Adaptors vs. Innovators: Kirton Inventory as Gov 2.0 Predictor?

Anke Domscheit-Berg ignited a gender fire storm yesterday with her GovLoop blogpost: “Why do women understand government 2.0 and social media better than men?”

My good buddy and LAUNCH: Health teammate, Todd Khozein, sent me an email yesterday with the link. I read the post and left a comment, then tweeted out the link. I received these comments back:

@edwardvirtually tweet about gender differences

@califgirl232 tweet about women and Gov 2.0

@genejm29 tweet

@edwardvirtually tweet

Interesting conversation about whether women are better suited to embrace Gov 2.0 tools. Personally, I love social media tools, but I work with women who don’t. I’ve learned a great deal about Gov 2.0 from incredibly gifted progressive guys at NASA, but watched many more snub their noses at it. I think it goes both ways.

Though gender may give insight into how men and women approach situations differently, we may find a less contentious Gov 2.0 cheerleader-meter.

The Kirton Adaptation-Innovation Inventory may just be the PERFECT tool to flush out change agents.

The Kirton Inventory measures problem-solving and creativity in individuals and helps teams understand the different ways they approach solutions. I first learned of the Kirton Inventory back in the 1990s when I planned an off-site retreat for the Office of Policy and Plans (better known as the Land of MisFit Toys) led by Lori Garver. We brought in a facilitator who tested us, then walked us through how our Kirton scores would help Lori make smart team assignments.

The Kirton Inventory scores individuals on a continuum from Adaptors to Innovators. The Adaptors work best within the existing system, seeing change as a matter of  tweaking and perfecting what already exists. The Innovators embrace all things new and adapt quickly to change.

Kirton Inventory: Characteristics of Adaptors & Innovators

Characteristics of Adaptors & Innovators. Credit: "Chemical Innovation" Nov 2001

At the extreme ends of either side of the spectrum, the Adaptors find comfort in the status quo where the Innovators prefer tossing out the old and starting fresh. Neither side can speak the language of the other, and need translators — who are the individuals who scored somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. These individuals are called the “Bridge” because they can speak both languages: status quo and change.

Our facilitator advised that every team needed at least one Bridge to keep the process moving, otherwise miscommunication and misunderstandings could impede progress.

alienMy Kirton Inventory scores qualified me as an extreme innovator. Surprised? 😉 Most of my workmates scored on the opposite end of the spectrum as Adaptors, and some as extreme Adaptors. I began to understand for the first time why I felt like an alien at NASA. My Innovator-DNA hadn’t equipped me to relate, understand, or communicate with “the Adaptors.”

According to an article about the Kirton Inventory Tool in “Chemical Innovation: Can corporate innovation champions survive?” Nov 2001…

Extreme Innovators describe Extreme Adaptors as:

  • dogmatic,
  • compliant,
  • stuck in a rut,
  • timid,
  • conforming, and
  • inflexible.

Extreme Adaptors describe Extreme Innovators as:

  • Unsound
  • impractical,
  • abrasive,
  • undisciplined
  • insensitive,
  • one who loves to create confusion.

I’ve heard many of these words used to describe me — abrasive, impractical, chaos-creator. Yep, the story of my 25 years at NASA.

Back to the original question: Does an affinity for change (think Gov 2.0) have anything to do with gender, as described in Anke’s thought-provoking blogpost? Are Innovators or Adaptors pushed to the extremes through influences or factors linked to DNA, socialization, gender, or experiences? The Kirton Inventory doesn’t address the causes behind the scores, so I can’t answer the question. I can only offer another data point for the discussion.

I have an idea! Why don’t you take the Kirton test yourself? See if you’re an Adaptor or Innovator. Let me know what you find out.

But if you’re an Adaptor, remember to bring your translator with you. Otherwise, I might not understand a word you say.

Crosspost on GovLoop.


Filed under federal government, Gov 2.0, govloop, leadership, NASA, social media

3 responses to “Adaptors vs. Innovators: Kirton Inventory as Gov 2.0 Predictor?

  1. Handsome Matt

    I think it’s incredibly interesting to note that you as an innovator felt like an alien, in what is arguable one of the most publicly innovative government agencies/general organization in the world! Not many other entities have been to space, repeatedly, or invented Velcro.

    The down side to these types of test is that people tend to use the labels to justify their negative behaviors. I’ve seen it occur with the Meyers-Briggs test often. Introverts defend their wrong behaviors with the “well I’m just an introvert.” After taking those tests a certain amount of personal responsibility takes hold, and we have to identify our differences and then work to overcome them. Then we tackle problems and take over the world!

    At the same time that I believe in gender differences, I also don’t believe in them; if that makes sense. What 2.0 should be doing is making it easier for the necessary informal communication to take place across larger distances. The water cooler chats, the lunch room debates, the non-work related down times that do more to fuel real breakthroughs than anything else.

    Do gender differences play a role there? Of course, they can be enhanced or exacerbated by the nature of social media communication.

    • beth beck

      I also believe in gender differences. We are truly different, but using gender differences as a cultural bias — no. I was told once that women are better suited to sew because we deal with small things, like needles. I asked if he had ever worked with tiny screws to fix a widget. I don’t like people to tell me what I CAN’T do because I’m female. Nor do I like them to have expectations of what I should do — like cook or clean or wear a mini-skirt.

      Using differences as excuses for why people can or can’t perform…or understand…or excel…or fail is how we get in trouble in society. Using them to understand how we approach problems and derive solutions is extremely useful, in my opinion.

      I exist in an engineering/science organization at NASA. My stereotype, if you’ll indulge me, is that engineers tinker and scientists keep asking why. Our culture over the past 20 years has been to stick with our expertise and tweak what we know works. Inventors — before the Centennial Challenges — were turned away. Times are changing, but cultural biases are difficult to break down.

      As for Myers-Briggs, I find it quite useful to know that 90% of NASA managers (not a scientific poll) are INTJ’s. I’m an ENFJ. In the book, “Please Understand Me” which I read soon after coming to NASA, I began to understand how I could work better with those around me. People have patterns. Knowing them (without stereotyping or putting them in a box) is valuable, I think — but I’m always looking for more data on what makes people tick. I’m a political scientist, after all.

      After taking the Kirton Inventory, Lori started assigning teams with an Adaptor, an Innovator, and a Bridge. Our Bridge guy, Ted Nakata, was awfully popular on teams. But, I have to say, it really worked. He helped us move ideas forward. Before the new process, picture teams where the Adaptor crossed arms and dug in heels and the Innovator dragged the Adaptor across the room to get an idea moving. Once we had a Bridge on the team, we all walked in step with an idea that made sense to everyone.

      I’ve never heard Kirton mentioned in any other office retreats. Perhaps it’s time to pull out the test again.

  2. Pingback: Castles and Foundation Stones | Bethbeck's Blog

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