• Nigel Nolan

Understanding Personal Creativity and Innovation (1)

Updated: Sep 4


Some of the main academic works that shed light on our understanding of personal creativity and innovation are from M.J. Kirton which he developed through the 1970s and 1990s that focus on and are titled Adaptors and Innovators. Let me explain the theory a little before discussing how it might affect you.


The Adaption-Innovation theory examined differences in people’s thinking styles that influences their creativity, innovation, decision-making, and problem-solving. According to the theory, everybody’s thinking style can be measured using the Kirton Adaption-Innovation inventory (the KAI) and be plotted on a continuum ranging from highly adaptive to highly innovative:


Adaptors seek solutions to problems in tried and trusted ways – ways that may stretch the organisation’s accepted way of thinking and mindset, but will not breach it. Their efforts are usually focused on improving things (products, services, or processes) and doing things better, without causing too much disruption or leading to chaos. They value stability and continuity of the status quo, and are thus seen as reliable, prudent and “a safe pair of hands”. Most managers in larger organisations tend to be adaptors.


Innovators on the other hand, tend to look for new or novel solutions to problems outside of the organisation’s generally accepted paradigm. Their solutions are frequently thought to be fanciful or far-fetched, and less acceptable to management as a group. Their efforts are usually focused on doing things differently rather than merely better, and while often very imaginative or ingenious, are frequently seen as impractical, rule challenging, and unacceptable to colleagues and senior management. Their solutions are more acceptable when the organisation is in a crisis and the old, tried and trusted ways are not working.


It's important to look at each of these positions of Highly Adaptive versus Highly Innovative as extremes, and most people fall somewhere in between the two poles on the continuum. The reality is that both adaptors and innovators are creative – they just do it differently. Innovators tend to come up with new ideas, while adaptors think of ways to improve what is already there and, most importantly, implement them. Your own personal creativity and innovation falls somewhere along this continuum. If you think or feel that you are not creative, that is because you are comparing yourself to someone who is probably innovative or highly innovative, or the stereotype "creative" who comes up with those novel ideas. Anytime you have done something even slightly different than before, that is creative! It is adaptive creativity!


This is why it is said that everybody is creative – but creative in different ways!

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