The Resolution of Diversity:
A CASE STUDY REPORT OF A DIADIC WORK RELATIONSHIP
Tudor Rickards & Susan T. McFarland
The Creativity Research Unit
Manchester Business School
A business relationship is studied through self-reported cases of three critical incidents, supported by measures of the two partners’ behavioural styles. The case material and psychometrics demonstrate that the partners have profoundly differing preferred styles of dealing with their shared business problems. Over a period of several years the partnership achieved its business goals successfully although their personal styles remained stable (observed behaviours and psychometric measures) and frequently in conflict. Their inter-personal styles were modelled by the partners as an important dimension contributing to their personal conflicts. The apparent anomaly of stability and success in such a relationship may reflect and challenge dominant themes of attraction by similar behavioural types in the literature of interpersonal dynamics. The diverse styles, although potentially destructive, can through a process of personal insights, contribute to tolerance of, and respect for behavioural differences, and highly effective task achievements.
INTRODUCTION TO THE ODD COUPLE
The fatal attraction of opposites has been a favoured fictional theme throughout history. Perhaps one of the best modern re-workings of the theme can be found in Neil Simon’s creation of Felix and Oscar, the Odd Couple. Felix, the obsessively neat character, is teamed up with Oscar, a flatmate of horrendously slovenly habits. Part of the charm of the play and successful TV series is the convincing nature of the central dilemma – the two characters find the simplest of day-to-day encounters enormously difficult to deal with because of their conflicting ways of thinking and behaving. Yet it is artistically convincing that the dilemma can not be resolved by one or the other walking out permanently on the other. They need each other just as much as they loathe and resent each other’s differences. Each concession to the other’s needs is obtained and yielded at considerable psychological cost to each party; pains which do not appear to diminish over time.
Might the story of Felix and Oscar provide us with insights into real-life relationships? Their antics have charmed millions of playgoers and viewers. Perhaps audiences identify with one of the characters and recall versions of the other from their personal experiences. Yet empirical research studies provide few clues to what happens when people with greatly opposing styles find themselves working together.
MODELLING ODD-COUPLE DYNAMICS
Various themes in the literature require consideration in modelling odd-couple relationships. We examine briefly similarities, the cornerstone of mutual attraction; possible payoffs from odd-couple relationships; the dysfunctional aspects of odd couple diads; and individual differences as a source of interpersonal stability and effectiveness.
Interpersonal attractiveness: ubiquity of the like-attracts-like principle
The myth of Narcissus reminds us of the antiquity of the view that humankind is attracted to his or her own likeness. Taboos against miscegenation can be traced back to Old Testament times and beyond. In modern social science the notion re-emerges in a variety of forms including cohesiveness of groups (Lindzey and Byrne, 1968), interpersonal socialisation, (Goffman, 1959), conformity (Asch, 1956) and congruity of attitudes, beliefs, and values (Winslow, 1937).
Festinger’s (1954) well-known social comparison theory has offered a theoretical rationale for a “like favours like” hypothesis. Schutz (1958a, 1958b) developed a theory of interpersonal attraction based on shared values. He stated ‘If at the outset we can choose a group of people who can work together harmoniously, we shall go far toward avoiding situations where a group’s efforts are wasted in interpersonal conflicts’ (1958b, p36). Argyle (1967) concluded that although similarities in attitudes, beliefs and values are important for interpersonal attraction, attitudes appear to have the most effect (p138). Duck (1973) reported similarities in cognitive constructs as important. Kirton (1977) demonstrated that significant correlations existed between scores of spouses on ‘Adorno’ type measures such as dogmatism.
One view of odd-couple dynamics is that the dimensions of difference are superficial or even illusory. Since Freud, psychoanalytic theory has offered notions of projection whereby we ‘transfer or assign to another an idea or impulse that really belongs to oneself’ (Kets de Vries, 1989, p22). From Jung (1968 edn) we have become aware of the notion of a hidden or shadow self which ‘personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him – for instance in their traits of character and other incompatible tendencies (p284)’ Bowles (1991) presented an interesting analysis of the shadow in organisational practices whereby repressed and unconscious content is projected onto others. From such a viewpoint individual differences have been represented as surface phenomena. Emotional trauma are presumed to require explication only through exploration of deeper psychic processes (Mitroff 1983, Bowles, 1990).
Individual differences as sources of inter-personal dysfunctions
A range of psychometric instruments have been developed purporting to measure individual differences. These have tended to model differences as sources of interpersonal conflict. Three will suffice to illustrate the point: (1) The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) based on the Jungian typology. In the instructional documentation a key theme is that differences in type are important factors in inter-personal conflicts and misunderstanding (Briggs, 1980, pp 117-135 for example). (2) The Life Orientation measure (LIFO) based on the work of Fromm (1990). Its manual states that ‘Other things being equal, two people will feel compatible…when their Most-preferred and Back-up styles under favourable conditions are the same.’ (Lifo Strength Management, p42). (3) The Kirton Adaption/Innovation Inventory (KAI), examined in some detail below. Kirton has, through extensive empirical work, developed a theory of interpersonal dynamics which has indicated that people of differing cognitive styles have difficulties in collaborating and communicating (Kirton, 1989, pp56-58).
