Background to A-I Theory

The Adaption Innovation Theory is founded on the assumption that all people solve problems and are creative. The theory sharply distinguishes between level and style of creativity, problem solving and decision making and is concerned only with style. Both potential and evident capacity aside the theory states that people are different in cognitive style in which they are creative, solve problems and make decisions. These style differences lie on a normally distributed continuum, ranging from high adaption to high innovation. The key to the distinction is that the more adaptive prefer their problems to be associated with more structure and more of this structure to be consensually agreed than do the more innovative. The more innovative are comfortable solving problems with less structure and are less concerned that the structure be consensually agreed than are the more adaptive.

Those scoring as more adaptive (the terms adaptive and innovative are relative), as measured by the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory (KAI), approach problems within the given terms of reference, theories, policies, precedents and paradigms and strive to provide “better” solutions (e.g. continuous process improvement). By contrast those more innovative tend to detach the problem from the way it is customarily perceived and, working from there, are liable to produce less expected solutions that are seen as being “different” (e.g. reengineering). Styles of creativity produce different patterns of behaviour. All styles are absolutely essential to deal successfully with the wide range of problems faced by individuals and groups, over time.

The Adaption Innovation theory is heavily researched – over 200 articles and more than 70 theses (publication list available on request).

A key observation from teaching A I Theory to groups is that as they (groups) come to appreciate the value of diversity in problem solving styles they become more tolerant and even appreciative of other diversities.

The development of Adaption-Innovation Theory was influenced by the results and observations of an earlier study in management initiative. Personalities were seen to have characteristic effect on the progress and success of initiative in organisations. While all managers would assert that they were sensitive to the need for change and were willing to change, individuals were more willing to embark on changes involving a style close to their own than those involving a style very different. As a result some changes went through with little or no discussion while others took years from the initial suggestion to final implementation. The latter frequently required a dramatic precipitating event to clear the path to acceptance. Other proposed changes were dismissed as mere tinkering, although their champions argued they would have led to some immediate improvement. A I Theory gives an understanding of the source and implications of those differences. In turn, this understanding can lead to a more fruitful mutual exploitation of differences, with less conflict. Such collaborative efforts have their significant effects on the bottom line of group success.

This is a highly crafted, sound scientific measure. KAI measures thinking style, which is distinguished from (a) thinking capacity or competence (b) cognitive process (c) idea generation technique. Now being distinct they can be treated and measured separately, allowing for better understanding and control over these complex variables. Such precision spreads over into the interpretation of results, offering individuals and groups clearer insight into key aspects of their interaction in problem solving teams, into particular environments. Thinking style is not affected by environment, or even culture, because the measure taps deeply entrenched cognitive style. (The KAI can be used in multinational groups – the results are unaffected by culture). The evidence of research also shows that an individual’s preferred style is almost unchangeable but behaviour is highly flexible. This potential gap is bridged by “coping behaviour”, which, if heavily relied upon by an individual, can be expensive, causing stress and inefficiency. Knowledge of A-I theory has critical advantages to group members, especially leaders, in showing how cognitive diversity, as well as other forms of diversity, is a distinct help to most collaborative problem solving – but this is true only if members develop the insight to master the problems, so often enhanced by pressures and crises, that also emerge from diversity.