Foundation Five

Foundation Five

Welcome to the KAI Foundation Five Podcast Series!

This is our five part introduction to building better teams and great leaders with the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory.

KAI is the world’s foremost measure for problem solving style. It’s used widely to create cohesive and productive teams and effective leaders. It’s been in use for around 40 years and is supported by a large body of academic research from around the world.

In these five podcasts we want to provide you with an understanding of why KAI is so effective, so powerful and indeed life changing for so many teams and team leaders.

The podcasts are being released individually, so please do check back for the latest episode!

KAI Foundation Five – episode 2 – Big Problems need Better Teams

Today’s second episode is entitled ‘Big Problems need Better Teams,’ and during the next half an hour or so we’re going to discuss problem solving style, and why for teams to be effective we need diversity in that style.

We’ll also look at KAI measures that diversity, how we know it works, the proof and the rigour, if you will, and the importance of creativity – whatever your problem solving style happens to be.

Hosted by Dave Harries, with Dr. Curt Friedel and Dr. Iwan Jenkins.

Dr Curt Friedel

Dr Iwan Jenkins

Dave Harries

Dr Curt Friedel is Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Co-operative Problem Solving at Virginia Tech in the USA where he is also the Director of the KAI Certification Course.

Dr Iwan Jenkins is also a KAI expert and describes himself as a practitioner of the practical. He understands cognitive theory and complex system science, but more importantly he also knows how to make that theory applicable in today’s business world. In his own words, he turns potential into profit.

Foundation Five Part 2 - Transcript - click here

Print or download the transcript (PDF)

DH: Dave Harries
CF: Dr Curt Friedel
IJ: Dr Iwan Jenkins

DH: [0:00:00.0] Welcome to Part 2 of the KAI Foundation Five Podcast Series, our five part introduction to building better teams and great leaders with the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory.
KAI is the world’s foremost measure for problem solving style. It’s used widely to create cohesive and productive teams and effective leaders. It’s been in use for about 40 years and is supported by a large body of academic research from around the world.

In these five podcasts we want to provide you with an understanding of why KAI is so effective, why it’s so powerful and indeed can be life changing for so many teams and team leaders.

Today’s second episode is entitled ‘Big Problems need Better Teams,’ and during the next half an hour or so we’re going to discuss problem solving style, and why for teams to be effective we need diversity in that style.

We’ll also look at KAI measures that diversity, how we know it works, the proof and the rigour, if you will, and the importance of creativity – whatever your problem solving style happens to be.

My name is Dave Harries and joining me from the United States and Canada to talk about all of this I have two experts guests. Dr Curt Friedel is Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Co-operative Problem Solving at Virginia Tech in the USA where he is also the Director of the KAI Certification Course.

Dr Iwan Jenkins is also a KAI expert and describes himself as a practitioner of the practical. He understands cognitive theory and complex system science, but more importantly he also knows how to make that theory applicable in today’s business world. In his own words, he turns potential into profit.

So welcome gentlemen, to this second podcast in the series. As we are talking today about problem solving styles amongst other things, I wonder if we could start with that. Maybe we’ll start you, Curt, and you could tell us what is problem solving style? What does that really mean?

CF: [0:01:57.7] Sure. Thanks, Dave. If we go back to the essence of a problem, meaning something isn’t working well or we need to get from Point A to Point B, in a broader sense something’s not working well, a system’s not working. Problem solving style is a preference of how to solve the problem, not how well we can solve the problem. So it’s a separation from what we would level or intelligence and capacity and contrast that with a style.

So the more innovative prefer to think differently and look out to swap out the system. So if a policy or a procedure isn’t working well, let’s stop doing this right now and start doing something else right away. They prefer to focus on different wide ranging views of how to fix the system.

The more adaptive would prefer to fix the system or get from Point A to Point B with more detail and focus, often with inside the box thinking to tweak the system to make it better. If the system isn’t working, it’s an improvement that they focus on to make the system work better.

And so we can all solve problems equally well, but we have a different style in solving problems. We can measure this style on a continuum ranging from 32 to 160 on the KAI. The average or the mean score of the KAI is 95. It’s a normal distribution that cuts across many demographic variables, such as socio economic status, age, culture, ethnicity and so on. People who score from 95 to 160 tend to be more innovative in their preference for solving problems, and people who score between 95 and 32 tend to be more adaptive. But I will say that maybe how you identify as a problem solver, more adaptive or more innovative, it’s much more about who you’re with in the room.

So let’s say, for example, I’m a 110, as a more innovative – and this is just an example – and I’m in a room with a 120 and a 145. Me, as a 100, I’m the most adaptive person in the room. So it’s comparative or relative and it works on the other side, so if we have someone who is an 85 – let’s say, for example, I’m an 85 and I’m in the room with a 74 and a 57 – I’m the most innovative person in the room. So it’s relative to who I’m with.