Individual differences as complementarities
All three psychometric models above considered the consequences of interactions among people of differing characteristics, and reached similar conclusions: that differences may be uncomfortable, and difficult, but may have mutually beneficial consequences. The literature of small group processes also supports the general view that individual differences may be sufficiently stable to demand accommodation among opposites, a painful yet valuable group process (Belbin, 1981).
In physics, wave and particle properties are accepted not so much as differences but as components or complementarities. Benjamin (1974), in her complex treatment of social behaviours, models attributes as a series of opposites as ‘antidotes’. A dialectic framework for studying the attraction of opposites might extend the notion of complementarities to group processes. Thus, Jack Spratt, who ‘could eat no fat’, is in a complementary relationship to Mrs Spratt, who ‘could eat no lean’. At one level of examination the partners are different, at another level they are complementary.
RESEARCHING DIADIC RELATIONSHIPS
In light of the exponentially increasing numbers of interactive possibilities as group numbers increase, the study of two-person relationships (diads) provides a building block for theory. Within two person relationships those which crystallise some research dilemma have further appeal. Thus Felix and Oscar (and any real-life diads of similarly diverse characteristics) are promising starting points for research investigations in that they appear to be too dissimilar to retain a stable relationship yet do sustain one, through repeated emotionally-fraught experiences.
The proposed phenomenon appears suited for a small-sample approach in which two-person teams are identified and studied as examples of sustainable team relationships. In this paper a single case is given of a two-person team whose members identified in their own behaviours those of the fictionalised characters of Felix and Oscar. A single case approach presents research opportunities and problems (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe & Lowe, 1991). Admired for its depth (Pettigrew, 1985), and its scope for generating ideas rather than confirming existing theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), single case research has to face the issue of the degree to which any knowledge derived from the case can be combined with that derived from other empirical studies, and related to broader frameworks of knowledge. One approach is to locate the investigation within a relevant framework for interpreting inter-personal behaviour. Such a framework would help make explicit the differences of the partners, and permit comparisons with wider data sources. Another advantage would be to use a framework understood by the persons involved, who would thus be able to contribute informed self- and other-evaluations in the shared vocabulary of the framework. The two protagonists chose the Kirton Adaption-Innovation model (Kirton, 1976) as their preferred means of personal exploration and communication of their inter-personal dynamics.
THE KIRTON ADAPTION-INNOVATION MODEL (KAI)
Since Kirton’s classic paper (Kirton, 1976), there has been growing interest among researchers, psychologists and management trainers in his proposed theory of individual cognitive differences and his inventory purporting to measure such differences, the Kirton Adaption/Innovation Inventory (KAI).
Kirton’s work has its origins in empirical observations of behaviours in organisations, and the failure to explain such behaviours in terms of conventional theories of creativity or innovation (Kirton, 1961). Kirton proposed an explanation premised on individual cognitive style, labelling one extreme style ‘innovative’ and the other ‘adaptive’. His early research suggested that the innovative type espoused major changes, while the adaptive type espoused modest changes. From these empirical observations Kirton established a measure of his proposed style differences which incorporated three subscales. The individuals with highest I Scores will have high scores on O (sufficiency versus proliferation of originality); on E (where high scores indicate a lack of concern for efficiency); and on R (high scores indicate lack of concern for rule conformity). Conversely, individuals with strongest adaptive styles, implied by the lowest KAI score, will have low scores on O (these individuals seek an adequacy of novelty); low scores on E (high concern for efficiency); and low Scores on R (high concern for rule conformity).
Kirton (1989), confirming earlier observations in the literature, indicated that the subscales can be meaningfully labelled because in part they relate to concepts developed by earlier scholars. Thus, the O subscale related to Rogers’ (1959) description (at the high O end) of the creative loner, compulsively toying with ideas, loath to accept the temporal, financial or other constraints of conventional wisdom. The E subscale can be related to Weber’s analysis of the individual effective within a bureaucratic structure (Gerth & Mills, 1970). Thus, the high E innovator is uncomfortable in bureaucratic structures. Finally, the R subscale can be seen as reflecting the Mertonian bureaucrat (Merton, 1970) whose rule conformity and discipline is strongly reinforced by the organisational structures and pressures. Again, the high-scoring innovator will be uncomfortable about, and rebellious towards, rules.
Kirton has consistently argued that the theory is concerned with a uni-dimensional, bipolar construct. He has been able to demonstrate a normally distributed statistic for a constructed population of UK respondents, and has gone on to show that KAI scores on the combined subscales exhibit stable, validated, psychometric characteristics, (Kirton, 1987a, 1989). Issues have been raised regarding the subscales and the validity of combining them into a single scale. (Lowe and Taylor 1986, Payne, 1987), points dealt with in Kirton (1987b). In what follows we have examined the experimental data primarily within the single dimensional framework, but from time to time have drawn attention to issues more easily explained through the sub-scales.
AN ODD-COUPLE CASE EXAMPLE
Sarah and Trevor (also described below as SM and TR respectively) work together in a small management training and consultancy services business located in the North of England, and have done so for a period of years. Their working relationship shows considerable points of similarity between their own day-to-day dilemmas and fictional accounts of the Odd Couple’s televised dramas. They appear to have conflicting ways of dealing with work problems, which lead to emotionally charged disputes.
