Evaluating the Internship Experience Using KAI

Mary C. Sterling, M.A.
Indiana State University

In the process of securing internship positions, consideration needs to be given to the ways in which students problem solve, are creative and manage change. In Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory (KAI; 1976), thinking styles are identified along a continuum from high adaption to high innovation. The trait characteristics of adaptors can be described as: “prefer to generate a few novel, creative, relevant, and acceptable solutions aimed at ‘doing things better’. They have confidence in implementing such solutions effectively, despite size and complexity of task.” Whereas, trait characteristics of innovators can be described as: “produce numerous ideas, some of which may not appear relevant or be acceptable to others. Such ideas often contain solutions which result in doing things differently” (Kirton, 2003, p.55). Any plan aiming at doing differently effectively requires both adaption and innovation. The results of the KAI inventory support the importance of including Adaption-Innovation (A-I) theory into the formula for internship success.

In the process of assigning interior design students to internship sites there is little consideration given to the match between the different ways in which interior design students problem-solve, manage change and the internship site supervisor and duties. This research project was designed to examine the effects of student-internship match and mismatch on a single personality variable. The Kirton Adaption-Innovation inventory (KAI) has been used to measure student thinking styles and student oral presentations and journals were used to evaluate their perceptions of their internship experiences.

Literature Review
Adaption-Innovation Theory (A-I theory) relates to cognitive style (Kirton, 2003). This theory explores and describes preferred individual differences in the way people solve problems, are creative and manage change. The individual scores locate an individual on a continuum ranging from high adaption to high innovation (Kirton, 2003). A-I theory posits that each individual has a preferred cognitive style that influences behaviour. Adaption is a style that relies on clear and well-developed parameters, has less rather than more flexibility, and works effectively in familiar and existing circumstances. Innovation as a style relies far less on well-developed parameters, is characterized by its flexibility, and may work effectively in a changing system. Behaviourally, adaptors may be viewed by innovators as “sound conforming, safe, predictable, inflexible and wedded to the system, intolerant of ambiguity” (Kirton, 2003, p.55). Adaptors may view innovators as “glamorous, exciting, unsound, impractical, risky, abrasive, threatening the established system, and causing dissonance” (p.55).

In problem solving, adaptors tend to work via consensus and problem solve effectively under well known boundaries within a system. They typically develop a few, well-defined, efficient solutions. Innovators tend to redefine problems and understand them in ways that look very different from the original description. Innovators are less concerned with working within a “current” efficient manner, choosing instead to focus on information outside the usual perception of the problem. So, Adaptors can be very useful in addressing problems within the parameters of an existing system. Innovators may work effectively on problems that result in modifying a system. Both styles have their unique strengths and limitations, as explained by the Paradox of Structure axiom and, so, according to the theory, neither is superior to the other (Kirton, 2003; Bahr, 2004).

Because of its descriptive nature, A-I theory provides the internship advisor with an alternate perspective through which to understand internship satisfaction results. Understanding cognitive style can give the students the opportunity to consider internship placement with an additional set of values. Students reported how A-I theory provided insights in understanding some of the mystery in their personal relationships and to understand why their internship experience had the results that it had.

This qualitative study was precipitated by the need to promote greater understanding of the internship experience and why some students had highly positive exposure while others had a less positive work experience. At a four-year interior design degree program located in the mid-Western US, a three-credit hour internship course is typically taught every second summer.

The sample for this study consisted of nine junior and eight senior interior design students enrolled in a Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (FIDER) accredited school. All students registered and participated in a paid summer internship experience. The three-credit hour course requires a minimum of 320 hours of full-time supervised experience in business and professional practice in interior design or related design work.

Based on decades of years of research and practice, A-I is a broadly applicable, elegant theory, while KAI is a robust, scientifically sound measure that has excellent face validity with individuals and groups.

KAI is used to: “a) increase self awareness, personal growth, and collaboration; b) reduce conflict within groups; c) train leaders, managers, and key teams as part of the management of change; d) train individuals and groups as part of the understanding and effective management of diversity; e) enhance group cohesion and effectiveness; and f) develop team-building for problem-solving tasks” (Littlejohn, 2004, p.1).

Administration, scoring and interpretation of the KAI requires certification.