DH: [0:04:28.5] Iwan, is it difficult to measure this? Presumably there’s a technique, a method for measuring what somebody’s problem solving style is, where they are on the Kirton scale. How do you do that and how do you know that your answer, the number you get for a particular person, how do you know that’s reliable?

IJ: [0:04:48.9] As Curt has said, there has been a substantial amount of research now around how does an individual understand what their preferred problem solving style is? Am I one who likes to, as Curt was saying, think outside of the box, or am I one who prefers to have more structure and manage the risk around the way that I solve my problems?

What Kirton has done is he has developed what he calls an inventory, which is 33 questions – takes about 15 minutes to complete – and you answer those 33 questions and then you get a score which then places you on this spectrum again from 32 all the way up to 160. One of the things that Kirton h has done is he’s taken data samples from around the world and shown that this mean of 95 is consistent with any population regardless of culture.

So, for example, you may well have societies like the United Kingdom or the United States where high levels of innovation, doing things differently, are valued, and so you may say, “Okay, well the mean for that population then would be somewhere between 95 and 160. They’re on the relatively more innovative side, but in fact the mean for the general population of the United States and the United Kingdom is 95.

Likewise, if you went to Japan, which is very structured in terms of the way the organisations work in terms of their academics and so on and so forth, you’d say, “Well, they are so structured, so tightly bound to policies and procedures that the mean for the Japanese population would be on the more adaptive side.” Let’s say 80 for example, but it’s not. It’s 95.
And so one of the things that Kirton’s Adaptive Innovative inventory is measuring is it lies below culture and therefore it’s consistent with human beings around the world. That’s what the data says.

DH: [0:06:51.8] And presumably that’s what makes it so powerful. It just works. Whoever you are, whatever your culture, whatever your background, whatever your education, it’s going to work.

IJ [0:07:01.1] Correct. So the powerful point is here that it’s applicable with whoever you’re working with and the drivers that we were talking about earlier, that I want to be valued as a problem solver, I want to be part of a problem solving group and I want to be recognised within the problem solving group – wherever you in the world, if you’re a human being, if you’re a member of the human species, those drivers are the same.

DH: [0:07:28.1] Now this podcast, this episode, No 2, is called ‘Big Problems need Better Teams.’ So I think it’s about time we addressed what a better team is. What do we mean by that? What are we talking about when we talk about a better team?

CF: [0:07:44.6] A better team is really a team that has a wide spectrum of diversity and embraces that diversity so there’s no second class citizenry on the team. It’s a team that has a place where people can come together in safety to share ideas – whether those ideas are more adaptive or more innovative – and they’re coming together to decide on where is the best solution to move forward in solving problem A. Mitigating that diversity as things pop up from here, so that focus can be maintained on problem A.

Leadership in a team – and notice the word ‘leadership,’ not leader – leadership is when people come together to solve the problem together, managing or embracing the diversity so that the right person can focus at the right time to effectively solve problem A.

DH: [0:08:35.3] So I understand what we mean by a better team, but Iwan, I wonder if you could give me some examples of how that actually works in practice. Real life teams, if you like, that have been successful, that have been better because of this diversity?

IJ: [0:08:48.3] To answer that question, let’s talk about sailing ships across the Atlantic.

If we look at adapters. Adapters are always wanting to take the existing and improve them. If you work in industry, things like Six Sigma, this aspect of continuous improvement, is very important in terms of how do we make things better based on what’s worked in the past – because what’s worked in the past has shown us some indication about how things can work successfully at the lowest risk.

For many years goods were being shipped across the Atlantic between the UK and the United States by sailing ships. They were forever improvements in terms of the sail design, the material that went into the sails to make them lighter but still keep the strength. For the different kinds of pitches to go on the outside of the ship that would then prevent fouling so that there would be no growth on the outside of the ship, so that the ship would be able to sail faster and faster across the Atlantic. These small tweaks of continuous improvement are very much associated with a creative, adaptive way of solving problems. How do we make things better?

And then somebody came up with a steam ship, but the problem was the first steam ships would often sink because the amount of coal that was required to keep the steam ships going was actually detrimental then to the buoyancy of the boat. But over time these steam ships that were invented by high innovators were starting to attract the interest of the more adaptive who would then improve the idea, make it practical and eventually then these steam ships were crossing the Atlantic faster than the sailing ships.

And so one of the things that you see then is the more adaptive tend to wait too late to make a shift to different and better technology and the more innovative jump to alternative out of the box, often too early. So what you’re really looking for then are a balance of adaptors who are improving the status quo and innovators who are looking about the next thing, but they work collaboratively to do continuous improvement of the more radical stuff as they go along.