As part of the research interests of their company they have attended various self-assessment courses, in which their psychometric profiles have revealed opposing characteristics. Specifically at one course on the Kirton Adaption Innovation theory and inventory (described above) they were pronounced to be in possession of scores four standard deviations apart (each more than two standard deviations from the norm) It was the synchrony of attending of the course, and watching a repeat of the Odd Couple television series, that gave Sarah the idea that many of the behaviours could be explained in terms of conflicting adaption-innovation profiles. She also concluded that her real-life experiences with Trevor could also be partly explained in a similar way. Oscar (a rule-breaking, detail-insensitive innovator with a wild idea a minute) infuriates Felix (a rule-conforming, detail conscious, person who prefers his ideas, like his life, well-worked out). For Oscar substitute Trevor, for Felix, Sarah.
On consulting with the course director, she was told that the four standard deviations difference in their scores was ‘a chasm’ which would be a predictor of intolerable strains within any long-term work relationship. It was suggested that she and Trevor keep records, paying particular attention to any critical incidents (Flanigan, 1957) as a means of exploring behaviours which might lead to conflicts and conflict resolution.
Although they did not choose to keep a diary TR and SM produced retrospective notes on the partnership, and of three important activities which typified their working experiences. Furthermore they obtained information on their psychological profiles on the KAI at differing time intervals; KAI profiles of each other, and additional psychometric data from the Myers Briggs Type Inventory (Myers, 1962), and from the Life Orientation Inventory (Lifo Licenced User’s Manual, 1990 ed). These results are shown in Tables 1 and 2, and the unedited accounts reported below.
SARAH AND TREVOR: CASE ACCOUNTS OF A REAL-LIFE ‘ODD COUPLE’
The working relationship: Sarah’s story
I began working with Trevor during the Easter vacation of my second year at University, where I was reading for a History degree as a mature student (I was thirty when I began my studies). Having left school at eighteen, I spent three years working in a UK clearing bank, and then ten years within the UK National Health Service; on leaving I was a Senior Sister on an Intensive Care Unit. I began working with Trevor for purely pragmatic reasons; I needed a job during the vacation, and had been unable to follow my usual course of working at the local hospital. Financial pressures made his offer of work (‘to help him sort things out a bit’) very welcome. I accepted the offer, unclear about creativity and innovation. I didn’t accept because I was ‘interested in creativity and how people get ideas’; indeed I still find people who say things like that rather puzzling. I have always believed, and still do to a certain extent, that getting ideas doesn’t seem to be a difficulty; it’s doing something about them that’s tricky. My initial spell working in the office attached to Trevor’s home seemed to go quite well. In addition to sitting in on meetings (about which more later) I installed some administrative systems and routinised others. I found my nursing experience invaluable in that it had given me a thorough understanding of the need to manage a business (which is what I was starting to do) in the short, medium and long term. I also understood that changing one part of a system or routine invariably altered things somewhere else, usually in an area one hadn’t thought of (this, apparently, is ‘a systems approach’.) Thus, I was able to introduce changes without too much disruption to Trevor’s style of working in terms of the handover of information.
In the early days, I was very much a ‘hired hand’; I would go through the diary, make preparations for engagements, keep the accounts, make appointments if I could, deal with travel arrangements. I found the latter particularly stressful. I was very fortunate to have a good travel agent to guide me through the first few traumatic bookings. I also learned that, for many people, visiting our office at 9.30am meant any time between 9.30 and 10.15am, and they would not necessarily understand, or appreciate, my (non-verbal) disapproval of their unpunctuality. I tried to hide my disapproval; at this stage I believed very strongly in ‘my place’, and it was not to censor Trevor or his colleagues.
Not surprisingly, I had brought a great many attitudes learnt inside the Health Service to my new position, and whilst this undoubtedly made things go more smoothly, there were several disadvantages as well. The sense of hierarchy and working to the rules, which I learnt during my training and practised myself afterwards, meant that on some counts I could be rather rigid and judgmental. ‘One right way to do things’ can mean, if taken to extremes, that any other way is suspect, if not downright wrong. A wish for perfectionism is all very well, but can lead to rigidity and a fear of trying something unfamiliar, unless the boundaries are clearly defined. ‘Suck it and see’ was most definitely not my problem solving style. I have since realised that my drive for completion and ‘rightness’ can lead to frustration and irritation for myself and others because I am trying to control things that can’t be controlled.
A major source of anxiety for me at first was the word-processing system. I had no experience of any type of computer system, and the fragmented nature of my work (plus my complete lack of confidence in my ability to handle the computer) meant that I viewed our PCs as wild animals. Furthermore, I was unable to comprehend the method being used to file and reference data. It gradually dawned on me, however, that I was unable to understand the system because of its non-existence. My style had led me to assume that there must be a readily communicable system of filing and referencing in operation, which would make it possible for all of us, (Trevor, Sally, our typist and myself) to find and call-up any information we wanted. An absence of such a system would lead to much wasted time and a lot of frustration, looking through the pathnames for the required item. A system, therefore, was obviously necessary (wasn’t it?) Apparently not! At least, not until I raised the matter.
I had realised that in some important respects, my view of the world was markedly different from that of my new employer. For example, when I carried out some research into the availability of grants to small businesses he complimented me on the thoroughness of my work, and then remarked ‘It is fascinating [he uses the word fascinating a great deal] how knowing something at an intellectual level is so different from knowing it at a practical level’. This principle is so evident to me that I was amazed he felt the need to comment.