The KAI is quite different from both the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Kolb learning styles inventory. The MBTI classifies students according to their preferences on scales derived from psychologist Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types. Students may be extraverts or introverts, sensors or intuitors, thinkers or feelers, and judgers or perceivers. The MBTI type preferences can be combined to form 16 different learning style types or personality inventory (Myers, 1985) created from four bimodal scales. Meanwhile, the Kolb learning style model classifies students as having a preference for concrete experience or abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation or reflective observation. The four types of learners in this classification scheme are concrete, reflective; abstract, reflective; abstract, active; or concrete, active (Kolb, 1985). The MBTI and the Kolb learning styles inventory focus on a personality inventory or four distinct learning styles based on a four-stage leaning cycle respectively while the Adaption-Innovation Inventory measures thinking style. KAI is increasingly used as a means of further understanding team building and personnel management. A-I theory is a model of problem solving and creativity, which aims to increase collaboration and reduce conflict within groups.

Data Collection
KAI was given to each student during the first meeting for the summer internship experience by a fellow faculty member who is KAI certified. The qualified completed forms were scored and interpretive material was prepared for each student. The results of each student’s KAI were presented to the author and the students at the end of the summer internship experience.

Further data was collected through documentation consisting of the intern preference form, student internship questionnaire, learning contract, multiple weekly on-line journal entries, intern evaluation form, letter of reference, videotapes of the students’ oral presentations and focused conversations and Student Instructional Report (SIRs) administered at the conclusion of the summer internship experience.

Because this exploratory sample is not large, the students have been divided into three groups based on their KAI scores: Adaptors, Mid Range Scorers (mild adaptors plus mild innovators) and Innovators so that each group was composed of individuals with scores clearly similar to others in that group and different from other students.

Kirton’s continuum ranges from (extreme) adaption to (extreme) innovation with overlapping distribution curves for either adaption or innovation tendencies. Differences of 20 points or more can lead to communication problems (Kirton, 1999). This qualitative method allowed the researcher to see trends or patterns of preference in internship placements. Of the student KAI responses (n=17), 29% were adaptors, 24% were mid range scorers (equal range for mild adaptors and mild innovators), & 47% were innovative. The mean of this particular student population was 95 while population means are also around 95. Males’ scores generally are normally distributed around a mean of 98 and females’’ scores around 91 (Kirton, 1999). In this population, 6% were males with a mean of 94 whereas the 94% female population had a mean of 95.

Viewing the videotapes of the students’ oral presentations and focused conversations revealed that of the student presentations (n=15), 20% were mismatched. Determination of mismatching was based upon the students declaring a mismatch followed by oral examples of why they felt that it was a mismatch.

Problem Solving
High Adaptors

How did adaptors answer the question: “What did you enjoy the most? What else? Why? What did you least enjoy doing? Why was that?” One high adaptor replied:
“I have enjoyed doing the finish plans and schedules. I like working with and getting to be a part of the finish selection. I like researching new products as well as searching for a particular product that the client wants but we do not have. I do not enjoy the window treatment design. I think I dislike it so much because I do not understand it or know much about it. It is also frustrating because I would rather be designing rooms or space planning instead.”
Another adaptor replied:
“I enjoy doing construction drawings because they are consistent and interesting, and you can’t mess them up too much (when starting out). I also like going through product catalogues and picking out paint samples from different manufacturers. I do not enjoy doing space plans. They aren’t really the way I thought they could be.”

Mid Range Scorers
How did mid range scorers answer the question: “What did you enjoy the most? What else? Why? What did you least enjoy doing? Why was that?” An example of a typical response:
“My favourite things during my internship are experiencing and learning new computer programs, such as Photoshop. Also, I enjoyed playing with CAD. I hated being asked to work on unnecessary jobs, such as assembling office furniture, organizing warehouse and doing errands. I think an intern is not supposed to be asked to do such useless work.”

Another typical response:
“The most enjoyable part of the work was talking to the different people throughout the county. I really enjoyed the research components and photography. I thought it was fun; at least it was easier to make it more enjoyable than filling out the paperwork. My least favourit part was filling out all of the repetitive forms and the fact that it was not as closely related to interior design as I would have liked.”

High Innovators
How did innovators answer the question: “What did you enjoy the most? What else? Why? What did you least enjoy doing? Why was that?” One high innovator replied:
“I really enjoyed finding architectural gems in the county and educating people on how they might list their structure on the national registrar. I least enjoyed all of the physical labor and all of the time spent outside. I think my dermatologist would agree.”

Yet another innovator replied:
“My favourite project is the showroom displays, because they are totally up to me. I can take all the ideas I have always wanted to try out in my own house and put them in the showroom instead. I get to do a lot of experimenting and that is fun. It is an exciting challenge to be put in charge of every aspect of the showroom. The least enjoyable projects include the graphic design work that I did. I did not enjoy this because this is not my passion or what I went to school for. I was able to complete these projects but they were not in my expertise.”