But that’s not always easy because these diverse teams actually come at cost. If I want to do things differently, I look at you as an adapter as being an anchor that’s weighing me down, being boring and stuffy. If I am an adaptor looking at you as a nigh innovator, I see you as always being wanting to do too much too soon, being radical for the sake of being radical.
And so in team leadership you’re always looking about how do we make the most of the diversity to solve the problem that we’re looking at – the problem A – but working with each other and valuing each other’s contribution in such a way that we minimise the dysfunction or the problem B within the organisation.

CF: [0:12:05.3] I’ll add, it’s a bit of a paradox. We need each other to solve complex problems, but we don’t get along so well especially if we have a difference in problem solving style in solving the problem.

DH: [0:12:17.2] So is there ever a situation where people are too far apart on the scale that they can’t work together or is there always a way of making it work?

CF: [0:12:28.0] When you have a team who has a diversity of problem solving style scores, the team functions well when at first there’s a focus on problem A and second, where there’s mutual respect and humility involved of all the team players. And so with that mutual respect of ‘I respect you and your diversity of thought and what you bring to the team, and you respect me and my diversity of thought and what I bring to the team’ to create that same space of having ideas but also the humility of ‘I know what I can do and not do well and rely on you to cover for me on the things I can’t do well.’

Going back to the question of the size of a gap, if there is a sizeable gap but there’s mutual respect and humility, the greatest of that team is they can solve a wider variety of problems because they can rely on each other to focus on all problems that could possibly happen – with spin off problems and such.

The narrower the team, if you have individuals who score very closely together, they get along well but the depth and breadth of problems that they can solve is limited because they see all the problems the same way and they don’t know when to adapt, when adaptions needed or when innovation is needed.

IJ [0:13:48.5] So it goes back to this phrase ‘if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go further, go as a team.’ Again, if you go as a team, let me tell you, you have to bite your tongue. You get irritated when you’re in the car together and somebody wants to stop and pull over and open up the flask and have some cake. But collectively you go together, so there’s cost as an individual then for some tolerating other people but you need to say to yourself, “Is the investment I’m making worth the return I’m getting?”

As Curt was saying, you can have a group of high innovators who then start a business together and it is fantastic. You have a great time. Every day’s a party, but eventually you’ll run out of cash.

If you have a group of high adaptors running a business, stuff will get down but eventually you will start to see a sales reduction because other better, more innovative products, come along and will start to steal your market share. So you’re always looking then to have again the diversity approach.

Somebody once said to me, “The beauty of having a diverse team is that you can have radical innovation that delivers,” but it’s not always an easy place to work.

DH: [0:15:10.2] Can I ask you, Iwan, about creativity? Creativity is obviously important in problem solving and to the layman, or perhaps it’s lazy thinking on my part, but it’s easy to think, isn’t it, that creativity is somehow tied up very closely with innovation, but that’s not true, is it?

IJ: [0:15:28.8] No, no, and so part of this is down to the definition. If you laud creativity as somebody who happens to be very successful in the arts or the TV, you are basically saying to 95 per cent of the population, “You are not creative.’ That is also not right in terms of dismissing the 95 per cent of the population in terms of their problem solving capability, but it’s actually incorrect because if you solve a problem – and it doesn’t matter about the nature of the problem, doesn’t matter how simple the problem is, whether it’s switching on a light to look for keys in a room or solving Fermat’s theorem or writing a new symphony – if you are creating something that solves a problem, you are by definition creative. What differs then is the style in which you’re creative, the capability of technical skills that you are bringing, but everybody’s creative. The important thing is we need to let everybody that they’re creative and contributing to the group because that’s the essence then of what drives human beings.

The key thing about the Kirton theory is people need to be part of a group and they need to be recognised to be part of a group to actually make the most of them. If you actually want to dismiss somebody, if you want to actually destroy their self-esteem, then you only need to do things. You either don’t let them be part of the problem solving group or indeed within that solving group you shame them in terms of ridiculing their problem solving capability.

So that to me is a critical thing for leaders to understand. Quite often we hear this phrase about employee engagement. Employees don’t want to be engaged, they want to be involved. They want to be part of the group, they want to contribute to the group and to have that contribution recognised because they are themselves creative problem solvers. That’s the key thing that Kirton’s work tells us – we want to actually involve people, not just engage them and that’s the essence of diversity and inclusion.

CF: [0:17:36.0] I would like to add to what Iwan was saying and dissect the word ‘innovation’ a bit more. In popular culture and press we tend to conflate creativity and innovation and new altogether and we tend to use the word ‘innovation’ too much in my opinion. We put innovation on the word centres and we call innovative just because they‘re doing something exciting and different and new. But I’d like to push back on that definition a little bit and contrast level and capacity.