I continued in a part-time capacity for some two years. This meant that although I worked conscientiously, I felt no overall responsibility for the well-being of the business, beyond perhaps being extremely frustrated at the number of ‘ideas’ that never became reality. Trevor met with his colleagues two or three times a year, apparently to discuss the progress of the various projects they were engaged in. After a while I noticed that many of the ideas made little subsequent progress; and I became aware of the differing meaning of the word ‘idea’ to Trevor and his colleagues: to me it meant something to be progressed as soon as possible; to his colleagues it was just one possibility of many. The confusing and disappointing thing to me was that they seemed to have little understanding of the amount of hard work needed to set up an infrastructure that would make their ideas happen. Mike, a training associate, once said to me ‘I don’t like admin. Admin’s boring’. Presumably the people who did it, like myself, were boring too. I frequently found (and still find) aspects of my work tedious, but carried them out because I knew they were necessary to achieve the plans of the business.
An aspect of the work I found daunting and rather puzzling was the way meetings were conducted. It appeared to me that Trevor’s colleagues spent a lot of time ‘throwing ideas around’, with little evaluation or decision making. The first time I witnessed (I couldn’t say took part) in a brainstorming I had no idea what was happening. I felt even more uncomfortable when Trevor suggested that I act as ‘scribe’ for the group; I simply couldn’t see the relevance of a great deal of the material I wrote down, and didn’t see how this was supposed to help reach any conclusions. (I thought there were too many ideas around in the first place.) The concept of using flip-charts was alien to me; indeed, before this I had never even seen one. Typically after a period of frenzied writing, trying to keep up with the daft things being hurled at me, there would be a silence, a discussion about the material generated, usually along the lines of isn’t it interesting, fascinating etc, I would make another cup of coffee, and then the group would disband, usually without making any firm plans, and business life would go on as before. If I asked how to do some of the things discussed, there would be a brief pause, some metaphorical head-scratching – and nothing. If I persisted, I might hear something like ‘Isn’t it wonderful Sarah’s such a completer – finisher. We really need someone like that on the team, to take care of the detail.’ It didn’t seem to occur to them that I needed more than vague ideas to work on if their plans were to be successful.
On the whole though, I enjoyed the work. My role was fairly clearly defined, and there was no doubt my horizons were broadened in a way I had never dreamt possible. I also learned not to under-estimate TR; although his way of preparation was very different from mine.
The working relationship: Trevor’s story
My early working life was as a scientific researcher and then a product development manager in industry. I now work full-time at an internationally known Business Institute in the UK. For historical reasons I am involved in outside training and consultancy activities which supply research opportunities and financial resources to my group inside the Business School. There are some unusual strengths in the consultancy. We are good at working with clients from any industry and we work in a lot of countries. We have a great deal of knowledge about our core subjects and our materials are mostly developed in-house. This means we can adapt to requests for programmes such as project management, innovation, problem-solving, even decision-making. The essential parts remain the same but the emphasis changes. A commercial weakness in this approach is that we have no package, no franchisable materials, no juniors coming on in the business to generate cash. A few years ago I did hire a marketing executive but we parted company when it became clear we had not made a quantum leap in our business approach or in our order book.
I got to know Sarah some years ago and was struck by her practical approach to problems. My outside business was in management consultancy, which was operating from a spare room from my home at the time. My colleagues and I recognised the need for us to be far more organised in administrative matters if we were to become credible in the eyes of potential business clients.
When a chance arose I asked Sarah to help out on a part-time basis. At first she had to sort out the company’s financial records, which were in a complete mess. In a couple of years working a few hours a week, and during University vacation times, she had demonstrated great competence. It was my impression she was conscientious to a state of anxiety about getting work done correctly, and it had become clear to me that she was in all but name running the administrative side of the business.
Over this period she was completing a University degree. She had gone to college to change career from the National Health Service, but then found that the larger companies were not interested in mature students without industrial experience. We had discussed the possibility of her working within the consultancy on a full-time basis, and this seemed a good moment to take on someone whom had proved her worth. Sarah’ first big task was to organise a move to a City-centre office. This was precipitated for personal reasons, or we may not have made the move – which has turned out to be a good one. At that time the company was essentially myself plus two back-up associates generating fee income; Sarah full-time office manager; Sally our part-time secretary and Jack, a part-time accountant.
In the first year or so full-time Sarah continued to work very hard, and to my mind very well. However, even I could see she was not happy (I am not good at noticing such things). From time to time she would react with anger and tears – at some work event but often at something I had done or not done. I had thought that ‘sitting with Nellie’ would provide a learning opportunity for her, but our very open-ended meetings did not seem to do much in that direction. As a part-time employee she had no doubt been able to bottle up her emotions or keep them hidden from me, but full-time was different. On the other hand it was obvious she had exceptional organising abilities. Additionally, in the curmudgeonly terms of Professor Higgins, ‘I’d grown accustomed to her face…’ I wanted us to go on working together, although we seemed to spend a lot of time in an emotionally charged atmosphere. Nevertheless, we had both invested enormous amounts of effort in changing the business: and neither of us could easily afford another dislocation.
