We often hear talk of adaptive creativity versus innovative creativity, and in this blogpost I will reflect upon the differences and implications of the two types. Everyone has the capacity to be creative, and everyone expresses creativity in their own way. Some of us express our creativity by taking something already in existence and make small changes to it. This is adaptive creativity. Others may be inclined to develop something totally new. Both are creative. ‘Adaptors desire to do things better; Innovators seek to do things differently.’ In organisations, probably the most frequent type of creativity is the adaptive type. For example, when Apple or Samsung update their mobile phone ranges, or Nikon and Cannon, their cameras. Occasionally companies have a need or desire to take bolder steps and create something completely new in the market.
This requires innovative creativity in order to think ‘outside the box’. This can equally apply to individual creativity. The person who takes inspiration from a well-known artist and copies and builds upon their style to paint, or take a photo is demonstrating adaptive creativity. On the other hand, the person who develops their unique way of painting, or of any creative activity, is expressing innovative creativity. Michael Kirton developed an adaption/innovation theory to explain these differences. The theory is based upon two assumptions. The first is that creativity, decision making and problem solving are outcomes of the same brain function, and the second assumption is that everyone can solve problems, take decisions and be creative. What differs is their style. Kirton developed an instrument, KAI, to measure and define where someone falls on the spectrum of adaptor to innovator. This is useful for pulling together teams for work on creative projects. As with all differences in style, conflict can arise between people at either end of the spectrum. Adaptors may see innovators as too risky, argumentative, not focused, whereas adaptors can be seen as too methodical, and rule bound. However, both styles are needed for diversity of thought and balance. So in creative problem solving, the adaptor limits the scope of their ideas to solve problems. The innovator would go for the wild ideas, which when developed would be ‘out of the box thinking’. However, I believe that it is possible to develop our style of creativity, with the use of creative techniques. There are a couple of other factors to consider here that I believe influence style:
- The first is that differences may be as much about our own limiting beliefs as about style. Sometimes we put up our own boundaries and limit the extent to which we allow our ideas to roam freely. If we give ourselves permission to think more widely then more ideas may flow. Creative workshops which encourage people to use techniques to expand their ideas can be helpful here.
- Secondly. the more adaptive person may be limited by the role they have at work, for example, working in finance. Whereas the innovative person may be in a role that allows more freedom to express their ideas. On the other hand, people may choose their work domains to reflect their style.
So, to sum up, everyone can be creative:
- Some people express creativity in an adaptive way, others are more innovative.
- This may be due to their individual style.
- It may also be due to their limiting beliefs or the roles they have taken on.
- It is possible to expand our style and experiment with different ways of being creative, especially if we give ourselves permission to do so.
Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley.