Adaptors and Innovators

Although “innovation” is often associated with novelty, invention and breakthrough change, the successful adaptation of existing ideas, practices or technologies is often the real secret of competitive advantage for organisations rather than the ability to invent something completely new.

People have different styles and preferences in terms of the way they approach being creative, solving problems, and implementing change.  These different styles all have their plus points and their minus points - no one style is intrinsically "the one right way to be".  We can fall into the trap of thinking of people who are different to us are less valuable to the project, the team or the company.

The Kirton Adaptation-Innovation model describes continuum of creative styles that ranges from highly “adaptive” at one extreme to highly “innovative” at the other.

  • High Kirton Adaptors are creative by building on what already exists and improving it.  They look for solutions that are acceptable which usually means that the risk involved is small.
  • High Kirton Innovators are creative by doing things differently to the way they have been done before.  They often think of many different solutions to a problem.   They are unconcerned about the risks involved in following one of their ideas.

Both styles of creativity are useful and necessary in organisations, but there are dangers.  If Adaptors and Innovators work together, they may have difficulty in seeing each other’s point of view and in valuing each other’s work.  The wider the gap between their “KAI” score, the more pronounced is this effect.  Kirton believes that a difference in KAI scores of 20 points or more can lead to significantly different decision-making and communication styles which need to be managed when Innovators and Adaptors work together.

We believe the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory is a useful tool for valuing the differences between creative styles and for helping individuals develop strategies for working with people with very different styles to their own.