November 2001
Vol. 31, No. 11, pp 14–22.
Starting the Process

Table of Contents

Kirton KAI inventory tool
Michael Kirton, a renowned British psychologist, has developed an instrument known as the KAI (Kirton Adaption–Innovation) Inventory (4), which measures individual styles of problem definition and solving. Style, in this case, refers to an adaptive, building, or analogic problem-solving style versus an innovative or pioneering style. Both skills are needed for organizational problem solving, but the differences often are not recognized or measured. One way to look at the KAI is as a measure of individuals’ relation to their problem-solving style, whereas the MBTI is more of a measure of individuals’ relation to their problem-solving style and social environment. In the list, “Characteristics of adaptors and innovators”, we summarize the two groups and how each group is viewed by its opposites.

Characteristics of adaptors and innovators

Efficient, thorough, adaptable, methodical, organized, precise, reliable, dependable Ingenious, original, independent, unconventional
Accepts problem definition Challenges problem definition
Does things better Does things differently
Concerned with resolving problems rather than finding them Discovers problems and avenues for their solutions
Seeks solutions to problems in tried and understood ways Manipulates problems by questioning existing assumptions
Reduces problems by improvement and greater efficiency, while aiming at continuity and stability Is catalyst to unsettled groups, irreverent of their consensual views
Seems impervious to boredom; able to maintain high accuracy in long spells of detailed work Capable of routine work (system maintenance) for only short bursts; quick to delegate routine tasks
Is an authority within established structures Tends to take control in unstructured situations

How the “other side” often sees extreme adaptors and innovators

Dogmatic, compliant, stuck in a rut, timid, conforming, and inflexible
Unsound, impractical, abrasive, undisciplined, insensitive, and one who loves to create confusion

A 32-item questionnaire is used to measure an individual’s problem-solving style on a scale from 32 to 160. A person with an adaptive style will usually score in the 60–90 range, whereas a person with an innovative style will score between 110 and 140. In reality, whether an individual portrays the characteristics of an adaptor or an innovator depends on context—where they are on the continuum relative to those with whom they interact. Persons with scores in the middle of a group have some of both characteristics, and under some circumstances, they can function as “bridgers”. This inventory has been found to be extremely accurate and has been globally validated across many cultures over decades (4, 5).

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