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Overview of Kirtin Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI)

The basic tenent of Adaption-Innovation Theory, as developed by Michael Kirton, is that problem-solving style operates as a personality dimension (much like the Myers-Briggs Indicator). Therefore, problem-solving orientation is considered an immutable part of personality, yielding a deeper understanding of, for instance, the relationship between individuals' personalities and their roles and responsibilities.

Organizations need able and creative members. Theoretically, both adaptors and innovators are able to provide quality solutions to organizational dilemmas because style of problem solving is independent of level of creativity, as well as cognitive ability. Kirton equates the more adaptive style with (active, creative) paradigm maintenance and the more innovative style with (active, creative) paradigm shift.

Analysis of responses to the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI) self-report instrument yields scores ranging between High Adaption to High Innovation. (The range of scores is 32 to 160, with a theoretical mean of 96.) Many studies show that: (a) cultures show no variation in Adaptor-Innovator distribution; and, (b) in business or industry in general there are equal numbers of adaptors and innovators. Companies may be skewed (e.g., at the board level) in one direction or another. Departments usually are skewed, and smaller units are nearly always skewed, creating differences in climate, policy, operation, tolerance and understanding between one organizational element and another.

How Adaption-Innovation Theory Relates to SYMLOG Field Theory

Plot of KAI in SYMLOG Space

Plot in SYMLOG Space of
(Click image to enlarge)

Kirton's theory posits that cognitive style exerts a strong influence on behavior, such that enforced behavioral departures from preferred style may require additional effort and cause stress. At work, people are generally in constant interaction with others. Differences in cognitive style between individuals (as well as, an individual and the group norms, or between groups) can readily generate problems of communication and understanding. These, in turn, produce difficulties for collaboration and cohesion.

SYMLOG, as a theory of unfication and polarization in social interaction, provides a way to measure, analyze, and understand social behavior, regardless of whether it flows from cognitive style.

Kirton describes "expected" behavioral characteristics relating to preferred style. Many of these characteristics can be coded according to Bales's values categories and some according to Bales's behavior categories. Some of Kirtin's descriptors, especially those concerning content, are difficult to code using SYMLOG's process-oriented categories.

The table below shows Kirton's main descriptors with hypothetical SYMLOG coding. The figure draws upon this coding to present an heuristic overlay of Adaption-Innovation Theory as it relates to the SYMLOG space.

Very few of Kirton's descriptions characterizing adaptors or innovators are associated with SYMLOG optimum leadership and teamwork behaviors and values that characterize the "most effective profile" (UPF = Upward, Positive, Forward in the space). More generally, the Positive area of the SYMLOG field is only sparsely populated with references to adaptors and innovators.

The analysis of Kirton's descriptions in SYMLOG terms reveals a striking Forward-Backward polarization between Adaptors toward the conservative, task-oriented pole and innovators toward the anti-authority, creative pole. For now, this F-B polarization can only be hypothesized. Test of this hypothesis awaits the analysis of KAI and SYMLOG data together.

Table: Adaption-Innovation Theory Behavior Descriptions and SYMLOG Coding

Characterized by precision, reliability, efficiency, methodicalness, prudence, discipline, conformity UF, F Seen as undisciplined, thinking tangentially, approaching tasks from unsuspected angles B
Concerned with resolving problems rather than finding them PF, F Could be said to discover problems and discover avenues of solution B, PB
Seeks solutions to problems in tried and understood ways F Queries problems' concomitant assumptions; manipulates problems B
Reduces problems by improvement and greater efficiency, with maximum of continuity and stability F Is catalyst to settled groups, irreverent of their consensual views; seen as abrasive, creating dissonance N, NB
Seen as sound, conforming, safe, dependable F, DPF In pursuit of goals treats accepted means with little regard NB, B
Liable to make goals of means NF, DNF Capable of detailed routine (system maintenance) work for only short bursts. Quick to delegate routine tasks B
Seems impervious to boredom, seems able to maintain high accuracy in long spells of detailed work F, DF Seen as unsound, impractical; often shocks his opposite NB, B
Is an authority within given structures UF, F Tends to take control in unstructured situations U, UF
Challenges rules rarely, cautiously, when assured of strong support DF Often challenges rules, has little respect for past custom NB, B
Tends to high self-doubt. Reacts to criticism by closer outward conformity. Vulnerable to social pressure and authority; compliant. DNF, DN Appears to have low self-doubt when generating ideas, not needing consensus to maintain certitude in face of opposition UN, UNB, UB
Is essential to the functioning of the institution all the time, but occasionally needs to be 'dug out' of his systems. UF, F, DF In the institution is ideal in unscheduled crises, or better still to help to avoid them, if he can be controlled U, UB
When collaborating with innovators: supplies stability, order and continuity to the partnership UF, F, DF When collaborating with adaptors: supplies the task orientations, the break with the past and accepted theory PF
Provides a safe base for the innovator's riskier operations UPB, PB Sensitive to people, maintains group cohesion and cooperation P, PF
Insensitive to people, often threatens group cohesion and cooperation N, NB

Selected References

Kirton, M. (1994). Adaptors and innovators. London: Routledge.

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