One other high innovator noted:
“One of the things I enjoyed doing the most is going to Neocon and being able to freely engage with the reps and view the furniture and other materials and finishes. I also enjoyed working on an actual project which is still in progress. I enjoyed these things the most because it actively involved me in what I was doing. What I least enjoyed was the unstructured time that I had which sometimes led me to dislike the concept of working for a one-person firm.”

Managing Change
High Adaptors

How did adaptors answer the question: “Describe how you feel after an experience of effective supervision and how you feel after an experience of ineffective supervision?” One high adaptor replied:
“When I have good supervision I feel as though I am learning and that I am actually doing the work. I feel like they trust me to get things done and that motivates me to do a good job. Under circumstances of bad supervision, I just feel frustrated that I am not being helpful.

Another high adaptor stated:
“I prefer being effective. Usually in those cases they are explaining lots of stuff, so it is easier for me or they tell me something I wouldn’t have thought of or knew which is helpful. Ineffective just makes me mad, because I feel I knew what I was doing, but they just didn’t clarify what they wanted etc… or if they’d only told me that.”

Mid Range Scorers
How did mid range scorers answer the question: “Describe how you feel after an experience of effective supervision and how you feel after an experience of ineffective supervision?” An example of a typical response:
“After the training session I felt like I was really informed and ready to survey, having been supervised closely gave me assurance and confidence in the information I was recording. Some days after I finished surveying, I questioned whether or not what I did was enough or too much and if the different things I am finding are what is really expected. But I can’t have those questions answered until I talk to my supervisor at the end of the work week.”

High Innovators
How did innovators answer the question: “Describe how you feel after an experience of effective supervision and how you feel after an experience of ineffective supervision?” One high innovator replied:
“When we first moved down here our supervisor came down and surveyed a couple of sites with us as well as go over and check out each of our forms to make sure that we were correctly filling them out. I really appreciated this because I felt that by being given this supervision I would be able to get more out of my internship and to learn more. Unfortunately, because our supervisor has been very busy she has not been able to come down and work with us one on one as much as she would have liked. Also I believe that she is newer to her position and did not correctly judge just how long it would take us to survey the area, so instead of the originally projected three months in which we would be able to complete the work, it appears that it will take approx a year. Because of this lack of supervision we have been left on our own and at times a bit lost. I do not feel that I have gotten as much done as I would have liked because I did not have the knowledge and the experience to do so. Although I have learned a lot and have gained invaluable experiences.”

Another high innovator stated:
“At the times where I was effectively supervised the supervision was needed and I really learned a lot from the supervision, but at times I felt that I didn’t need his help and thought that I knew what I was doing. During the times that I was ineffectively supervised the supervision was not needed and it gave me the chance to think freely from the one angled thought of my employer and add my individual input to the project.

Student responses to the internship experiences were mediated by their KAI type. When differences in ‘style gap’ were greater, the mismatch was greater or when the differences were less, the match was better.

Adaptors tended to accept the problems as defined by consensus, accepting generally agreed constraints. Early resolution of problems, limiting disruption, and immediate increased efficiency were the more important considerations.

Innovators tended to reject the generally accepted perception of problems and redefine them. Their view of the problem may be hard to get across. They seem less concerned with immediate efficiency, looking to possible long-term gains. Innovators work effectively on problems that require long-term change and result in modifying a system.

Adaptors were more drawn to and more excited about working via consensus and problem solving effectively under well known boundaries within the parameters of an existing system while Innovators tended to redefine problems and understand them in ways that looked very different than the original description.

In addition to the identification of preferred type of design emphasis (residential versus commercial), geographic location and learning goals, we will now add the means by which students solve problems, manage change and how they are creative. This new information could provide an additional tool to increase the percentage of a better match between the intern and internship supervisor and related duties. Incorporating A-I theory into the internship experience can help students learn to solve problems amicably, learn more about themselves, discover their unique style and its value and learn to appreciate the differences between themselves and others.

Students will gain insight by separating style from level of creativity or problem solving. We tend to make value judgments about other people’s skills, experience or commitment levels based on what we believe is required for a particular task. Students would be less likely to misjudge style differences as level differences that reflect pejoratively on another’s level of ability, competence, knowledge, or motive. Most students will learn to communicate more effectively, reduce stress, make better use of a wider variety of problem solving approaches and learn to get along better with people who are different from them (Wolfe, 2004). After the conclusion of the presentation of the KAI results, students reported how the A-I theory would help them to accept others more readily in the workplace. In future internship preparation, KAIs will be administered, scored and interpreted prior to student-internship matches.

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