We’re talking about innovation in popular terms. The word innovation is really about capacity, but going along Kirton’s Adaption and Innovation theory we’re talking about style. Actually when we contrast innovation with adaption we have more meaning towards what innovation and what new means because we can have innovation new ideas but we can also have adaptive new ideas. We can be creative both innovatively and adaptively. Creativity is a capacity, but we can do it within our own style.

DH: [0:18:43.3] I’m very interested and delighted actually that you have said that we’re all creative. I think that’s a very important point. I was thinking about the world of music, which I know a little bit about as a keen amateur musician. Within that world, musicians argue about who’s the most creative. If you’re a jazz musician, for example, you might spend a lot of your time extemporising. Some people would say, “That’s creative because you’re making this stuff up.” Whereas if you’re a classical musician as I am, you’re reading black dots on a page and playing something that’s been written by a composer probably hundreds of years ago.

You’re still solving a problem interestingly even in that example, because you’re solving the problem of how to take that music off the page and make it something beautiful. So even in that so called creative industry, there is argument about which people in the industry are creative and which aren’t. The reality is that, as Iwan said very well, and as you reinforced, Curt, we’re all creative and that is a really crucial point, I think.

IJ: [0:19:50.4] If you look at Bach, you could say that Bach really extemporised off structure. That’s why mathematicians love Bach because to some extent he’s predictable. Even Mozart said, “Creativity (in the innovative sense) is overrated.” He again would stick to certain patterns and then basically join existing dots in novel ways. He was never really doing anything as far as he was concerned that was extremely radical.

CF: [0:20:26.5] Yeah, in a contemporary version, looking at comedy. If comedy is a problem to be solved, the Adaption Innovation theory should apply. The essence of a joke and making someone laugh, and so comparing who I would argue as more innovative – the late and great Robin Williams who could bounce around from character to character to character in just a matter of seconds really. So if he’s more innovative, the more adaptive comedian would be Jay Leno who could tweak any joke to fit any audience.

DH: [0:20:57.3] Yeah, that’s a really good point, really good example. So what that really suggests – and I think we said this a little bit in the first episode as well – is that it doesn’t matter where the team is, what industry they’re in, what they do -sports, military, industry – whatever it is, these rules do work. They do apply. Perhaps ‘rules’ is the wrong word, but they do work.

IJ: [0:21:19.8] Two things got me passionate about Kirton’s walk. First of all it allowed me to make sense of the world. All of a sudden I was going, “Ah, now I understand.” The second thing which built on the first is ‘Now I have the power to predict.’ It allows you to start to see patterns in human behaviour and because going back to the first thing – while times change, human behaviours don’t, – you are then in a position to be more helpful to others.

So, for example now, the current popular press is very focused on successful innovation, and again it’s survivorship bias in terms of the things selected to be talked about. One in ten entrepreneurial organisations are successful. Nine out of ten fail, but it’s that one out of ten which is a brilliant star that we focus on. Yet when you come back to it, nearly all of the major impacts that come from the world of science have actually been founded on somebody who has been more adaptive, more cautious, more structured in a lot of their research.
I think, Curt, were talking about Edison and Tesla. Edison, by far the most productive. Our world is an Edison world. I don’t have the exact date in front of me, but he’s got almost more patents than any other individual in the US patent office. A very highly adaptive individual.

If you look at the first woman to get a Nobel prize, In fact she may even have had the first PhD in France. The first woman to get a Nobel prize. In fact, the first person to get two Nobel prizes in different sciences, was Marie Curie. Very adaptive in terms of the way that she was doing her work, all around the periodic table, going through it in a very, very structured way. But the interesting thing about Marie Curie is she was married to a very innovative husband. Her husband never finished his PhD, and in fact he was killed by looking the wrong way down a road in Paris and hit by a horse and cart. Fairly typical innovative behaviour. Innovators tend to die young.

So one of the things that we need to do is to recognise that wherever your problem solving style lies on the spectrum, you have a role to play not only in terms of survivorship of the species, but also in terms of building your own self-fulfilment.

CF: [0:24:01.1] Yeah. I want to add something to what Iwan just said about the predictive nature of KAI. We can predict because we made something well and we have a good theory to back it up. KAI is a little bit different in its approach to looking at how people think differently because it’s based on Adaption Innovation theory. Many learning style inventories out there, personality assessments out there, they’re focused on Young’s work or derivatives of Young’s work, which is ‘if I understand myself better, I can become a better person and a better leader and I also can learn more about you and choose to accept you or tolerate you.’

But Adaption Innovation theory is a bit different. When Kirton did his first study he was actually looking at how teams work together to change and the theory is built around that notion that different people solve problems differently. If I know my score and I know your score, I can predict how we interact with each other in managing change. And so there’s a bit of difference here in how we use the KAI in the science of teams.

