Welcome to the KAI Podcast Series, ‘Building Better Teams and Great Leaders.’ KAI, or the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory, 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 over 40 years and is supported by a large body of academic research from around the world. In these podcasts, we aim to shine a light on the issues and problems facing all teams as they strive to be effective and productive.

In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about KAI in relation to product development, with two expert guests.

Michael Chuchmuch is a senior leadership development advisor for strategy and change at Chevron. Based in Houston, Texas, Michael has responsibilities that include oversight of critical transformation initiatives affecting company-wide functional improvements. He is an industry recognised strategic change professional with over 30 years’ experience delivering enterprise level change initiatives around the globe. He is also a certified advanced KAI practitioner.

Laura Moncrieffe is Global Director of Innovation for Bamboo Worldwide, and she too is a certified advanced KAI practitioner, who in her own words helps steer global brands into blue oceans. She’s been doing this for the past 21 years with the likes of Comcast NBC Universal, Wrigley Mars, SC Johnson, PepsiCo and Starbucks to name just a small selection of the many huge global brands she has partnered with.


Transcript - click here

DH: Dave Harries

MC: Michael Chuchmuch – Chevron

LM: Laura Moncrieffe – Bamboo Worldwide

DH: [0:00:00.0] Welcome to the KAI podcast series ‘Building Better Teams and Great Leaders.’

KAI, or the Kirton Adaption Innovation inventory, is the world’s foremost measure for problem solving style. It is used widely to create cohesive and productive teams and effective leaders. It’s been in use for over 40 years and is supported by a large body of academic research from around the world. In these podcasts we aim to shine a light on the issues and problems facing all teams as they strive to be effective and productive. In today’s episode we’re going to explore how KAI can be used as a highly effective tool to improve and innovate product development.

My name is Dave Harries and joining me today to talk about KAI in relation to product development, I have two expert guests. Michael Chuchmuch is a senior leadership development advisor for strategy and change at Chevron. Based in Houston, Texas, Michael has responsibilities that include oversight of critical transformation initiatives affecting company-wide functional improvements. He is an industry recognised strategic change professional with over 30 years’ experience delivering enterprise level change initiatives around the globe. He is also a certified advanced KAI practitioner.

Laura Moncrieffe is Global Director of Innovation for Bamboo Worldwide, and she too is a certified advanced KAAI practitioner, who in her own words helps steer global brands into blue oceans. She’s been doing this for the past 21 years, with the likes of Comcast, MBC Universal, Wrigley Mars, SC Johnson, PepsiCo and Starbucks to name just a small selection of the many huge global brands she has partnered with.

Welcome both of you to the podcast. I wonder if we could start by refreshing our listeners’ knowledge of some of the basics of KAI theory and how it might apply in product development. In particular, I wanted to look at the issue of Kirton’s famous Problem A versus Problem B.

Michael, maybe you could briefly remind us what that is?

MC: [0:02:09.0] Sure. When we think about Problem A we think about the initial problem that we’re asked to address. We may be presented with an issue or an opportunity, and we make a decision that leads to a particular action and then the result of that decision and action may actually produce a new problem or a Problem B.

So the Problem A would be the original problem, and Problem b can be the consequential problem that derives from that decision and action that you make.

DH: [0:02:39.9] And also, Laura, could I get you to remind us about the cognitive styles that Kirton’s Inventory identifies and how they apply in real life?

LM: [0:02:52.2] Absolutely. The KAI is an inventory that assesses your creative style – the creative style specifically when solving problems in dealing with change. What Dr Kirton did was break those down into two distinct style preferences – the adaptive creative and the innovative creative.

The adaptive creative, they’re driven by success. So if you think about it in terms of creativity – bigger, better, stronger, new and improved. So they’re looking to solve problems so that they’re successful right now. They do this through the use of rule, logic, precision, the tried and tested, so that they can make their current system bigger, better, stronger.

The opposite style, the innovative creative, they’re driven by excitement. Excitement of future possibilities. They’re not focused on making that current system bigger, better, stronger. They’re focused on unique and different. So oftentimes the innovative creative, they jump outside of the norm, outside of the rules, to gather inspiration that takes them some place totally different. And so it makes it an interesting working situation when you have one group of people, the innovative creative, who’s driven on new and different future possibilities, and the adaptive creatives who are focused on success of improvement right now. So that can cause some problems as we look into working together, collaborating together and creating new problems together.

