KAI Theory as a Möbius Strip: A Twist in Thinking about Problem Solving

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Center for Cooperative Problem Solving at Virginia Tech


Considering Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation (KAI) Theory, can we embrace an unorientable relationship between adaption and innovation? In 1976, Kirton purported “that everyone can be located on a continuum ranging from an ability to ‘do things better’ to an ability to ‘do things differently,’ and the ends of this continuum are labeled adaptive and innovative, respectively” (p. 622). However, what insights might we gain from thinking of the KAI continuum more like a Möbius strip? In what ways do adaption and innovation flow into and co-create one another throughout the problem-solving process? When an individual takes adaption to the extreme, might they have more in common with the innovative end of the scale than we tend to assume or expect? We already know that one’s degree of adaption or innovation is relative to others, yet our understanding of the relationship may be too simplistic. The Möbius strip holds the potential to facilitate sensemaking when exploring the complex relationship between adaption and innovation.