Innovators and Adaptors

Updated Over a Week Ago


Skimming through a discussion about what constitutes creativity in the field of instructional design, I noticed a comment a person made. They were claiming to be creative because they used all the latest trends. I cringed a bit when I read this.

Sadly, many people assume “early adaptor” is the same as being an innovator. True innovation actually means starting trends, rather than following them.  An early adaptor typically increases the profits of the company that developed the new product rather than their own.


Since innovation has been widely espoused as the new way to bolstering a faltering business, it seems cruel to leave anyone out. It is no longer the domain of the eccentric inventors, impractical daydreamers, and those coding new software.

Many claim everyone has the ability to learn creativity. But if you look at any group of leaders, only a few people generate unique ideas and produce more work that is original.

A trend in creativity research is not to uncover who has it, as much as it is to define the person’s style. Michael Kirton’s long term study of managers identified two different styles of problem solving. He tested his theory by creating the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory, which asked managers about themselves in the areas of originality, efficiency and conformity.[1]

This inventory described both Adaption and Innovation as styles of creativity. However, when you examine how the styles are defined, you will quickly realize that that they are levels of creativity.

Innovator vs Adaptor

Innovators also spend time experimenting with ideas that are not directly related to increased profits. They also openly question business as is. If a manager or cohort tells you that you have gone beyond the scope of your work or asks, “What is the added value in doing that?” when you share a new idea, you are probably an innovator.

Innovators have to accept the fact that new ideas can be disruptive to business as usual, even if they are necessary to keep the business on the cutting edge.

If your ideas are usually accepted both by those above and equivalent to you on the business organization chart, then you are probably an adaptor. You tend to take proven products and theories and try to incorporate them into your business.

You are better at selling someone else’s idea than coming up with your own. This ability to encourage others to accept new modifications is essential to keep business growing.

However, as an adaptor, you need a source of viable innovations that will actually work. You will have to accept the fact that innovators may not be maladroit or not have the same social and presentation skills as you do. They probably will not share your “common sense” and may take unnecessary risks.

However, you need them because innovators are more rare adaptors. And because adaptors may not have a creative break-through idea.

Are You an Innovator or Adaptor?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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[1] Kirton, M.J. (1976). Adaptors and innovators: A description and measure. Journal of Applied Psychology, 61, pp. 622 – 629. 

Kathleen Listman
Kathleen Listman
Kathleen Listman is an instructional designer and training consultant with a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and over 15 years’ experience in researching, designing, developing and implementing instruction. She has created instructor-led courses, computer-based instruction and e-learning in multiple fields including aviation, manufacturing, medical devices, property accounting, telecommunications and retail sales.
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