Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking

Awhile back, I began trying to delineate what needed to be in place for a teacher to really have the best chance of being innovative in their classrooms. Whenever I’m looking for where changes need to be made, it is easiest for me to have some sort of graphical representation of where I want to go and what is necessary to accomplish what I’m setting out to do. I am a very linear thinker and checking a box gives me true euphoria. I needed to solidify my thinking into something more concrete.

Asking myself “how do I make people more innovative?” was not only a daunting question but the wrong one. I cannot force people to be more innovative. In fact, forcing any kind of change in thinking takes time and support. Compliance measures will most likely have the opposite effect. The only thing I can do is take away as many barriers as possible and create an atmosphere where they have everything they need to be innovative and give their students a chance to be as well.

While trying to reason through this issue, I developed the Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking and this graphic:

Image: Mandy Froehlich, updated 10/9/19

I’ve moved each section multiple times, and while there are arguments for why one might be interchangeable with another, this is what I have decided makes the most sense to me as to what needs to be in place to move up the hierarchy. As I’ve compared the hierarchy to my own district, I’ve realized that it’s not about completely missing a level. Similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, most likely there are holes in each level that need to be filled. Some schools, or even people, are closer to the top than others.

I have also discovered that as you go higher in the hierarchy, the more the change moves from organizational focus to an individual change. For example, a change in climate and culture is more of an organizational change than personalized professional development. Personalized PD is really about what an individual needs and pairing that with support. While it could be argued that mindset is perhaps the most individual level on the hierarchy, I felt like if you did not have a mindset that was ready to take on the personalized professional development and become professionally driven, you couldn’t be successful at that level. That means that as you move up the hierarchy, the individual support needed to create change grows higher because the changes that need to occur become a change that needs to happen within people versus at an organizational level.

This post is the first in a series going through each level of the hierarchy, and in the next post, when I work through climate and culture, I’ll also be talking about the importance of creating a common language. In order to do that going forward, I want to define two of the terms I’ve used for the hierarchy.

Innovation* – An idea, concept or product that is new, different and better. Need not to be something completely new, but can also be a new way to use the original idea. Innovation is a personal journey.

Divergent Thinking – The ability to recognize our own assumptions, look for limitations, and challenge our own thinking in regard to teaching and learning. The ability to take one idea and create new thinking that will bring teaching and learning in new, innovative direction for deeper learning. It is diverging from the norm, the ability to turn an idea on its head, and being willing to fail and grow.

The second post in the series is now available here

*adapted from George Couros’s Innovator’s Mindset

18 thoughts on “Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation & Divergent Thinking

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  11. Agree with Patrick. Lots of great ideas here and I think the order is good. In particular, the climate/culture underpinning everything else. I work at a school where the climate/culture is clearly expressed and where we know that this is the foundation of everything else that we do. If it doesn’t measure up to our culture, it doesn’t measure up. The other ideas flow on from there. Is there a place for planning for change? Or is change something that surrounds the whole pyramid and is embedded in each level?


    • Hi Sonya! Thank you for your response! I love that you work in a place where you are positive about your climate & culture. More often than not, when people complain about their work environment, the issues are embedded in climate and culture. I like the idea of planning for change. As the hierarchy is out and people have made recommendations for changes, I will be taking each one into consideration. Education is inherently complicated, and I would like to keep the hierarchy as simple as possible. I think if we began to put everything we wanted in it (someone else mentioned mental health, which I think is a good thought also) it will become so convoluted that it might be difficult to follow. So, if we add something in, something needs to be taken out. If you added in support for continuous improvement, where would you put it, and what would you replace? Thanks for your input! I appreciate it!


      • I like the simplicity of the model. Perhaps the need for continuous improvement or awareness of changing needs is embedded in each level? Underpinning our school culture, for example, is the strategy of Trial and Error. With this as part of our culture it makes it easy for change to occur as we operate under the expectation that learners will be looking for ways to improve by trialling new ideas. This feeds on to PD etc.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Mandy,
    I think your Hierarchy of needs for Innovation and Divergent Thinking is bang on in terms of the process and capacities that need to be built to enable change. It resonates with me in particular because the categories match the findings in my own research in terms of what needs to happen to enable a major shift in how we do school. I know that your intentions is enable teachers to think more divergently towards teaching and learning, but I see it as a key grassroots piece that is needed to push our profession to a needed paradigm shift.

    Liked by 2 people

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