Collaborating Champions

In a KAI Advanced Workshop in 1984 Dr Kirton observed that a British newspaper, Sunday Observer (12 February 1984), had recommended a book about the current very famous Olympic Ice Dance Skaters, Chris Dean and Jayne Torvill. What stood out was that although they regarded each other as being equally able, they realised they were “different” – and that was to their advantage. The paper, quoting from the book Torvill and Dean by John Hennessy, 1985, selected a column of quotes from each of them describing how they saw the other. Among each of the descriptions was clear reference to their very differing cognitive styles. Below are the extracts relating to style:


Dean about Torvill
She is the one who keeps the administrative wheels turning off the ice, attending to all the correspondence and keeping the books.
Thanks to her, we can account for every penny of the various grants we’ve received.

Jayne will make a fine teacher if she ever decides to do that. She has much more patience than me and she has got the gift of being able to pass on her skill.

At the moment we are cocooned in an amateur career that governs our every movement. But we shall be free agents, either individually or as a couple, in March and then we will have to strike out in a different direction. Will it, perhaps, be two different directions?


Torvill about Dean
The outstanding characteristic about Chris is his competitiveness. Whatever he is doing, dominoes or darts, bingo or beggar-your-neighbour, he has to win.

We are both perfectionists, but in different ways. I am prepared to slog away at something until it comes right. Chris has much less patience and cannot understand when something we are trying for the first time will not work straight away.

He is a brilliant innovator on the ice and most pioneering things we have done are down to him.


So, these two outstanding athletes are aware their styles are different and they have learnt to collaborate, using these diversities to their joint advantage. A-I theory adds some useful terminology to offer such teams: the Paradox of Structure (including cognitive structure) can be at the same time enabling and limiting, so when we collaborate we each contribute our enabling and should be able to cover our limits with the help of a colleague who is “different”. This helps the team to solve its Problem A and avoid a Problem B – e.g., believing that only adaption or innovation (“which ever I prefer”) is the only way to achieve the needed creativity. A-I theory states it simply as the “management of diversity” – both the diversity of problems and the diversity of the problem solvers.

Editorial note: These quotations extracted by Dr Kirton.