Are you an adaptor or an innovator?

If you're frustrated coz you've got lots of good ideas and others just don't get them, then read on.  My sucky experiences, and my response to them, might help.

Ten years ago I learned about KAI theory, a simple model for thinking about how people like to change, which enormously influenced how I role out Agile and TOC.  

I was in the worst job ever, at the time, and the problem was me.

I was an innovative type, naturally preferring radical change, working in a large organisation with a preference for little or slow or incremental change.  I thought the problem was "them" but  after learning about Kirton's Adaptor Innovator theory (KAI) during my MBA I realised the problem was  "me".  I didn't fit and, like the human body rejects virus, the organisation eventually evicted me and my grand ideas.

The essence of KAI is that some people prefer small, slow, incremental change and others prefer bigger, more radical innovative change.  Kirton has a test which places individuals on a continuum with Adaptors at one end and Innovators at the other.  

There are two important bits:

  1. People who score near each other on the continuum understand each other but they think everyone else is a bit nuts (innovators think adaptors are boring, change averse cow-ards; adaptors think innovators are dangerous, risky cow-boys), and
  2. Just as birds of a feather tend to flock together,  organisations tend to cluster around the same part the continuum, and they evict people and ideas that don't fit.  

If you imagine a 12-inch ruler, I was working in an innovative organisation where most people sat at the 2 inch mark, but I preferred the 9 inch mark.  It took me 4 years to escape and find an environment which fit my style.  The alternatives were that I either changed all of THEM to fit my style or I changed myself.

Nowadays I work in an organisation which sits (I'd guess) at the 3 or 4 inch mark, but I'm still a 9.  I deliberately chose this situation because I think it's wrong for incremental to miss out on Agile, and most of the 9's already know what I know and can do it better than I can.  

How do I cope?  I be innovative (i.e. play to my style) by innovatively figuring out how to dress my fancy ideas up so they're more easily consumed by people who prefer incremental change.  

One key way I do this is deliberately dressing new ideas up in old clothes (Skeuomorphism) which is surprisingly easy since little of Agile is all that new.  Another is that I take a TOC approach to improvement which, because improvements are focused on the system's bottleneck or constraint, limits the amount of change that happens at once.  Another is that I focus on the essential part of Agile (delivering small chunks of value, often) rather than the prescriptive practices and then I help the people I work with figure out what practices they need themselves.

I call my approach to implementing Agile & TOC,  SLOW and quiet Agile.  The SLOW bit, I find, is really important because it means stuff sticks ... so, really, it's faster.

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