One of the things that helped was some work that the company was doing on individual differences and reasons for conflicts in teams. We had included in our work the notions of adaptors and innovators, using the approach developed at the Occupational Research Centre at Hatfield Polytechnic, where we had got to know Michael Kirton, the founder of the theory. After the accreditation courses we found it had given us a common language to discuss work and personal problems and we began to model our interpersonal conflicts using the adaptor-innovator language. (And it was Kirton who persuaded us to put in writing what we were doing. We were not surprised to discover that we had markedly differing styles, SM at the adaptive pole, myself at the innovative one of the KAI continuum. More importantly this helped us deal with our differences. I don’t say that we have changed our own styles much. We still argue a lot. But it’s a lot easier to pick up the signs that we are hitting a problem – coming at something from differing styles. The vocabulary is one which makes it easier to get to a result in the end.
I suppose I have changed in that I know more about the ways I infuriate other people (and what infuriates me). We have also worked out from direct experience that dealings with each other are most likely to be a problem under conditions of stress. I think we both try to be a bit more careful then. For example, we don’t have to name-call or accuse each other of behaving unreasonably, or even of acting like a typical adaptor or innovator – that’s all taken for granted. And what I have learned has rubbed off in the way I try to deal with other work situations as well.
Critical incident No. 1: The Yearbook (Trevor’s Account)
In 1990 we were working as co-editors of a Yearbook which we issued from our University. The previous issue had been printed from material typed up by Sally from our Mackintosh PC. However, a professional designer had made-up some contents pages using a desk-top publishing system. This had whetted my appetite at the prospects of producing such high-quality material. Following enquiries about desk-top publishing I ordered a system (Pagemaker 3) which arrived in the summer, but was not tested until nearly Christmas time. I was strongly in favour of using it to upgrade the yearbook. The suggestion was not well received by Sarah or Sally, but I got my way, and work began. I assumed the system would be easy to learn (most Macintosh software is easy to understand). However, in practice there were far more difficulties than I had imagined. Because of increasing pressures of deadlines (admittedly self-imposed) we found ourselves working longer hours with increasingly frayed tempers. What sustained me was the mental picture I had of a much higher-quality final product.
Critical incident No. 1: The Yearbook (Sarah’s Account)
The existence of this publication is due mainly to my insistence that Trevor should not abandon the opportunity of publicising the international position of his group at the University. Volume 1 (1988) had been produced using a system we knew well, with a daisy-wheel printer. For Volume 2 Trevor wanted to try a new desk-top publishing system. Ignoring some misgivings I agreed. In the next few months I bitterly regretted my agreement.
Volume 2 was already three months behind schedule when we made a start. Transfer to a new system meant more delays. We didn’t know the new DTP system AT ALL. More than that, we had no skilled help. Producing 245 pages on a new system is like climbing Everest without ropes or oxygen. We had to do this alongside the duties that paid for our salaries. It gave us some visibility but it couldn’t be justified on economic terms. As I realised how much work was involved I became increasingly angry with myself for not refusing this crazy experiment. I also got infuriated at Trevor’s comments such as:
‘Oh well we’re learning the system’
‘Of course once we’re up the learning curve we’ll reap the benefits’
‘You’ve got to expect snags when you’re learning’.
I didn’t think we should be learning like this. The printers of Vol 1 were known to us, but slow. The new printers were faster but the result disastrous – wrong colour cover, pages that fell-out… When I collected a sample, Trevor (needless to say) was away. I sat in the office, put my face in my hands and wept with rage and frustration. We still hadn’t finished. The wretched thing still had to be dispatched to the subscribers.
Critical Incident No. 2: The Europace Videos (Trevor’s Account)
In 1990 we won a contract to make educational videos for an international distance-learning organisation. Although the fees were well below commercial chargeout rates, my interest was triggered because the project was international in scope, connected with our mainline work as innovation researchers and offered opportunities for getting into distance learning. Additionally it promised to be an interesting project free from bureaucratic interference (in hindsight that was true on the production side – less true when dealing with the large head-office of the sponsors in Paris, a side I had allocated to Sarah).
Over time the request for two videos grew to making six and then eight. I agreed with little hesitation – I was undoubtedly influenced by a bit of a fantasy of myself standing up in front of camera and creating the whole thing effortlessly in the style of the late great historical publicist AJ P Taylor in his BBC series. At the back of my mind I also had a production-line model, with a common framework for each of the eight – thereby reducing the work considerably.
Our sponsor probably encouraged my fantasies by his own infectiously innovative style. He had commissioned a video studio to make two one-hour videos in a day, a practice they had done for him many times before. He assured us they were not looking for ‘fancy BBC quality videos’ and there would be no scope for extensive editing of videoed material.
We had about six months to create and produce the entire set of eight. So it was that a small team was assembled: a Business School colleague (Hilary) to carry out interviews with real-life innovators; SM as project manager, myself as advertised presenter.
The days allocated to setting up the programme content tended to be in the week before the actual filming. What I discovered was the hopeless underestimation of the time required. Things did get a little easier after the first few videos had been made. But too often it resulted in 15-hour days over the weekend for SM and myself producing back-up materials such as graphics, and reviewing Hilary’s video interviews. I must go in for selective forgetting of past painful experiences in my style of estimating effort levels for new tasks.
It was somewhat stressful during the long weekend working sessions when I often got angry and frustrated with myself, the project and those around – mostly SM. My anger was mainly against circumstances I seemed to have been instrumental in creating. I also got mad a few times with the video experts in the studios – although this was compensated for, by the gratification of getting an hour’s video in the can in a three or four-hour session. The studio workers seemed to find the emotionally-charged atmosphere normal.