IJ: [0:25:17.2] I agree with that, and actually I’ve found – without it sounding like a parlour game – I have found a good way of getting a very crude understanding of ‘is my preferred style relatively more innovative or relatively more adaptive?’ It was actually given to me by Thomas Edison, not personally but it was given to me by Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.’ That’s a very adaptive perspective on the world because adaptors just want to generally get their head down, work within the system, not make waves – which is why often they don’t stand out because they just want to be part of the group and get things done.

The reverse of that of course is ‘Genius is 99 per cent inspiration, one per cent perspiration.’ It just comes to you like a gift from the Gods, your radical thinking. That’s on the more innovative side.

If you believe, like Edison, that genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration, then you may have a more adaptive style. If on the other hand, you believe that genius is one per cent perspiration and 99 per cent inspiration, that it comes down as a gift from a God, then you are more likely to have a preferred innovative problem solving style. Having this information helps you then be a better contributor to your problem solving group and more useful to your colleagues.

DH: [0:26:46.9] You’ve been listening to the KAI Foundation Five Podcast Part 2 with our special guests, Dr Curt Friedel and Dr Iwan Jenkins.

If you found the discussion interesting, you can find out more about the KAI system and its first class team development potential at

In the meantime, Part 3 of the KAI Foundation Five Podcast – ‘Driving Innovation’ will be along very soon, so please subscribe and keep listening.

Download the transcript (PDF)

PART 1 – ‘From Cave Dwellers to Cosmonaut – A Manual for the Brain’

Foundation Five Part 1 - Transcript - click here

‘From Cave Dwellers to Cosmonaut – A Manual for the Brain’

Print or download the transcript (PDF)

DH: Dave Harries
CF: Dr Curt Friedel
IJ: Dr Iwan Jenkins

DH: [0:00:00.0] Welcome to the KAI Foundation Five Podcast Series, our five part introduction to building better teams and great leaders with the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory.
KAI is the world’s foremost measure for problem solving style. It’s used widely to create cohesive and productive teams and effective leaders. It’s been in use for around 40 years and is supported by a large body of academic research from around the world.

In these five podcasts we want to provide you with an understanding of why KAI is so effective, so powerful and indeed life changing for so many teams and team leaders. We’ve entitled today’s first episode – ‘From Cave Dwellers to Cosmonaut – A Manual for the Brain’ – and it’s really an introduction to KAI, what it is, what it’s all about and why it works.
My name’s Dave Harries and joining me from across the Atlantic to explain all of this, I have two very distinguished guests. Dr Curt Friedel is Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Co-operative Problem Solving at Virginia Tech in the USA where he is also the Director of the KAI Certification Course.

Dr Iwan Jenkins is also a KAI expert and describes himself as a practitioner of the practical. He understands cognitive theory and complex system science, but more importantly he knows how to make that theory applicable in today’s business world. In his own words, he turns potential to profit.

So welcome both of you to the podcase. Iwan, if I could turn to you first, could I get you to tell me what exactly is KAI and why are you so interested in it?

IJ: [0:01:42.7] What drew me to KAI was, I was quite interested in how leaders persuade other individuals to take a physical action that was for mutual benefit. Even that sounds a bit jargony but the way it was summarised to me was a phrase by a famous American advertising gentleman called John Caples who once said, “Times change, but people don’t.’ The last part of that sentence about people not changing and basically being the same for at least millennia during written history, that got me quite interested to try and understand, “Well, what aspects of humans have not changed and how can I help others with that information to be better leaders of themselves and others?”

If you read things like Shakespeare or the major poets or indeed the great theological texts, they seem to be focusing in on two things – and that is that people at their essence want to love somebody else and also be loved by other people. And so this insight, what attracted me then to KAI was, I wonder if there is… I could see a glimpse in the theory that would allow me to understand in a more rigorous way about why people want to belong to an organisation or to a group, and how they want to stand out in that group. The magic part for me about KAI – and I’ve become quite passionate about it over the past almost 30 years now – is it allows people to understand how they can be better supporters of themselves and better supporters of other people. So the theory does in the end support Shakespeare. Shakespeare was right.

DH: [0:03:30.9] Well, that’s good to know. I’ve always wondered whether he was right or not.

Curt, I don’t know if you’re a fan of Shakespeare, but tell me about your perspective of KAI. Do you see it in the same way that Iwan has just described it there?

CF: [0:03:44.6] Thanks, Dave. I really do. From my perspective as I see it, the brain hasn’t really changed for the last 100 or even 1000 years. We tend to think the same way as we did, and if you look at literature that shows that all the way from Shakespeare to Prado and Socrates, of course the culture has changed, society has changed – and that’s what I love about KAI. A lot of our work is at the intersection between psychology and sociology. Our brains don’t change and with respect to KAI we’re measuring problem solving style which is independent from intelligence, motivation, values, culture and ethnicity.

