Are you an adaptor or an innovator?

by Cecilia Thirlway, on 25 Nov 2018 2 min read


It turns out that knowing the answer to that question is incredibly useful: for individuals, for managers, and for anyone hoping to build a culture of innovation in their organisation.

The Solverboard team spent two days in a creative problem-solving workshop run by our partners at Bluegreen Learning. Facilitated by the lovely Rob Sheffield, the workshop was a fantastic combination of learning new techniques and finding out more about our team and its strengths. (And as it was held at Bristol Zoo, we also got to see some gorgeous animals - meerkats, penguins, seals, gorillas, and Solverboard’s new spirit animal, the capybara ? .)

As part of our team assessment, we all completed the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory - KAI for short - which helped us to understand our different thinking styles. Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation Theory places everyone on a scale between Adaption and Innovation, according to how they prefer to approach creativity, problem-solving and decision-making. According to Kirton:

“adaptors characteristically produce a sufficiency of ideas based closely on, but stretching existing agreed definitions of the problem and likely solutions”

i.e. adaptors tend to improve the existing solution or status quo, while innovators:

“are less concerned with doing things better, and more with doing things differently”

so tend to produce a lot of ideas, not all of which are useful or appropriate, and some of which are quite unexpected.

Understanding each others’ thinking styles, as well as how far apart individual scores are can help to explain why certain people find it hard to collaborate, or sometimes feel like a fish out of water in certain teams.

So what came out of the assessment, for us? Well, it turns out we know ourselves quite well - when we lined up according to where on the scale we thought we would be, we were in almost exactly the right order (barring a bit of shuffling around at the innovator end.) But also, it turns out that as a team, we’re quite skewed towards the innovator end of the spectrum, with no extreme adaptors at all. Depending on what we aim to achieve at Solverboard over the coming months, being aware of this gap, and of what more extreme adaptors can bring to the team might help us as we grow.

It’s worth reading Kirton’s own discussion of how this can affect change in organisations, as it’s not as simple as saying that innovators are the main agents of change - what matters is individuals’ thinking styles relative to the group or the team. It also doesn’t mean that people can’t behave in a way that is alien to their thinking style - but on the whole people who are forced to do this find it tiring and stressful. This was a bit of an eye-opener for some of the team when reflecting on their career to date!

So if you’re looking to effect change or build a culture of innovation, the KAI is a really useful tool to understand a bit more about how your team might contribute.

Talk to our partners at BlueGreen Learning about the KAI

The KAI Centre

Topics:Creative ThinkingIdea Management