DH: [0:04:25.0] Okay, brilliant. Thank you very much both of you for summing those up so neatly and nicely.

Michael, let’s talk now then about more specific things around collaboration. Obviously, Laura’s just mentioned what some of the issues are, but how does that actually work in a real team, with real leaders, trying to bring people together for product development issues, and that sort of thing? Give me a sense of where the issues lie.

MC: [0:04:51.3] Leaders really are focused on the delivery of the solution to the problem at hand and the whole aspect of the delivery of value. I think that some of the issues may come about when there’s an assumption being made that we put very well-educated, well-experienced people in a room together and provide them with a task of solving the problem, that there’s no problem. It can be handled. These folks with the same level that we think of in terms of education, experience, etc, can work together and certainly produce the desired result.

The issue comes about when we think about the differences in cognitive style. You may have an issue, for instance, on a project team, where project team members may be highly adaptive, and the project manager may be highly innovative. So as a result, the project manager is looking for that excitement that Laura talked about – the creativity and the great new breakthrough ideas. And meanwhile, the project team is “No, no, no. We really need to focus on the success at hand, what we need to deliver in terms of greater effectiveness or greater efficiency.” So it can lead to conflict without an understanding of the styles that are presenting themselves in that team.

The other thing that may actually be somewhat of a problem is leaders may not fully understand the dynamics, the cognitive dynamics, that are at play, and as a result may pass judgement on what they are observing as being something totally wrong. They may think that they’ve got the wrong people in the room, that maybe the people in the room are not experienced enough, or don’t have the right background, or whatever the case may be. So without that understanding we can see a number of the issues that surface.

DH: [0:06:40.8] And Laura, that’s a really interesting point, isn’t it that Michael’s just made there? This inability possibly to realise what it is you’re seeing in your team mates or your team if you’re the leader, and misinterpreting that as a lack of ability, when in fact it’s just a different cognitive style.

LM: [0:06:57.3] Absolutely. It could be that inability from the leader, it also can just be a lack of knowledge. What I found in working with many organisations is that leaders often wrongly assume that their team members approach solving problems in the same way they do, that they have that same creative value system that they do, and so there’s a wrong assumption that they’re all aligned on how to go forward to this end goal. And that’s where I think many leaders get in trouble and become frustrated, and the teammates become frustrated as well because the knowledge of what’s driving them – the ‘how’ they’re going to solve that problem, which is their creative style through KAI – is not widely understood nor widely celebrated. And that’s where when teams do understand different cognitive styles, whether it’s adaptive, creative, or innovative creative, they celebrate them, they invite them, they collaborate together. That push and pull of wanting to go someplace different and making sure that it’s operationally feasible, that’s that sweet spot that when leaders recognise that and celebrate that within the diversity of their team, that’s when the magic happens.

Unfortunately, many leaders don’t know about the different cognitive styles to even know how to invite or welcome that.

MC: [0:08:22.1] And Michael, I’m glad Laura mentioned diversity and inclusion there because that’s something that’s very current obviously at the moment anyway, and thinking of that in terms of cognitive style is very interesting.

I wonder in a large corporate structure that presumably you have at a place like Chevron, is it a cultural thing as well as specifically about how well trained and educated the team leaders are?

MC: [0:08:46.2] Well, it is. When we think about a cultural and organisational culture, what defines that particular culture and what are the parameters? One of the things that we’re doing at Chevron is, we have a model that looks at components of diversity. And within that model we recognise that cognitive style is indeed one of those aspects of diversity that we’re not all wired the same in terms of how we approach problem solving and creativity, and that there is a strength in the recognition of that diverse approach. As we look at providing greater value to the world in terms of the delivery of energy, how can we work together and leverage each other’s strengths from many different angles to produce new, better, ideas.

DH: [0:09:37.0] And that sounds great in theory, the idea of embracing the differences and all that sort of thing, but I wonder in practice, Laura, the many clients you work with from different organisations around the world, do you find pushback against ideas like this or do you find people generally are quite receptive to them?