For this I’d like to highlight culture. Sometimes we might see cultures that might be more adaptive or more innovative, but the problem solving style, mean or average, if you will, among those different cultures are still the same. It really is fascinating. I get a lot of questions about the millennial generation, for example. I would argue that of the millennials or generation Y or Z, their brains haven’t changed but the culture has, and so we can still measure KAI problem solving style accurately. People are still solving problems the same way with different preferences but culture has changed, expectations have changed.

DH: [0:05:08.9] And Iwan, talking of culture changing around us even as our brains don’t particularly, presumably that includes the tools that we have for communication, and that must be an important part of it as well because obviously people talk about social media now and the effect that has and the fact that news or fake news can travel around the world so fast and that sort of thing – does that have an influence on the way we look at problems and the way we perceive them, do you think?

IJ: [0:05:37.7] Yeah, it does, Dave. It may be useful now to draw a link as to these two drivers for human beings about wanting to be loved and also to love others, why those drivers are important to the survival of the species, what’s this got to do with the problem solving stuff we’re talking about today and how important it is for things like language and social media because they all build on each other.

So, for example, we seem to have this driver that people like Shakespeare and other writers of literature have found that Capel summarised that we want to be part of a group, but we also want to stand out in the group. Why has that been part of human nature now for 100,000 years let’s say?

Well, actually at the root of it is it’s important for our survival. What Kirton did is Kirton recognised that and has given us some useful insight to take these two drivers and exploit them – I’ll use that word in a positive way – exploit them for the benefit of humanity. No human being can answer every single problem around survival, reproduction and so on that they meet, so it’s critical for us to work with others to solve these so called problems, and what Kirton’s work did is very much focusing on humans coming together to solve problems. We have no instincts, human beings have got no instincts. We’re not gifted like birds or we don’t have talons like some mammals. We’ve got the same bodies and brains that we’ve had, as Curt says, for 100,000 years, so we actually have to work with each other, to collaborate with each other, bring skills to a group for mutual benefit that allow us then to solve problems. In fact, as human beings as a species, we are by far the most the successful species that’s ever been on the planet. A lot of the things that we’re collaborating are with each other now are to deal with some of the spin off problems of the success that human beings have had as working collaboratively in the past. It’s telling that the name of the department that Curt is heading up around co-operative problem solving is so important because we have to co-operate in problem solving units to solve problems for mutual benefit.

Organisations come together to solve problems for profit as well as then the benefit to the employees, but actually working with each other is critical to the long term success of the species.

DH: [0:08:17.6] Curt, we have called this episode, this first episode – ‘From Cave Dweller to Cosmonaut.’ Would it be fair to say that those cave dwellers when they were solving the problems of where the next meal was coming from or whatever, do you think they are facing the same basic problems in terms of problem solving and innovation as the people who are working out how to get us to the moon or to Mars in the future and that sort of thing? Are those two things really comparable?

CF: [0:08:49.2] Yeah, I would think so, or I should say I do think so. We’re all solving problems all the time every day and so we face problems from what am I going to wear to express myself or to keep my temperature hotter, warmer or colder depending on what temperature zone you live in, how am I going to get from point A to point B, how am I going to feed myself, how am I going to take care of my family or significant others, how to show affection. Sometimes we have problems that are problems we don’t want to talk about like I’m unhappy with my body image, how do I address that, or how do I work with other people who I disagree with? So yes, we do have problems that don’t seem to go away any time soon.

I like that Iwan highlighted instinct. If we had instinct, these would be problems that are a whole lot easier to solve. We would just rely on instinct and instinctively respond, but there’s no manual, there’s no instinctive characteristics that we have as humans to say, “Okay, I’m going to do this because everyone else does it this way.”

DH: [0:09:59.7] Iwan, I’m glad that Curt raised that issue of instinct because that struck me when you said that we don’t have instinct, because I think we often assume that we do, that we work on instinct. We claim to have instinct about meeting people and deciding, yes, we can get on with them, they’re friends or whatever, or we make decisions based on what we perhaps think of as instinct. But I accept totally your point that actually problem solving is about collaboration and all that sort of thing, but what does it mean in real life? If I could move the conversation on to how is used on a day to day basis? If you can give me examples of that. I understand that I can‘t solve all these problems on my own, so what’s the approach that a human being should sensibly take, if you like?

IJ: [0:10:46.9] Let me answer that, Dave, by just talking about defining what a problem is because quite often we think about it almost in a mathematical sense.

If I go into a room and the room is dark, and I’m looking for a set of keys but I can’t see them, then I have a problem. If I then switch the light on so that I can then find the keys, then I have created a solution. So in a very, very simple way I have solved the problem and created a solution. Therefore by that definition I am being creative.

