backgrounds will experience a design?
  • Critical thinking: can you move beyond black-and-white thinking to really interrogate a situation? Can you understand a problem not separately from the emotions associated with a solution, but inclusively of as many emotions and attitudes as possible?
  • Persuasion: Are you emotionally intelligent enough to understand what people really want and need? Can you use that to convince people of new ideas?
  • Synthesis: Can you unite two ideas to make a new one? Can you merge information from different sources to form a new conclusion?

Related: Idea Generation Techniques: How to Inspire New Ideas That Drive Innovation?

Innovative Thinking Importance in Business Strategy

Innovative thinking is a driving force behind effective business strategy. It enables companies to stay competitive, respond to market changes, improve customer relationships, and achieve long-term sustainability. When innovative thinking is integrated into strategic planning and strategy execution, it becomes a powerful tool for business growth and success. For a deeper dive into this transformative approach, you can find comprehensive insights in our book, “How to Create Innovation“.

The Only Book On Innovation You’ll Ever Need

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The Business Model Canvas is instrumental in integrating innovative thinking into business strategy. It provides a structured framework for exploring, testing, and implementing innovative ideas, ensuring that businesses remain agile, competitive, and aligned with their long-term objectives. You can download it now.

eXtended Business Model Canvas
The UNITE eXtended Business Model Canvas
Designed by: Digital Leadership AG – Building on the work of Alexander Osterwalder, the Lean Canvas and the thinking of Patrick Stahler

Together, they empower businesses to adapt, differentiate, and thrive in an ever-evolving marketplace. Incorporating innovative insights into the canvas ensures that strategic innovations are not just abstract ideas but tangible components of a winning business model.

Here’s how these elements come together:

1. Innovative Thinking as the Catalyst: Innovative thinking serves as the catalyst for any meaningful change in a business strategy. It’s the process of generating fresh ideas, challenging the status quo, and finding creative solutions to complex problems. Without innovative thinking, a business strategy risks becoming stagnant and irrelevant.

2. Identifying Strategic Opportunities: Innovative thinking allows organizations to identify strategic opportunities that may have been overlooked. This could involve spotting emerging market trends, recognizing unmet customer needs, or envisioning disruptive technologies. These opportunities are the foundation upon which a new or refined business strategy is built.

3. Business Model Canvas as the Framework: The Business Model Canvas provides a structured framework for translating innovative ideas into actionable business strategies. It breaks down the key components of a business, including customer segments, value propositions, channels, customer relationships, revenue streams, key resources, key activities, key partnerships, and cost structure.

4. Mapping Innovative Ideas to Canvas Elements: Innovative thinking should be channelled into specific canvas elements. For example:

  • Customer Segments: Innovations in customer understanding can lead to the identification of new customer segments or the refinement of existing ones.
  • Value Proposition: Innovative ideas often revolve around enhancing or redefining the value a business delivers to its customers.
  • Channels: Innovations in distribution channels or communication methods can impact how value is delivered to customers.
  • Revenue Streams: Innovative pricing models, monetization strategies, or product/service bundles can influence revenue streams.

5. Alignment with Strategic Goals: Innovative thinking should align with the broader strategic goals of the organization. It’s not just about coming up with creative ideas; it’s about ensuring that those ideas contribute to the achievement of strategic objectives.

6. Testing and Iteration: The Business Model Canvas allows businesses to test and iterate on innovative ideas in a systematic manner. It provides a visual representation of the current business model, making it easier to identify areas where innovation is needed and to experiment with changes.

7. Continuous Adaptation: Innovative thinking is not a one-time event; it’s an ongoing process. The Business Model Canvas supports continuous adaptation by providing a dynamic tool for adjusting the business strategy in response to changing market conditions, customer feedback, and competitive pressures.

8. Measuring Impact: Both innovative thinking and the Business Model Canvas emphasize the importance of measurement and analysis. Businesses should track the impact of innovative strategies on key performance indicators (KPIs) related to revenue, customer satisfaction, market share, and more.

9. Organizational Culture: A culture that encourages and rewards innovative thinking is essential. It should be aligned with the business strategy and supported by leadership. An innovative culture fosters a mindset where employees at all levels actively contribute to the evolution of the business model.

How to Develop Your Innovative Thinking Skills

Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov–who, among other things, developed the Three Rules of Robotics that influenced many stories featuring robots–knew a thing or two about creative problem-solving and innovative thinking. In a 1959 essay, Asimov wrote:

A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.

Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)

Isaac Asimov

What Asimov is saying is that truly innovative thinking often looks strange, but if you’re the person bringing new ideas to the table, be confident. Also, be wide, and draw upon a deep knowledge base. Innovation grows from seeds spread in numerous fields. But if you want to be an innovative thinker, what can you do to develop those skills?

Developing Innovative Thinking Skills for Individuals

Innovative thinking takes practice and, like muscles, thrives with a good workout! So what should your plan look like if you want to buff up your critical thinking skills?

