Adaptive versus Innovative creativity

Adaptive versus Innovative creativity

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. 

Risk and why it is important for Creativity

Risk and why it is important for Creativity

Risk is a part of life: something we all live with. Some people are more comfortable with risk, others have no choice. However. I propose that for change, development, creativity and innovation, a level of healthy risk is essential.

Risk and Fear

Risk, however, can bring with it feelings of fear. As I write this I remember reading the book by Susan Jeffers, Feel the fear and do it anyway . It had a very positive effect on me at a time in my life when I was about to leave a full-time job in one country for an uncertain freelance career in another. The fear around risk is that we may fail. However, if we never take a risk, we may never live life at our best.

This fear of failure is prevalent in organisations.  Failure is often punished and the consequences of this is a reluctance to start or try anything new or different. This is detrimental to creativity and innovation. As people and as organisations, without taking a risk, we cannot develop and change. To enable creativity and innovation risk is essential.


For Innovation-how to generate ideas

For Innovation-how to generate ideas

It has been reported recently that the famous 20% idea time through which Google encouraged employees to work on their own projects, is no longer in use.
However on further research it would seem that it is in principle still possible for Google employees to work on individual projects but the pressure of time is such that employees often end up working 120% overall.

  Why is this an important topic?business concept

  Well my take on this is that innovation, or rather creativity and idea generation which proceeds innovation, takes  time, requires commitment from the organisation and engagement from employees. Therefore it calls for a process and systems to manage the flow of ideas.

 Google were not the first company to introduce this ‘idea time’ concept. In the 50 ties 3M had an approach that  encouraged people to spend 15% of their time on new ideas.
One of the most famous results of this was the post-it which originated with Spencer Silver, a researcher at 3M, who discovered a new kind of light adhesive in 1968. This was initially shelved because it had no obvious commercial application. A decade later, his colleague Art Fry turned this product into the now famous Post-it product.

There are many examples of companies supporting and managing the generation of ideas through a variety of means.
Companies such as Texas Instruments and IBM encourage innovation through collaboration and crowdsourcing.

IBM introduced the concept of Innovation jams which provide online space for collaboration both inside IBM, and outside with clients. One example given by Liam Cleaver, VP  of the IBM Social Insight group, is of a Jam with Nato which is about building a collaborative community across the whole organisation.

Texas Instruments leads a global innovation challenge for students which involves setting competitions worldwide to encourage students to collaborate on a design  project that uses TI technology. This is a great example of utilising outside expertise and fresh ideas to push the boundaries of existing technology.

Other schemes I have come across involve funding being available for employees to develop their ideas through their own projects. This type of scheme usually demands having some justification for the funding and a sponsor or champion being allocated to support the project.  Robert Rosenfeld at Eastman Kodak developed the concept of the Office of Innovation in the 1970 ties which encouraged collaboration across functions,  the development of ideas and management of them them through a process of screening, review and sponsorship.

What is important, irrespective of the type of idea generation scheme that is introduced, is that ideas are encouraged and from as diverse a  background as possible; both fresh ideas from outside the organisation through the type of collaboration that IBM and TI encourage or ideas from your employees. This latter group interact daily with your systems, processes, products, customers etc and are in the best position to come up with new ideas, or ideas for improving upon what already exists.

The question is how will you support this?

  • As in the example of Google or 3M, will you allow people to take some time outside their normal work to try out new projects?

  • Will you both empower and encourage your employees to try out new projects?

  • Will you fund this project, or allow free access to your resources?

  • Will you provide a champion who can be a support for the new ideas?

  • Will you offer recognition to people trying out new ideas even if they fail?

  • Will you offer support for the employee in selling this new idea/project internally?

Do you already have an idea management scheme? If so I would love to hear from you how it works.

The importance of Positivity in the Creative Process

The importance of Positivity in the Creative Process

I have written before about conditions for creativity and recently have revisited this theme. This morning I was reading a blog written on the subject of innovation and its importance for the future

This refers to a study by PwC which found that 78% of CEOs surveyed believe innovation will generate “significant” new revenue and cost reduction opportunities over the next three years. (more…)

To Innovate or to Improve? That is the question!

One of the issues that I came across this week concerning innovation was around the question of radical versus incremental innovation. Most innovation is incremental, building upon previous ways of doing things, or improving on existing products. Very little innovation is radical, where something new is created.

So what is the value of radical innovation? In another discussion I had, it became clear to me that if there had been some blue sky thinking and radical innovation  around a product/service then it may have created a buzz in the marketplace that is currently missing. This would have allowed for key differentiation between that service and its competitors and thus improved their competitive advantage.

Two of the most influential writers/academics who have proposed radical innovation are Gary Hamel and C.K.Prahald in their book ‘Competing for the Future’.

They stipulate that to create the future a company must

‘Change in some fundamental way the rules of engagement in a long standing industry, redraw the boundaries between industries, create entirely new industries’


This requires radical transformation and not just incremental change. (more…)

Recruiting for a creative climate

Last week I came across a short article in the International Herald Tribune which contained an interview with Michael Lebowitz, founder and chief executive of Big Spaceship, a digital marketing and communications agency.
What I found fascinating about this company, which clearly regards creativity is its key strategic asset, were the following:

 Creativity is regarded as belonging to and the responsibility of all, not just a design or development group. Everyone in invited to brainstorm for ideas and there is an attitude that everyone has something to contribute. (more…)