LM: [0:09:57.6] Pushback, yes, mostly because they don’t know how to collaborate with someone who approaches problems so differently than them because they see it as a waste of time. And so again it goes to the drivers, the adaptive creative, they’re driven by success, they want to be impactful, they don’t want to waste time. So for the adaptive creative to have to endure all of these ideas that the innovative creative is throwing out that they know aren’t going to be successful, that seems like a waste of time for them. The innovative creative become bored. They’re driven by excitement, so when they’re having to collaborate with someone who wants to rehash what’s been done in the past, this is the right way to do it, this is the protocol, they’re feeling limited. And they’re feeling like they can’t move forward in a way that’s going to open up the new possibilities. So they don’t have the tools to be able to work together unless they have the knowledge of KAI, and the benefits of that creative diversity when it comes to collaboration. That’s been the struggles of many organisations, not that the people are blind or resistant to partner together, they just don’t see the benefits yet of the different creative diversity within the team.

MC: [0:11:14.1] So David, if I may, let me follow that up and give you an example of exactly what Laura is talking about from Chevron.

So on one of our offshore platform projects, one of the great challenges that we had was how do you take the current engineering design and actually reduce weight and reduce cost – two very, very important factors when you’re dealing with significant capital outlay on a big project. Just so folks understand the size of these projects, $100 million is a small amount on a capital project these days. The big oil projects easily go into a half a billion plus, and so taking cost out and taking weight out of a project is a very important thing.

And one of the projects that we worked on, basically, the Project Director came to me and said, “Look, we’ve looked at everything to take cost out and to take the weight out. We can’t think of anything else. Any suggestions in terms of how we can maybe re-examine this because there’s still a target to deliver that particular goal?” And what we did is, we looked at the engineering team involved in the front end design work of this and we had them go through the KAI and determine that the population of engineers neatly fit almost 50:50 in terms of adapters versus innovators. And by providing specific tools, adaptive style tools and innovative style tools to both groups we were able to actually have them address this problem of reduction in weight and cost, but do it in their independent groups.

So the adaptors worked on it independently of the innovators, and vice versa. And at the end of that, we brought both groups together to synergise and to present their ideas to each other. And what’s fantastic is, just true to form the adapters were very focused in on how do we tighten this and how do we maybe reduce that and really tweaking to see if they could reach that success. The innovators were just all over the place, fantastic ideas, to the point “Well, we’re making this out of steel now. Maybe we can make this out of a high grade polymer, and it would take the weight off of that.” Just all these ideas, but the magic behind it is in the aspect of inclusion because when the adapters and the innovators start talking together, the adapters looked at these new ideas went, “Wow! Never thought of that before. How do we take that and incorporate it into our current structure and make it real?” And the innovators looked at some of the aspects that the adapters were presenting and went, “You know what? Never thought of that. We’ve got to pay more attention to that and not go off on a tangent because that’s really important too.”

The end result of this exercise is that we did as a group come up with some brand new ideas that we were able to actually incorporate into the front end design that did indeed take weight and cost out of the project. So it was a success.

LM: [0:14:14.1] I’d love to build on that. The beauty of what you just shared was the collaboration when both styles, adaptive creative, innovative creative have equal voices. So they were both given equal opportunity to approach it in their style, where they could shine, where they could dial up their own creative brilliance, and be heard. That is something a lot of organisations don’t do. So the problem for many organisations doesn’t lie in that ideation phase where people are having to come up with ideas. We all have lots of ideas that we’d like to share. The problem usually happens in that convergent phase when they come back and have to decide on which idea to go forward with. That’s where it becomes very difficult because those creative value systems are going in opposite directions. Remember one wants excitement, one wants success, one is risk accepting and one is risk adverse.

It would be interesting to hear how that team dealt with that decision making process at that time, because again it’s not the creation of the ideas. It’s getting the momentum of the organisation, to accept whichever idea you want to go forward with. That’s often the biggest challenge when it comes to creative diversity because it’s not just within the team or the leader, but you also have to convince the organisation to embrace it.

DH: [0:15:36.9] That’s really interesting, isn’t it? That idea of the value proposition and seeing value in other people’s contributions as well is so important, or seems to be so important from what you’re saying? You mentioned risk as well there and the acceptance or not of risk. Michael, you work in an industry where there must be a lot of discussion of risk because quite apart from the massive budgets you’re talking about, these are dangerous technologies. We all remember some famous examples where things have gone wrong. So how does that play into this in terms of the fact that you have to be aware of risk and obviously not take unnecessary risk.