We are all creative in some way, shape or form but what differs though is the style in which we are creative and also maybe the intellectual capacity or the knowledge and experience that we bring to solving the particular problems. Humans, because we’re not hard wired to solve all of these problems, we have to then tap into the problem solving capabilities of others.

So, for example now, if I have an idea now that I want to make furniture, like sofas, and I know how to market them but I don’t know how to make them, I would then collaborate, co-operate, with a carpenter because she or he may have the skills that are necessary to solve the overall problem of how do I provide furniture for comfortable seating in somebody’s homes.
That’s when were we start to work with each other then to collaborate and in fact because we don’t have any instincts and as Curt says, we’re not born with a manual, we actually have to learn how to work with each other for mutual benefit, and so human beings spend more time being nurtured and taught how to problem solve – that’s why we spend 18 years or so in primary education – in order to then be effective problem solvers to allow the species to continue to be successful.

DH: [0:12:51.3] I was very interested, Iwan, in what you just said about the simple problem of finding the keys and switching on the light and shedding literal light on the subject so you could find the keys. Obviously that’s a very everyday problem that one has solved, but it struck me there that clearly although you’re not collaborating to solve that problem, in a funny way you are because you’re sort of standing on the shoulders of giants, as it were. Many, many people in the past have worked on problems – inventing electricity, inventing light bulbs, wiring the country, getting the electricity into houses – so that we have the convenience to be able to solve the problem by flicking a light switch. I wonder if that is collaborative problem solving albeit in a time distanced way.

IJ: [0:13:38.0] So if you think from a biological perspective, a biological perspective is our genes don’t care about us as individuals. They’re only interested in can the behaviours that we’re putting into place, can they perpetuate the species? And so because again we don’t have these instincts, one of the ways that humans perpetuate the species is by being very effective problem solvers, which means this is a capability which is a value then in each individual because it’s a way they can contribute to the species surviving.

What we’re doing now is we are starting to see that for all the solutions that have been put into place in the past, there are now spin off problems starting to occur. So whilst we are able to exploit such as the electricity now, there are spin off problems which we are now having to deal with – increased pollution, plastic everywhere, etc – so we’re standing on the success of previous generations but we’re now actually having to be even better co-operate, collaborators because not only are we having to deal with the consequences of some of the earlier successes, the pace at which they’re coming to us is increasing and becoming more complex.

One of the things why Kirton’s work is so important is Kirton shows you how to be a better, more co-operative problem solver and we need that capability in order to be able to deal with some of the problems that we’re now starting to face.

CF: [0:15:13.4] Yeah, and if I could jump in here a bit. I really like the idea that Iwan has provided about trying to find the keys in a dark room. What you’re mentioning, Dave, is this idea that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, that our capacity has increased, our capacity has improved. It’s much easier to find the keys when we have electricity. However, what Kirton has offered is in finding the keys we each would have a different approach to finding the keys, being more adaptive or more innovative. The more adaptive individuals might be a bit more methodical in finding the keys. They might have a certain place where they always set the keys. How they begin looking for the keys might be retracing their last steps. This is all a bit of speculation, but the more innovative might be a little bit more random in looking for the keys where the keys might not be, if you will, and hone in to where they could be.

That’s fine when only one person is looking for the keys, but when you have two people looking for the keys then we have disagreements on how to best solve the problem of finding the keys. As you can imagine, we can measure the differences between the more adaptive and the more innovative. If there is a gap between those two approaches, we tend to have more disagreements than focus on trying to naturally find the keys.

DH: [0:16:34.8] And this, if I’ve understood this correctly as this is an introduction as I said at the beginning to the KAI system, what you’re talking about there is problem A and problem B. I wonder whether you could illustrate that for me and explain that a little bit for our listeners who don’t perhaps know about that.

IJ: [0:16:55.5] Absolutely. Problem A is a task at hand. It’s why groups come together. We’re motivated to come together to solve common problems that we agree need to be solved. Problem B is all the distractions from problem A simply defined.

And so as two people come together, just by their diversity of each other being in the same room looking for the keys, problem B starts to happen. What we like to do is maintain the focus on solving problem A because we need the keys. Problem B is all the different approaches, but also we might have gaps in different aspects of values, motives, status. I might have more status in finding the keys than you do because they’re my car, not your car and so on, so problem Bs tend to crop up every now and then in the focus of problem A. But the goal of the team then is to focus on problem A so that we can find the keys.

DH: [0:17:55.9] And the business of solving problem B so that you can solve problem A is what, Iwan, this is all about really, isn’t it? It’s what KAI is doing?

