Science meets creativity: The psychology of innovation

Explore the intersection of psychology and innovation, uncovering how understanding individual and team dynamics through psychometric assessment can drive successful creative problem-solving and continuous improvement….

Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity – not a threat.

– Steve Jobs

Living in a complex modern world where change is the norm, we are required to adapt and embrace innovation as not only a matter of survival, but also to thrive in a society driven by continuous improvement and fixated on the ‘next best thing’. The word ‘innovation’ is derived from the Latin innovat, which means “renewed or altered”. In the business world this often takes the form of transforming existing processes, systems, or products to improve efficiency, effectiveness or functionality. Innovation in business is imperative for organisations to maintain a competitive advantage over others in the market.

Let’s explore some of the key aspects around the concept of innovation itself, how psychometric assessment can help to provide an understanding of what is needed to develop creative and innovative thinking in teams, and how adopting a design thinking approach can change the way we innovate.

Key aspects of innovation


Creativity underpins the ability to generate novel and valuable ideas, solutions, or insights. Creative thinking allows us to examine existing processes or products and explore new ways of approaching prevailing patterns or problems. Divergent thinking lies at the core of innovation, as Dr Albert Szent-Gyӧrgyi said, “innovation is seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought”. Being able to think out of the box, challenge assumptions and explore the roads less travelled will facilitate idea generation.  


The reason for innovation usually stems from the identification of challenges or gaps in the existing systems, processes or products and the need for the development of an effective solution to address them. This could involve recognising customer pain points, market gaps, inefficiencies in processes or emerging tends that present new possibilities.


Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.

– Theodore Levitt

While thinking of new ideas is both inspiring and exciting, innovation cannot effectively be defined as a creative thought process alone, but also the act of putting those ideas in practice, turning them into tangible outcomes, such as new products, services, processes or business models. For a lightbulb moment to become an innovative idea, it needs to be useful, to have a purpose.

Value creation

An innovation needs to have purpose, for example, adding value by meeting customer needs, improving quality, reducing costs, increasing efficiency, or addressing societal challenges. These innovations need to deliver tangible results in order to create value.

Risk-taking & adaptability

When trying something new, there are no guarantees of the outcome, hence innovation inherently involves taking risks – embracing them and being able to learn from failures are key aspects of successful innovation. This may require investing in new business ventures, experimenting with new technologies or challenging existing practices in response to evolving environments.

Continuous improvement & learning

At the heart of continuous improvement lies the intent to create something better than what currently exists or a method that is currently being utilised. This requires ongoing learning and adaptation, embracing a growth mindset and remaining curious about one’s environment, as well as both the successes and setbacks within it.


Innovation often thrives in collaborative environments where the cognitive diversity, expertise and skills of the team are leveraged to generate creative solutions. This can be done by fostering diverse perspectives, promoting knowledge sharing, enhancing creativity, and prioritising customer-centric solutions. Organisations that embrace collaboration as a core value are better positioned to stay competitive, adapt to market changes, and achieve sustainable growth through continuous innovation.

Market adoption

In order for an innovation to be successful, it requires market acceptance and adoption, where new ideas or products gain traction and generate positive impact or returns.

Innovation is a team sport – McKinsey & Company

Innovation is often seen as synonymous with creativity, however, there are many more personality traits which can influence the potential for innovation in an individual. We are all familiar with the idiom, ‘two heads are better than one’, this is where the intrinsic value of psychometric testing comes into play: providing insight into who brings what to the team, and where we can leverage the existing talent in our teams to maximise potential for creativity and innovation. Innovation thrives in a team environment due to the synergy of diverse perspectives, complementary strengths, shared learning, enhanced creativity, iterative development, mutual support and motivation.

Key aspects of how the psychology of innovation can be understood through psychometric assessment

Personality traits

There are certain personality traits that are often associated with creativity and innovation. Psychometric assessments, such as the Big Five personality traits, can be helpful in identifying individuals within the team who are more likely to exhibit characteristics crucial for innovation, such as, creative thinking, adaptability, risk-taking and openness to new ideas.

Cognitive abilities

In its essence, creativity involves the generation of new ideas, solutions, or products that are both original and valuable. It is a cognitive process that combines imagination, divergent thinking, and problem-solving skills to produce something unique and meaningful.


Cognitive assessments that test for problem-solving and critical, creative, and conceptual thinking skills, can provide insight into an individual’s cognitive strengths and development areas when it comes to innovation. For example, a high score in divergent thinking is often related to a higher innovation potential. Problem-solving skills, including critical thinking and analytical reasoning, are crucial for innovation.

Motivation and drive

Psychometric assessments are able to measure motivational factors, for example, intrinsic motivation, enthusiasm for learning and resilience. The journey of innovation is not necessarily a straightforward one, and these factors are important for sustaining engagement in the process.

Team dynamics

Psychometric tools can assess team dynamics and interpersonal skills – crucial for successful collaboration, in order to gain an understanding of skills, communication styles and problem-solving approaches within the team, and how these either complement or hinder teamwork. This can also provide insight into a team’s strengths and development areas, and where support may be needed to foster an environment of both collaboration and innovation.  

Emotional intelligence (EQ)

Through emotional intelligence assessments, we are able to measure the individual’s ability to understand and manage emotions, their capacity to empathise with others and how they navigate social interactions. In addition to what we already know, studies have found that there is a crucial social factor to innovation – relationship building. Fostering relationships to create an environment of psychological safety enables innovation and change to flourish, as well as allowing for the communication of ideas, constructive feedback and collaboration.


Psychometric assessments have been developed to evaluate leadership qualities and styles related to innovation. These include strategic planning, visionary thinking, risk management and fostering creative culture within organisations. Leadership which champions a culture of creativity and risk-taking is vital for the development of innovation within the organisation. Sharing knowledge and guiding others promotes a safe environment for creative problem-solving.

psychology of innovation

A people-centred approach

With the emergence of design thinking, innovation imbibes a human-centred approach to problem-solving and business improvement. This kind of approach carries an emphasis on understanding and empathising with customers, holding the user experience in mind. By incorporating end-user experience into the innovation process, organisations can develop products and services that truly resonate with their target audience.

Design thinking is made up of a collaborative approach, where multidisciplinary teams come together to brainstorm new ideas. Cognitive diversity and team dynamic is valuable here, in order to encourage more creative and effective solutions. Being iterative processes, both design thinking and innovation require experimentation, feedback and continuous improvement. Various ideas are tested until the optimal solution is found. A benefit of the emphasis placed on the early testing of ideas, is that risk can be mitigated more quickly by gathering feedback from users early on in the process, before significant resources have been invested into the project.


Innovation encompasses several key aspects, from creativity and problem-solving to risk-taking and collaboration. Understanding the psychology of innovation through psychometric assessment adds another layer of insight into individual and team dynamics. 

From an organisational development perspective, we can take a step back to examine our teams through the above lenses and assess both current and future talent to make sure it is or will be utilised to its full potential. Are personality traits, cognitive abilities, motivation, EQ and leadership translating into a team dynamic that drives innovation through creativity, problem-solving and the search for, and implementation of, continuous improvement? Are we applying design thinking in a way that champions a human-centred approach?

Successful innovation can contribute to creating an environment where new ideas can flourish, challenges can be overcome, and opportunities for growth and improvement can be realised. Indeed, to renew or alter the ingenuity of what has come before and enter a journey of continuous improvement towards the best that our organisations can be. As Steve Jobs aptly put it, innovation is about seeing change as an opportunity, and it is up to us to rise to the challenge.





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