We succeeded in making our eight videos. Given the time and cost constraints the results are as good as we were able to make them. If I started again I would mainly make minor modifications based on the feedback of users. The basic design still seems robust.
Critical Incident No. 2: The Europace Videos (Sarah’s Account)
For a long time I had thought TR’s teaching materials would respond well to video interpretation. I would like us to become a truly international company, and the opportunity to work with EuroPACE was very welcome. From our discussions with the project director (JF) we understood we would make two one-hour video films as part of a series. This was within our grasp, but at astonishing speed the brief went from two, to six to eight as TR and JF talked excitedly about possibilities for live transmission events, and interviews at the workplace using a hand-held camcorder. (This was and still is a fantasy – for practicalities to do with sound quality and special lighting requirements).
One of my jobs was to secure the interviews with company personnel. I got used to explaining, explaining and explaining again that we would like to speak to a representative from a company about the way they manage change. I faxed, refaxed and faxed again the details. I got used to being passed around a company like a parcel. Afterwards I mentioned the experience to TR who looked at me with surprise and said ‘Oh yes. I’ve always found this.’ But he hadn’t told me!
My instincts told me we needed more time for planning and preparing the graphics on our computer. Shortly before one of the recording sessions I fired off a series of questions on how he intended to produce them and I could tell he was getting more and more irritated with me…he became almost incoherent with annoyance repeating ‘I don’t know – I haven’t thought it through yet’ to every question. It was one of the clearest examples of clash of styles and the way our differences could ‘spark each other off’. I responded to uncertainty by trying to tie down all the details. This infuriated TR who felt hounded by my questions.
In the recording studio we were producing two videos a day – everything had to be set up in advance for a recording day. The pre-recorded clips from Hilary had to be edited in. It was clear to me we should code what we wanted by time numbers (displayed on the playback). I thought TR was doing that in his preparation day – but on the first day of filming it turned out he had not done so, so there were additional delays.
We finished the EuroPACE project well ahead of the schedule agreed in our contract. This is a tribute to Trevor’s great versatility in both producing and presenting the material and to the organisation and back-up by Hilary, Graham (our video producer) and myself. I learned that one of the key elements in managing such a project is flexibility – something that does not always come easily to me.
Critical Incident No. 3: The Sale or Return Incident (Trevor’s Account)
In the summer of 1991 we were preparing for an overseas trip to two Asian countries. The teaching was to be shared by myself and SM. Sarah managed the whole trip arrangements and at some stage had decided it would be good to supply participants with a copy of my recently published textbook on the subject. The regional agent was contacted and a deal agreed on a sale or return basis. A month before the trip I dealt with a query on how many people will require books. I replied with the total number of participants, 150, only later realising that we had not arranged a formal deal to supply to everyone on the programmes, and that the local agent had to import over a hundred books to stock.
When we arrived in the country we arranged to meet the agent, but the telephone call gave me the impression that we might earn a small commission but incur big cash flow problems, and we might also have trouble getting cash back into our own currency.
We jumped into a cab to visit the agents – myself growing tense, SM visibly upset at how events were turning out. She gave the impression that she always got blamed for such cock-ups. I tend to assume she has fast-changing situations to deal with, and that perhaps they cannot be sorted out however much care and pre-planning you put into things. At the agents we honestly explained the misunderstanding and made a new proposal – that we would waive our commission and sell as many as we could at ‘best price’ which we agreed. The young agent was sympathetic and a deal was struck verbally.
For the next month we worked hard both at the series of seminars and at marketing the virtues of the book. Thanks to support from the companies’ managing directors we eventually sold about 70 books – almost certainly not possible at the full price. This gave us a lot of satisfaction – even if it wasn’t very profitable financially.
Critical Incident No. 3: The Sale or Return Incident (Sarah’s Account)
In July-August 1991 Trevor and I had the opportunity to work with 130 managers in a Pharmaceuticals company in Singapore and a drinks company in Kuala Lumpur. I saw this as a marvellous way of extending knowledge of his work through his latest book.
It was available in the region and I visualised exhibition stands, signings at book shops etc. I was informed that it would be possible to arrange copies to be available on a ‘sale or return’ basis.
When I was out of the office while this idea was being pursued Trevor received a fax from the Singapore agent asking for details of numbers of books needed. TR requested 150 and so the distributor ordered the bulk of them from the UK.
When we arrived in Singapore, in the taxi on the way to the publisher TR turned to me and said ‘I hope they don’t expect us to pay for books we don’t sell’. This came as a shock. I assumed there would be no such problem in a sale-or-return arrangement.
When we reached the publisher’s agent it became clear that they would expect to be paid for the books and then issue a credit note against unsold ones. I estimated we could have over £1,000 tied up in unsold books in a foreign land.
To say I was upset is an understatement. After trying so hard to make sure stocks were available I was devastated to find out it could cost us money. I was also angry (again) to hear Trevor tell me that (again!) he knew sale-or-return could tie up funds. Why then hadn’t he said anything?
By thinking quickly in the agent’s office TR was able to negotiate a deal which would enable the book to be offered at a favourable price and thus sell more copies. For me it was painful learning. I decided what I thought was needed but had not asked the right questions of the publishers or of Trevor. My inexperience let me down. (Had I asked ‘have you any experiences of providing books for programmes like this?’ I may have avoided the situation). We live and learn.
