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KAI Theory

About KAI

The management of change & diversity is a key issue at the top of the ‘most challenging’ list for many people today. To be successful you need to define and use diversity to your advantage; but this can only be done with knowledge and skill.

The Adaption-Innovation Theory and its associated psychometric instrument (KAI) will provide you with insight into how people solve problems and interact whilst decision-making. Using this insight, you can improve the dynamics and cohesion of your teams. You can show that individuals within a team approach problems differently and that this very difference can be used to strengthen the team. This understanding should lead to the differences not only being tolerated, but welcomed. In addition, it will help you to reduce stress within the team, by reducing individuals’ stress.

You can use A-I theory to help individuals plan their personal development. Knowledge of KAI allows realistic and appropriate personal learning programs and targets to be set. Individuals can then acquire apt techniques and skills and so enlarge their problem solving ‘comfort zone’.

Team building and development are also within the scope of KAI and this course. Teams within a company must keep adjusting to meet the changing requirements of the company, as the company itself has to keep transforming to stay in business. For any team to survive, it needs to keep up with the changing nature of its problems and consequent changes in ‘Cognitive Climate’; and yet remain within ‘Organizational Fit’. A-I Theory provides you with a useful tool to investigate business cycles, product cycles, and more importantly, the rise and fall of both established and new entrepreneurial companies.

Team collaboration and the reduction of conflict figure largely in any person’s life. For you to have an efficient team you need the people within it to expend the greatest effort on the problems in hand - rather than spending a great amount of time & effort on problems raised in collaborating! KAI will help you to achieve this, by exposing, and allowing a non-pejorative understanding of differences in cognitive style (‘cognitive gap’).

A command of these skills allows you to offer effective leadership, by asking people to work in their preferred style most of the time, thereby reducing stress and increasing efficiency. If you achieve this goal, it will help you to retain good staff and get the best out of your teams with the minimum of psychological effort & conflict.

The KAI instrument is a form containing 32 questions. It is supplied with an extensive Feedback Booklet.

Key Assumptions of Adaption-Innovation Theory

All people problem solve (and are, therefore, creative); creativity is a sub-set of problem solving.

Problem solving is the product of cognitive function operating within environment.

Cognitive function influences behavior producing stable characteristic patterns; from its operation are derived dimensions of personality, of which Adaption-Innovation is one.

One element of cognitive function is cognitive effect, which is made up of cognitive (preferred) style and cognitive (potential) level (or capacity).

Cognitive Style: People differ in the amount of structure they require and the degree to which that structure is consensually agreed, to feel comfortable in tackling any problem, allowing for different importance of outcome (levels of reward and punishment).

Cognitive style is early set and highly stable and correlates with a cluster of related, entrenched, characteristic well listed personality traits.

The elements in cognitive affect are unrelated (uncorrelated) with those of cognitive style; cognitive style is uncorrelated with cognitive (potential) level and all elements in cognitive resource (e.g., manifest capacity). All elements of cognitive function are influenced by, but are independent of, environment.

All the main elements of cognitive function are associated with cognitive processes: problem solving, learning & memory, motive; so is social environment: group dynamics.

It follows that the key assumption relevant in the development of the measurement of this theory is that people can be located on a continuum of cognitive style, ranging from adaptor to innovator, dependent on the characteristic mode in which they solve problems (create or make decisions). The Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI) is the measure devised to locate respondents on this continuum

Background to A-I Theory

The Adaption Innovation Theory is founded on the assumption that all people solve problems and are creative. The theory sharply distinguishes between level and style of creativity, problem solving and decision making and is concerned only with style. Both potential and evident capacity aside the theory states that people are different in cognitive style in which they are creative, solve problems and make decisions. These style differences lie on a normally distributed continuum, ranging from high adaption to high innovation. The key to the distinction is that the more adaptive prefer their problems to be associated with more structure and more of this structure to be consensually agreed than do the more innovative. The more innovative are comfortable solving problems with less structure and are less concerned that the structure be consensually agreed than are the more adaptive.

Those scoring as more adaptive (the terms adaptive and innovative are relative), as measured by the Kirton Adaption Innovation Inventory (KAI), approach problems within the given terms of reference, theories, policies, precedents and paradigms and strive to provide "better" solutions (e.g. continuous process improvement). By contrast those more innovative tend to detach the problem from the way it is customarily perceived and, working from there, are liable to produce less expected solutions that are seen as being "different" (e.g. reengineering). Styles of creativity produce different patterns of behavior. All styles are absolutely essential to deal successfully with the wide range of problems faced by individuals and groups, over time.

The Adaption Innovation theory is heavily researched - over 200 articles and more than 70 theses (publication list available on request).

A key observation from teaching A I Theory to groups is that as they (groups) come to appreciate the value of diversity in problem solving styles they become more tolerant and even appreciative of other diversities.

The development of Adaption-Innovation Theory was influenced by the results and observations of an earlier study in management initiative. Personalities were seen to have characteristic effect on the progress and success of initiative in organizations. While all managers would assert that they were sensitive to the need for change and were willing to change, individuals were more willing to embark on changes involving a style close to their own than those involving a style very different. As a result some changes went through with little or no discussion while others took years from the initial suggestion to final implementation. The latter frequently required a dramatic precipitating event to clear the path to acceptance. Other proposed changes were dismissed as mere tinkering, although their champions argued they would have led to some immediate improvement. A I Theory gives an understanding of the source and implications of those differences. In turn, this understanding can lead to a more fruitful mutual exploitation of differences, with less conflict. Such collaborative efforts have their significant effects on the bottom line of group success.

This is a highly crafted, sound scientific measure. KAI measures thinking style, which is distinguished from (a) thinking capacity or competence (b) cognitive process (c) idea generation technique. Now being distinct they can be treated and measured separately, allowing for better understanding and control over these complex variables. Such precision spreads over into the interpretation of results, offering individuals and groups clearer insight into key aspects of their interaction in problem solving teams, into particular environments. Thinking style is not affected by environment, or even culture, because the measure taps deeply entrenched cognitive style. (The KAI can be used in multinational groups - the results are unaffected by culture). The evidence of research also shows that an individual’s preferred style is almost unchangeable but behavior is highly flexible. This potential gap is bridged by "coping behavior", which, if heavily relied upon by an individual, can be expensive, causing stress and inefficiency. Knowledge of A-I theory has critical advantages to group members, especially leaders, in showing how cognitive diversity, as well as other forms of diversity, is a distinct help to most collaborative problem solving - but this is true only if members develop the insight to master the problems, so often enhanced by pressures and crises, that also emerge from diversity.

KAI and its use:

KAI measures people on their style of problem solving and creativity. It is used for:


For questions regarding course content, contact Dr. Curt Friedel - cfriedel@vt.edu - Tel: (540) 231-8177