IJ: [0:18:06.8] Yeah. I think we could bring this alive with an example. Can we talk about Steve Jobs and Tim Cook? Steve Jobs was an amazing problem solver. Very, very successful. But the way he would typically try and solve problems would be what the modern parlance would be ‘thinking out of the box.’ He would want to do things differently. Even if it wasn’t successful in the first place, he would always want to be breaking the rules.

So this approach to problem solving Kirton calls ‘relatively innovative.’ They want to think out of the box, they want to break down the way things have been done in the past. They don’t want to be anchored to the past.

You look at Tim Cook who’s now the current CEO, who when he solves problems, is very, very structured. Together they were a superb team in Apple in the late 90s.

Apple in the late 90s basically only had about 60 days’ worth of cash on hand. It would take three months to make a computer whereas everybody else was able – Dell, in particular, was able to do it in less than a month. So without some kind of structure, without spotting the bleeding, without managing the chaos, Apple would have gone bust. So what Steve Jobs did is he brought in somebody who was better at solving problems in a way that was relevant to the task at hand, and over time these two diverse approaches – one, seeing the vision, wanting to change the way things are done in the market place and the other one, having control over the manufacturing and the cash flow systems – allowed the two to work together. But it was not an easy relationship. And what Curt pointed out then is understanding how you could actually have a clash of styles that actually solve the problem collectively is another part of leadership, particularly in the modern world.

So let’s take Steve Jobs. Now let’s go back to the late 90s now. Steve Jobs has this problem A. He wants to bring out a new approach to computing but he doesn’t have the skills to be able to actually bring it to life. He then starts to work with Tim Cook, and as soon as you start to work with somebody else, you then introduce a new problem – how do we work with each other, which is called Problem B. Teams that are unsuccessful spend more time solving problem B than they do trying to solve problem A. Every ounce of energy expended on solving problem B how do we work each with other is an ounce of energy that’s not expended on problem A,, why did we meet in the first place. in this particular case to rewrite the rules of the computing industry?

What Steve Jobs and Tim Cooke were able to do is they were able to find a way of working with each other that their difference in style was valued in order then to be more effective at really changing the world. That’s the challenge that leadership faces now. How do we focus our energy on problem A and reduce the amount of energy on problem B and what Kirton does is Kirton unlocks for leaders today on how to do that.

DH: [0:21:32.1] Curt, presumably there are lots of examples in the arts, in the military, sports. Obviously sports rely on teams.

CF: [0:21:41.3] Yeah. You tend to see a problem A and problem B everywhere. Amongst them my first research was looking at problem A and problem B in the classroom. If you have differences of problem solving style between a teacher and a student, how does that affect student engagement, student stress, student motivation?

What we found is teachers who were successful in the classroom did a really great job of focusing on learning, the problem A of the classroom. Teachers who were less successful weren’t able to manage the diversity of the classroom well and problem B ensued. I think Iwan has a great example of Steve Jobs and Tim Cook. They had mutual respect for each other and a bit of humility in understanding their limits of what one can do and what the other could maybe do better.

An example where you have someone who is more adaptive and more innovative that didn’t work well together would be Thomas Edison and Nicole Tesla. Tesla worked for Edison. Edison being the more adaptive individual, Tesla being the more innovative and they couldn’t see eye to eye and eventually parted ways.

DH: [0:22:51.8] As these podcasts go through the five episodes, I’m sure we’re going to bring up lots more examples and it’s really good to bring real life examples to bear because it helps people like me who don’t have a background in this, and don’t understand it all. It helps a great deal.

Before we finish this first episode, I wonder whether we could think about what are the takeaways? What are the things we can think about before episode 2 comes along in terms of what this all means for us as humans, and for us in business as well? Iwan, would you mind summing that up for us, if you could?

IJ: [0:23:28.2] I think the key takeaway here is that human beings, we’re all problem solvers and each one of us wants to have our contribution valued and recognised. That, I think’s the key thing, particularly for those who lead in organisations. Using your problem solving capability is something which is learnt so you can always improve and when you work with colleagues, you need to recognise that they can also improve as well.

The third thing then is we each have a preferred problem solving style which we need to present to the group as being useful at the lowest cost to the group because we want to solve problem A. We don’t want to be seen by our colleagues as being a problem B.

And the final thing then is you can actually learn how to do that. The Kirton Adaptive Innovative theory actually will allow you to get inside how you can be a better problem solver leader for yourself and for others.

DH: [0:24:25.9] You’ve been listening to the KAI Foundation Five Podcast – Part One, with our special guests Dr Curt Friedel and Dr Iwan Jenkins. If you found the discussion interesting you can find out more about the KAI system and its first class team development potential at
In the meantime, Part 2 of the KAI Foundation Five Podcast – ‘Big Problems need Better Teams’ – will be along very soon. So please subscribe and keep listening.

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