The discussion falls into two parts: first there is the nature of the dyadic relationship. Secondly there is matter of theoretical implications: what does the case suggest for theory testing and further experimental studies?
How odd is odd?
The psychometric measures and the detailed case material provide two sources of information regarding the working behaviours of Sarah and Trevor. Do they support Sarah’s intuitive labelling of the relationship as that of an odd-couple?
Results from the psychometric measures (Tables 1 and 2) reveal that the two have distinctly differing styles on all three instruments. On the KAI, (the only instrument for which retest results are available) Sarah’s adaptive Style and Trevor’s innovative one remained stable over a time period of two years (the period of the case materials reported). On all these measures the partners would be classified as typologically different, and in all probability likely to encounter considerable inter-personal difficulties including communication problems, and conflict-resolving difficulties if engaged on a long-term, complex, series of tasks.
An examination of the self-reports gives support to the stylistic differences indicated in the psychometric results. (1) In almost a parody of the innovative style TR exhibited an over-enthusiasm for new ideas at most times whereas SM was in mirror-image style inclined to be suspicious of TR’s flights of imagination. SM attended to detail, sometimes at high emotional cost. TR coped with the problems of detail by ignoring them. TR ignored or challenged rules, in order to find solutions; SM stuck to the agreed requirements of the task.
TR’s approach to the desk-top publishing exercise demonstrated a lack of attention to detail (innovative KAI E score). SM showed a strong need for structure and detail (adaptive KAI O and E scores) and increasing frustration and anger at the time and money invested, and at TR for comments such as ‘You’ve got to expect Snags when you’re learning’.
In the Europace project, TR’s interest had been captured in a meeting with the technical director of Europace, assumed to be of a similar innovative style ‘(they talked excitedly about possibilities…and the fascinating opportunities the series would open up’, SM commented). During the project, as deadlines loomed, TR was asked about details by SM and ‘became virtually incoherent with annoyance’, leaving SM to conclude ‘I responded to uncertainty by trying to tie down details, (adaptive E) and this infuriated him who felt hounded by my questions’ (adaptive E). Meanwhile SM stuck to the requirements of the task: ‘I got used to explaining, explaining and explaining again… I got used to being passed around a company like a parcel (adaptive E, and probably adaptive R)’.
In the Sale or Return case SM concluded that it was her lack of experience that had contributed to the problem they ran into. TR believes that the circumstances can rarely be pre-planned. Whoever was right, TR’s behaviours in failing to share his previous experiences of organisational behaviours with SM contributed to SM’s anxieties. However, his innovative style probably helped in the negotiations with the puzzled Chinese bookseller. TR has scant concern that they had contractually committed themselves to buying and paying for 150 books. Instead he made a counter-offer (innovative R)… ‘we offered to sell as many as we could…but not on sale-or return terms. It was not a particularly good financial outcome, but it reframed the problem substantially, so as to deal with the concerns of cash-flow and loss of income respectively of the consultants and publisher’.
The psychometric measures and the case study material both indicate that the couple have relatively permanent and extremely differing ways of seeing the world and dealing with work problems. This is at the heart of Sarah’s intuitive grasp of an anomaly in their relationship, and the identification of the anomaly with the fictional Odd Couple. It had been starkly summed-up by their advisor who described their four standard deviations difference on the KAI inventory as a chasm.
What sustains such an odd-couple relationship?
Kirton has offered five testable propositions on why an extreme adaptive-innovative dyad is an anomalous one, stating that ‘high adaptors and high innovators do not easily combine [proposition 1]…they often tend to irritate one another [proposition 2) and hold pejorative views of one another [proposition 3]…large differences in scores between individuals (and groups) lead to increased difficulties in collaboration [proposition 4) and even communications [proposition 5]’ (Kirton, 1989 pp 56-58)
Of five testable propositions in the above statement, four are largely supported by the evidence of the case materials. The two colleagues frequently irritated one another. Their collaboration and communications leave much to be desired, and results were achieved at high psychological costs to the adaptive partner. The saving grace seems to be that proposition 3 is not supported. There is no evidence that either partner holds negative views of the other. The task achievements are proudly recognised as shared successes. While it is possible that Sarah and Trevor have skilfully colluded to construct a reality that conceals deeply-held pejorative views, it is a more convincing possibility that we have here a clue to the otherwise puzzling stability of the relationship.
Factors which may compensate for the vicissitudes in such difficult relationships are the shared recognition that the efforts are not in vain – they do achieve their goals, which are also largely self-directed – a source of motivational and creative energy. Furthermore, the differences identified are mainly of a cognitive kind. In less cognitive matters one important similarity may be inferred: they appear to share a high achievement motivation, so that in personal values they may have similarities which they each find a stabilising factor when things are going wrong.
The acquisition of a shared vocabulary of non-pejorative descriptors (the KAI terminology) evidentially helped them deal with differences in a developmental rather than a destructive manner.
Oscar and Felix as odd-couple archetypes
All three critical incidents could be rewritten as Oscar/Felix scripts. Perhaps Drama is again a source of revelation of anomalous aspects of the human condition. Oscar and Felix fascinate because at a conscious level societal assumptions are that two such people have little in common. They have little to offer each other in coping with life’s exigencies. When thrown together (through some set of external circumstances) their conflicting styles create conflict and chaos. Yet the audience knows that the dramatic irony is that the combination of Oscar and Felix makes a winning combination as long as one partner rescues the other from the troubles that often result from rigidities of their preferred style. The Odd couple is actually an oddly-suited and symbiotic couple.