MC: [0:16:22.3] Absolutely, and probably the first thing on the list of what needs to be adhered to would be the various aspects of regulatory requirements. When we look at new ideas and even ideas that have been brought together, both adaptive and innovative ideas brought together for a new value producing idea, it still needs to basically work within the construct of regulatory requirements, and it still needs to work within the construct of engineering standards. We look at impact in terms of not only engineering requirements and regulatory requirements. Obviously foremost we want to make sure that we don’t deliver something that will put any person at bodily risk and that’s real key.

But the other thing that we talk about quite a bit is financial risk. When we think about the decision analytics that go into a proposed alternative solution, we do run various scenarios to determine whether or not that solution would actually deliver the value that we’re looking for. And whether or not we can achieve the financial goals that we’re looking for in a better way. Whatever that new idea might be, it does have to basically deliver into the desired end results.

DH: [0:17:43.3] And Laura, I was thinking, the other side of that coin, that same coin that perhaps Chevron have to deal with every day in their ideation, is for maybe the tech companies and the younger companies that are around – the Googles and the Facebooks and the Twitters of this world, and that sort of thing, where perhaps there’s a lot of emphasis put on innovation and trying to break the mould and all that sort of thing. In a way do they have the opposite problem where innovation is rewarded almost too much?

LM: [0:18:18.4] I wouldn’t say too much, no. I would say they do have the opposite problem though in that assumed financial investment, or perceived financial investment is not going to be worth the emotional payoff that can happen. Whereas he’s working in highly regulated industries, many of my clients are in CPG, consumer packaged goods, or the restaurant industry where innovation is mandated continually. And unfortunately, many of those teams aren’t delivering at the level of innovation that some of their consumers desire. Some of their teams are assuming too much, that it’s going to be too risky.

Just to share an example. I had a team within a national fast food chain who was challenged with delivering new menu innovation. They were an adaptive led team, pretty much staffed with adaptive individuals with a few innovative individuals on the team. Their task was to deliver innovative products. They were somewhat safe in what they were doing. They were holding it tight to the vest in terms of what would be safe to go after. So they weren’t meeting their charge, what they were charged with doing. After looking at the KAI and their team dispersion, based off what this team needed to deliver we recommended to incorporate and shift the makeup of the team to more high innovators on the team. This allowed the team then to take on more perceived risks because innovative creatives they don’t see risk as risk. They don’t see barriers as barriers. They see them as necessary stepping stones to get to someplace different, and the team was charged with getting someplace different. Once the team makeup was more equally distributed between adaptives and innovators with some high innovators on the team, to champion some of these, ‘riskier ideas,’ the ideas output from this team changed to become more innovative, closer to what they the team was charged with doing.

And so team makeup makes a big deal on determining the type of outcome, the type of climate, the type of vernacular that the team is comfortable with embracing, doing, and outputting. Absolutely.

DH: [0:20:40.4] So before we finish, I wonder whether we could sum this up in a way. If you if you had a blank piece of paper, Michael, and you were putting together a team from scratch for a big development project, would you purposely go out of your way to try and make sure it was equally stacked as it were with innovators and adapters, and then also make sure they understood those cognitive differences between them?

MC: [0:21:08.2] Well, first of all I think laying a foundation of understanding of the strengths of cognitive styles is fundamental to getting the team aligned and working together and getting the appropriate level of sponsorship for that team and championing from the executive levels.

It’s interesting you mention this. How do styles fit best within the construct of the project approach? If we think about a traditional waterfall approach to, let’s say, a capital project, where we have a number of phases and the first phase is identifying the opportunities and looking at strategic alternatives to actually approaching the problems at hand. It just makes sense that if you have more of the innovative creatives operating at that point you get more ideas. You’ll get more of those breakthrough ideas and some new thinking around what can be done.

I like to see more of those innovative creatives on the front end, and when we get into the aspect of Okay, how do we take some of those ideas and make them real and actually build them within the construct of the engineering standards as I mentioned and within the construct of the actual physics, if you will, and everything that’s possible, I think you bring in the adapters at that point to take a look at how this new idea may fit within the construct of what’s doable from a delivery standpoint.

