Book Review: The Innovator’s Mindset ~ Couros

George Couros is a Canadian educational leader, who is also prolific social media contributor. He espouses innovation in education, and through his posts has created a sea change in the way people are talking about education, and its future. This is a book that coalesces these thoughts, and adds in some excellent examples of innovation.


You would read this book if you’re interested in:
* understanding what an innovator’s mindset is
* how to cultivate one in yourself and others
* exploring how this mindset manifests itself in the classroom

What is The Innovator’s Mindset?

Couros defines innovation as, “…a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” (pg. 19) He defines the innovator’s mindset as, “…the belief that the abilities, intelligence, and talents are developed so that they lead to the creation of new and better ideas.” (pg. 33) This  is where the book is the most powerful: he is defining innovation as a way of thinking and applying that thinking to create ‘better learning opportunities’.  He goes further to define 8 characteristics of the innovator’s mindset: (pg. 49-57)

  • Empathetic
  • Problem Finders/Solvers
  • Risk Takers
  • Networked
  • Observant
  • Creators
  • Resilient
  • Reflective

These are great characteristics to highlight, and if you’ve followed the sea change of educational leadership (#edleadership) these 8 characteristics won’t be a surprise. They are, in fact, the same characteristics that we want to see if our students, teachers and middle-leaders as well as administration. However, what this book does is contextualize these characteristics to the educational context in very powerful ways. He uses examples and prompts to make these characteristics deep and meaningful to the reader.

Prompts to Think About Your Own Practice

One of the more engaging pieces of this book comes at the end of every chapter. Each chapter has ‘Questions for Discussion’ that challenge the reader to consider what they’ve read in their own context and their own practice – regardless of their position as teacher, leader or administration.

What questions do you think are vital to understanding those who serve in education” is one example of a question. And it is a powerful one. Couros’ prompts align with the main thrusts of each chapter, and each one has a powerful connection to the ‘end-user’ of education: the student. “What are some ways that you get in the ‘middle of learning’ to understand the needs of those you serve?‘” (pg. 91). These prompts direct us to focus on empathizing with the student, and the reader is well-served by taking these prompts seriously and articulating your response.

Beyond this Book: Where Innovation Can Go…

This book is geared more towards teachers as it positions innovation as a classroom experience. Many times, Couros emphasizes that it is the classroom learning experience that should be at the heart of school innovation. This is where he and I differ. There are three chapters that I, as a Vice Principal of an Independent School, really connected with. This is because these chapters explore innovation at the level of systems and structures:

* Chapter 5: Learn, Lead, Innovate
* Chapter 10: Less is More
* Chapter 12: Create Meaningful Learning Experiences for Educators

It is in these chapters that, I believe, a strong force of innovation lies: in the very systems and structures of a learning organization. If you want to free teachers’ mindsets, you have to free their time and space. Think differently about when PD happens, and how it happens – not just asking them to go on Twitter or other social media outlets – and build these systems into the daily lived experience.

This means innovating (in Couros’ definition) in the very calendar, timetable, and expectations of our students. It means innovating with, not just for, students, teachers and parents, in how their very day is structured. It is about redefining where innovation occurs by rethinking the organizational chart. These are opportunities that will spur on further innovations because it means changing the parameters of school as we know it.

It means innovating with your students, teachers and parents, not just for them.

This book is a great read for anyone in education because of the macro-look, the broad perspective, that it offers. Just keep in mind that it is a start on how to rethink education – not the recipe. To be fair, this is not what he set out to believe (or so I think). It is a great overview, with insightful suggestions and prompts, and powerful examples of teachers that are innovating.

For those that go ahead and read it, I strongly urge you to check out, on twitter, #innovatorsmindset – it is a powerful resource to support this read.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Innovator’s Mindset ~ Couros

  1. Thanks for sharing! I like how he breaks down the characteristics of an innovator, and I would add Optimistic and Creatively Confident to his list. These might be wrapped up in some of his other categories, but I think it’s worth noting that without the belief in yourself and the potential of your ideas, you won’t take risks, or be creative, etc.

    What else would you add to the list?

  2. Great review! Couros is a social media monster and the Canadian education system is blessed to have him share so much for free.

    I still find it strange that the hot areas in education revolve around innovation. Art has been around for 50 000 years, but I guess now is the time to formalize it.

    1. Hi Jason, Thanks for this response. I think that innovation is the talk of the educational town is that there is a critical mass, a confluence of events, that have led us to this momentous occasion of change in education. Never before have we known so much about how humans learn best (and in a myriad of ways); and, not since the political revolutions of the past, has our society been in such a state of flux due to technological production – couple this with the rise of social media giving awareness and voice to youth to enact change, and boom: a seismic shift is afoot! These three elements (and there are others) are the strongest indicators that innovation is key to the future of the purpose of education. I think George Couros’s book articulates the last 5 or so years of change in the Canadian context. But now we need to go futher into the systems and structures of education change.

      Thanks for the prompt here Jason!

  3. Yes, I like that list. And I agree with Les above that optimism and confidence go a long way with innovative. I think it’s interesting how much overlap there is with the 21st century competencies that @edaigle spoke to in his last post. While innovating is one of those skills, they are essentially saying the same thing.

    1. Totally agree with you. While there is overlap and there is repetition, don’t you think it is a great exercise to see the same skills but through different lenses? Gives you a new appreciation for the experience of others! Can’t wait to see you at the F2F!

  4. Hey Garth…Thank you for the review and sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate you making your own connections, because, as you said, the book was never meant to be a “recipe”, but meant to start conversations. I have been glad to see that this has been happening.

    All the best! Thanks for sharing your reflections for others.

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