Part of the humour of the Odd Couple is the sense that Oscar and Felix never learn from the troubles they find themselves in. They retain a consistent style. The basic problem-solving styles of Trevor and Sarah, as we have seen, are also remarkably stable, at least over the time of the projects recounted. Nevertheless, there appears to have been efforts to understand and learn from the various experiences. Specifically, they both attended a course on problem-solving styles, and attempted to integrate the theoretical concepts into their explanations of their working activities.
Such experiential development may have assisted in an acceptance of differences in style. However, there is no evidence that suggests a change or accommodation of preferred styles of behaving as a result of such self-awareness. Nor, it must be observed, did it eliminate dissatisfactions associated with the differences in styles. However, this process of developing a shared language to discuss behaviours may have been important in defusing the conflict by depersonalising the sources of frustration, thus helping hold the relationship together.
If it’s that unusual what can we learn from the case? Kahn (1990) has elegantly argued that interpersonal engagement and disengagement require ‘deep probing of experiences and situations during discrete moments that make up [their work]’ (p693). Berg (1990) supports the use of cases to explore in-depth personal and interpersonal behaviours. However, there is a potential double-bind in studying an anomalous case. If it is truly anomalous how are we to extrapolate from its data?
In the pure sciences the anomalous case is widely recognised as the harbinger of paradigm change (Darwin is reputed to have observed that he tried to write down any anomalous result immediately, as it had a capricious tendency to be forgotten.). It is also believed to trigger discovery, within the innovation process (See Conover, 1984; Drucker, 1985:Nayak & Ketteringham, 1986).
The challenge seems to be that of seeking to reconcile the apparently anomalous. It is the process of creativity whereby the familiar become strange and the strange familiar (Gordon, 1961). Perhaps Felix and Oscar provide us with a clue. Might their universal appeal lie not in their oddness, but in their ubiquity? Felix and Oscar capture tensions inherent in committed relationships at work and beyond. If so then the methodology applied to studying Sarah and Trevor might be re-applied to other couples: some conventionally odd, some not so odd.
A reinterpretation of creative contributions
Of specific note is the reinterpretation of creativity implied by the case material, when explained through Kirton Adaption Innovation theory. Examination of the cases from the traditional viewpoint of creative behaviour would lead to the conclusion that Trevor is creative (with associated traits of fluency of idea generation, strong ego strength, and an unconventional approach to problems). This same view would categorize Sarah as low creative, or even uncreative, as she does not show a compulsive desire to play with ideas, tends to be less assertive, and other things being equal appears to value marginal improvements over highly novel strategies. This traditional view is implicitly rooted in a perception of creativity as producing paradigm breaking ideas of high potential.
A cornerstone of Kirton’s model of creativity is that adaptors and innovators alike are creative, expressing their creativity according to their stylistic preferences. The case materials make sense when interpreted thus, to indicate two creative people, complementing each other at work. This convinces more than the simplistic conclusion that Trevor creates and Sarah supports. Sarah produces ideas often of central importance to task achievement. Her ideas are generally appropriate to the circumstances of her environment, which (like the environments of most other people) requires a regular input of ideas of sufficient novelty to ‘get by’, and which do not trigger unintended consequences. In some cases the expression and execution of her ideas show her operating at a high level of performance (for example, in reorganising the business in her account of the personal relationship; her persistence in obtaining the video interviews and in keeping the publication alive, in the cases). Kirton would argue that these would be examples of creativity of a high level, and of an adaptive style. Furthermore, the success of such partnerships derives from adaptive and innovative styles of creativity complementing one another and operating at high levels of task achievement.
From such a perspective the traditional view of highly creative performance is exposed as overlooking the necessity for many adaptive contributions to shape, protect, and enrich far fewer numbers of innovative ones within any worthwhile endeavour which breaks new ground. In interpreting their transactions in such a light Sarah and Trevor were able to develop a relationship in a sustainable way, by accepting that their diverse approaches to many issues were contributing to the creative success of their endeavours. Thus their stylistic diversity sustained their efforts, rather than destroying them, as might otherwise have occurred.
(1) We have taken the Kirton Adaption-Innovation style difference as the basis for our analysis because it was the measure on which the couple was identified as having the most extreme differences; because they used that terminology within the case reports; and because it was supported by the most comprehensive psychometric data (Tables 1 and 2). In the case material, however, Sarah and Trevor do not always use the terms creativity and innovation in the precise terms of Kirton’s theory. (2) However, a grouping which is too similar in expectations and personal needs of its members may be unable to challenge its socialising assumptions, and may suffer from the groupthink phenomenon identified by Janis, (1971) and recently surveyed by Longley and Pruitt (1980).
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Suggestions which helped us in the final stages of this paper were provided by Dr Michael Kirton, of Hertfordshire University; Professor Roy Payne, of Sheffield University (at Manchester Business School during the completion of this ms); and Professor Cary Cooper of UMIST Manchester School of Business. We would also wish to thank Dr Hari Tsoukas, whose insightful remarks have provided us with the basis for a further paper in this area. We acknowledge gratefully the contributions of these and other colleagues in shaping our ideas, whilst retaining responsibility for the essential theme and its execution within this paper.