I’ll give you an example. Right now one of the biggest challenges in the entire industry is about lowering carbon footprint. You cannot talk to any major energy company at this point that’s involved in oil and gas that isn’t looking at the reduction of the carbon footprint very seriously and with great intent. We have some very, very, very smart people who work in this industry and we can come up with some incredible ideas. But if those ideas are not immediately doable and cannot be delivered within the construct of the framework, or the regulations, and how we need to approach projects in a safe manner, well, then they’re just ideas. And although the innovative creators really liked the ideas because the power is in the ideas themselves, it still has to be doable. So you do need to bring the adapters on board as well to see exactly how do we harness the power of those ideas and actually make them deliverable so we can actually achieve that value. And when we think about lowering carbon footprint, for instance, what are all these ideas that our experts have? How can we take that and link that to the current science and link that to what’s possible and really deliver what we want to do with respect to reduction of that carbon footprint?

DH: [0:23:50.5] I’m reminded a little bit of the old story about the architects and the engineers in the world of the built environment where the star architect comes up with some fantastic stadium or concert hall that’s basically floating on air or whatever. And then he heads over to the engineer and says, “Right, build that.” I appreciate that probably a bit of a cliché, and I’m sure it doesn’t work exactly like that but there’s probably some truth in it.

Laura, I wonder what you think about this idea that Michael mentioned then, which I find fascinating. Almost there’s a time and a place for each of those cognitive styles, and the really clever thing is to have the right people at the right time to slot into the project, as it were.

LM: [0:24:34.7] Absolutely. Yes, yes. And I’m going to add one more cog in that wheel. The people using the right language to the right audience. I’ll build on the example of I was working with a team of scientists who were charged with creating a new quality standard protocol for the entire organisation in terms of quality control. They had to sell in to a group of marketers. They were an adaptive group and they were planning on selling it through adaptive language. Meaning, this is what works, this is what we need to do, this is what’s going to make sure that we’re tight and right. From the innovative perspective it could have been perceived as very boring. So I was saying, if you guys want to go forward with this charge, your first line that you have to get through to get the green light to go forward is to get this group of marketers excited about doing this. Right now on the way that you’re presenting it they’re not going to be excited about it. You’re presenting it from an adaptive perspective to an innovative audience. So what’s the driver for the innovator? Their drivers to be excited. So that was a big ‘Aha’ for this group of scientists that they didn’t realise that they needed to change their language to get their audience excited before they could move forward in this development.

So many times it’s not necessarily about changing the idea. It’s about how you tee it up to your audience so that they can receive it appropriately – just like your example with the floating architecture. Beautiful idea, both sides can make it happen. The engineers need to be sold in a way that they know that they can be successful at it before they can move forward – just like this group of marketers needed to be excited about this quality control before they could give the green light to say, “Yeah, let’s invest the money to go and do this.” And oftentimes, we miss that. It’s about collaboration, but it’s also about language and understanding your audience to how to get them to best collaborate with you.

MC: [0:26:38.8] Well, Laura’s hitting the nail right on the head. In our business we talk about the construct or the concept of the value proposition. As we put teams together and they’re coming up with their ideas, and they get excited about what they see as the value – if you have a group of innovators that are e just absolutely excited about that blue sky thinking and the possibilities and all that sort of thing and they’re presenting that to the project champion who happens to be an adapter who’s more concerned about risk than anything else, even though that project may have incredible merit and incredible value to deliver it’s going fall on deaf ears.

So one of the things that we coach on is looking at the value proposition in terms of the recipient’s sense of value. In other words, what’s in it for me? I have certain things that I need to achieve and I need to do and so does the company and the other is values. So we have value as in what’s in it for me and values, which speak to why is this the right thing to do? So when we think about the delivery of that message, indeed like Laura says, we have to make sure that we recognise the cognitive style of the recipient of the message, make sure it’s put into the language of that particular style, and then speak to those two aspects of value and values.

DH: [0:28:01.6] Michael and Laura, thank you so much for joining us today.

You’ve been listening to the KAI podcast with our special guests, Laura Moncrieffe of Bamboo Worldwide and Michael Chuchmuch of Chevron, talking about the applications of KAI theory in product development.

If you found this discussion interesting, you can find out more about the KAI system and its first class team development potential at www.kaicentre.com. In the meantime, please subscribe and share this podcast.

Stay well and thanks for listening.