An introduction to part scores

Teams that values diversity of thinking and problem-solving style are ultimately more successful. Collaborating more effectively to solve problems is the holy grail for any team in a challenging environment – and Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation inventory can help individuals and teams to achieve this by understanding their differences, valuing them, and problem-solving together in a constructive way.

The role of a KAI practitioner is to facilitate this self-understanding, and improve collaboration within teams and between individuals. Typically, a practitioner will use the KAI continuum, with total scores ranging from 32 – 160, to explain an individual(s) preference for problem-solving style, and how they can interact most successfully with those around them.
However, the KAI total score can also be broken down into three inter-related part scores, which help offer insight to composition of the total score. These part scores are: Sufficiency of Originality (SO), Efficiency (E), and Rule/Group Conformity (R).

Although not always necessary to unpack the nuances of part scores, these scores can be a helpful tool in understanding the aspects of style that make up an individual’s total KAI score.

Idea Generation – Sufficiency of Originality (SO)

Sufficiency of Originality (SO) relates to one’s style of idea generation. Therefore, this part score does not necessarily refer to the type of ideas you generate, but rather, how you go about generating them.

For example, a common assumption, and misperception, is that more innovative individuals always have ‘outside the box’ ideas. A more innovative individual could only routinely form new, paradigm-breaking ideas if they were consciously operating outside the existing paradigm. However, often individuals do not express this intentionality to think ‘outside the box’; typically, they may not be aware of the parameters of the ‘box’ or paradigm when thinking on the edges of it. Ideas that are different and valuable may surface both inside and outside of paradigmatic boundaries.

By nature, more innovative individuals are characteristically more prolific than adaptors at coming up with new ideas – but if you ask an adaptor to come up with original ideas within an existing structure and set of expectations, they may likely excel.

Brainstorming as a way of generating ideas may appeal to more innovative individuals, as it can be exciting to generate lots of ideas and see what sticks. The more adaptive, meanwhile, may enjoy more systematic approaches to idea generation that allow them to work through plausible solutions to the problem and share ideas likely to succeed.

Large cognitive gaps between the SO scores of two individuals may impact how well they communicate with one another when it comes to defining a problem and expressing ideas related to solving it.

Methodology – Efficiency (E)

Efficiency (E) relates to how an individual works within a system. Are they precise with detail, or is their work more likely to be more vague? Do they lay out all variables before beginning work, or do they determine information as they proceed? Are they meticulous and orderly, or more ambiguous? Do they work within existing expectations or do they break moulds and paradigms?
A more adaptive individual tends to work systematically and focus on mastering detail. A more innovative individual, meanwhile, has ‘global’ broad-ranging views that may seem less connected or orderly. To each, however, these approaches are the expression of efficiency in their own way.

The more adaptive will seek efficiency in tweaking things and making things better, usually within the existing paradigm/system. To an innovator, efficiency involves making things different, even if not perfect, and they may quickly move on to new ideas and paradigms.

When two individuals have a cognitive gap in their efficiency part score, they may have difficulty working with each other. The more adaptive may want to tweak the existing system and gain consensus on the structure to do so, whereas the more innovative may prefer to alter the structure in order to facilitate change. Resulting conflict can cause friction, which requires leadership to achieve effective collaboration through balancing the risks of any one style.

Management of Structure – Rule/Group Conformity (R)

The rule/group conformity part score is made up of two sections.

The first part is how an individual uses rules. More adaptive problem-solvers tend to respect rules and guidelines. They may not follow every rule, however, and will contribute to the development of rules they see as necessary or valuable. More innovative individuals have less regard for rules as part of structural expectations – not because they intend to disobey the rules, but because the norms of structure and tradition do not impinge on them the same way.

The second part is group conformity, which explores how rules shape the process by which we work together. More innovative individuals see less need for pre-defined group structures related to cohesion, whereas the more adaptive have a greater need for tighter group consensus and conformity.

We all need some structure and some rules but the more adaptive feel supported by comparatively more, whereas the more innovative feel enabled by comparatively less. A more adaptive individual will tend to see how structure enables, whereas a more innovative individual will tend to see how structure limits.

When there is a large cognitive gap between two individuals on this part score, they can have difficulty trusting each other. One of the basic elements of trust is related to consensual agreement of the rules and expectations that determine how we engage with one another. Therefore, just by the nature of problem-solving style, there are differences in how more adaptive and more innovative individuals value consensus and group cohesion when working together, including how the structures the govern these interactions are tightened or loosened.

How part scores make up an individual’s total KAI score

An individual’s total KAI score is made up of the three part scores detailed above. Although focusing on the total score is typically considered an easy-to-understand means of gaining value and usefulness from KAI, part scores can provide significant insight to those who wish to learn about them.

While Kirton’s theory states that communication difficulties will form between two individuals with a large cognitive gap, this same principle applies to part score differentials. A KAI practitioner may use understanding of part score proximity and distance when working with clients to explore nuances of cognitive diversity in intact teams.

While two individuals may have a very similar total KAI score, they may experience noticeable differences due to gaps between their part scores. When looking at Sufficiency of Originality (SO), for example, a more innovative individual in this particular part score is more likely to have lots of ideas, and with those ideas there is a higher tolerance for ‘riskiness’. To someone with a more adaptive SO score therefore, these ‘risky’ ideas are viewed as misguided or distracted and perhaps not worth considering. How they express these ideas and concerns to one another may be challenging.

KAI practitioners can encourage those they work with to express their problem-solving preferences to others to mitigate negative interpersonal dynamics. For example, someone that is more adaptive may say, “I appreciate more detail and may ask for more information until I have what I need to succeed,” whereas a more innovative individual may say, “I have enough information to move on and will come back with my ideas about next steps.” There is opportunity to encourage respect among these differences, encouraging one group not to get bogged down in minutia that prevents momentum, and the other to appreciate that details are important in not overlooking something essential to success.

In summary, dynamics among teams/individuals may not occur only when there is a large cognitive gap in total score, but between part scores as well. This gap may result in issues of communication, working together, and trust. It is the role of a KAI practitioner to help facilitate understanding and self-awareness that overcomes these challenges, and embrace the valuable cognitive diversity we each bring to the problem solving context.