  • Practice dreaming: Take fifteen minutes to imagine what life could be like once you’ve solved a certain problem
  • Wonder “what if”: Take that problem in three different directions, asking yourself What If? to start each exercise
  • Pen and paper on hand: Since you never know when inspiration will hit, be ready to record your best ideas
  • Never self-censor: No idea is a bad idea; it might not be the best solution but don’t dismiss ideas outright until you’ve given it proper consideration

Developing Innovative Thinking Skills for Organizations

Conventional approaches to decision-making have well-known drawbacks. For instance, buy-in suffers when decisions are made from the top without everyone being included. This may create resistance and decisions may not be implemented properly or at all. A majority decision often leaves the losers feeling like a frustrated “minority.” The consensus approach is time-consuming and leads to ineffective compromises. All of these methods have in common that concerns, objections, or resistance are not sufficiently heard, understood, and taken seriously.

An organization’s ability to promote innovative thinking and problem-solving skills is reliant on its openness to workers finding unusual connections between their work and the work of others. It starts with hiring practices: How can an organization hope to inspire the innovation process without a diverse group of team members? Looking for ways to combine disparate ideas pushes an organization toward innovative thinking, and companies that have in the past embraced the diversity of background among their workforce often enjoy increased levels of creative thinking and innovative ideas.

Idea Generation
Idea Generation
Designed by: Digital Leadership AG

Related: Idea Generation Techniques: How to Inspire New Ideas That Drive Innovation?

These companies sustain success by continually finding the best ideas through dedicated practice devoted to innovative thinking.

In an innovation team that works in an agile, co-creative way, you need to acknowledge, test, and integrate various viewpoints and ideas, always with an eye to maintaining an open mind about the outcome. For this process to move forward, decisions need to be made constantly, requiring the team’s participation and buy-in. However, it is not practical for every person to be involved in every decision in a quickly changing environment. Thus, we recommend a hybrid model. Everyone should agree on how decisions should be made on a daily basis and this choice can of course be continually assessed and rethought. But after that, decisions are made in a more autonomous, self-organized way, based on the task at hand. Here are the basic options for who makes decisions.

  1. Individuals are empowered to decide alone and inform others about their decisions after the fact.
  2. Individuals decide themselves, after consultation with others.
  3. Decisions are made together, although certain people retain some veto privileges.
  4. Everyone must agree on the decision (consensus)

Now, let’s discuss some of the innovative decision-making approaches we recommend.

Emotions are indicators of unmet needs. Intuition senses our complex, ambiguous, and often paradoxical reality. Intuition lets us unconsciously see patterns in ways that our rational minds could never accomplish. Both emotions and intuition play a role in all mindset stages, but not necessarily in a conscious, active, officially recognized way. The more you make room for emotions and intuition, consciously and mindfully in your clearly structured decision-making processes, the more often surprising outcomes emerge.

Awareness of the complementary nature of emotions and intuition helps managers find the right mindset for encouraging innovation and innovative thinking. Innovative thinkers tend to generate ideas best when supervisors build an atmosphere designed to foster innovation. This is a deliberate action by the people in charge. As much as we’d like to believe in the spark of inspiration, the creative process needs a particular environment in which to flourish.

To build an environment that promotes innovative ideas, consider the following:

  • Encourage collaboration: Have you built a space where people from different teams have an opportunity to meet? Does your company have a creative operating system that is willing to leave the status quo behind? Does innovative thinking appear in your usual practices? Are you ready to recognize an innovative thinker if you’ve got one on staff?
  • Find new ways to reward thinking, not people: creative thinking isn’t always profitable, but rather, the first step of a journey toward new ideas. Have you redefined “failure” and “success” to reflect a dedication to innovative thinking?
  • Reward attempts: Similarly, a creative mindset won’t blossom in an environment fixated on outmoded notions of success. Where possible, reward the measured attempts of innovative thinkers to try something new. Can you encourage more innovative thinking by not discouraging failure?

Remember, culture is a process that involves a feedback loop between the individual and the collective. Individuals shape culture and culture shapes individuals. The main ingredients for a successful innovation culture are a strong commitment to self-reflection, open communication in a safe environment, and a willingness to change.

Related: Innovation Culture: It’s in the Mindset – Full Guide

Final Thoughts

Writing for Forbes, Bryan Collins stated

“Ultimately, innovation is about drawing connections between different ideas. You can do this as part of a group or alone.”

Bryan Collins

In other words, innovative thinking doesn’t privilege a particular field, but rather, anytime we challenge our usual modus operandi, we are engaging in innovative thinking. Whenever an organization can find opportunities to encourage their people to combine ideas into new ideas, they are supporting innovative thinking.

By leveraging the UNITE Innovation & Transformation Framework, organizations can create innovation in a target-oriented way, leverage their strengths, and overcome luck. Based on our experience over the past 10 years using the UNITE Framework, we have seen timelines shorten, budgets shrink, all while drastically improving investment security. Most of our clients’ innovations have not only survived but have increased the success of their overall business.

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