The Adaption-Innovation Theory sharply distinguishes between level and style of creativity, problem solving and decision making. Capacity aside, then, the theory posits that people are creative, solve problems and make decisions, to a greater or lesser degree, in their own characteristic way: more adaptively or more innovatively.


Characteristically, those scoring on the Adaptor side of the continuum generated by the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI) approach problems within the given terms of reference, theories, policies and precedents, and strive to provide "better" solutions.

By contrast, those on the other side of the mean on this continuum, the Innovators, detaching the problem from customary solutions are more likely to produce "different" solutions. Each of these styles of creativity produces distinctive and very different patterns of behaviour.

It is not good or bad, right or wrong to prefer either a more adaptive or a more innovative approach to problem-solving. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses within a given situation. A strength may be a weakness in another. The purpose of the KAI is to help individuals, groups and organizations understand more clearly their own and other people's preference and likely behaviours. This in turn helps produce more effective performance by appreciating and making good use of our differences as well as similarities.

The development of the Adaption-Innovation Theory began when conclusions were reached as a result of a study of management initiative. Personalities of individuals were having an influence, directly or indirectly, on the progress of the initiative. While managers would assert that they were sensitive to the need for changes, and were willing to embark on them, the time lag between implementation of an idea and its first airing was a matter of years - usually two or three. All too often well argued and reasonable objections blocked the idea until some critical event occurred. This "precipitating event" so altered attitudes that none of the contrary arguments (lack of need, lack of resources, etc.) was ever heard again. Other ideas are often dismissed as mere tinkering although they have led to improved efficiency.

The theory and its inventory have been the subject of considerable, rigorous research over the past 20 years - over 300 published refereed works or completed post-graduate theses from studies in 12 countries. The Inventory, as the measure for the Theory, is currently in use by scholars, practioners and consultants in such areas as: managing change, team building, management development, management education, counseling, assessment and selection, consumer behaviour, and further understanding the concepts of problem solving and creativity in the fields of psychology and social science, management and education.

For more information read the article Facilitating Creativity with Style in the Articles section.

Diane Houle-Rutherford is certified by Dr. Michael Kirton to administer the KAI Inventory.