With great creativity comes great responsibility

In the marvel universe, Peter Parker receives a pearl of wisdom from his Uncle Ben shortly before his uncle is killed. His words "With great power, comes great responsibility," impress upon Peter Parker to become the superhero Spider-man. Even though these words come from a fictional character (similar utterings attributed to real historical figures), they still ring true in the real world today.

Creativity is a form of power, a type of power that must be wielded responsibly. 

For those of you who know me well, I'm a firm believer in Kirton's AI theory. In a nutshell, his theory states that all people are creative. Further, there are two creative styles: Adaption and Innovation. At its most basic level, adaptive individuals seek to add structure while innovative individuals seek to shed structure.

 Image credit: http://innovatorstoolkit.com/

Image credit: http://innovatorstoolkit.com/

In the business world, Innovation gets a lot of attention. Organizations impress upon their employees to be innovative and set strategic corporate goals around innovating. But they are missing something important. Adaption is as equally important as Innovation. One without the other will lead to failure.

For example, an organization that skews heavily toward being innovative will push out new concept products at a record pace. They will highlight the Highly Innovative people in their organization and ostracize the Highly Adaptive people. This unfortunately, will lead to an organization that lacks quality with lots of "Innovative" products, that aren't polished, are lackluster and fail to deliver on their promises. 

Likewise, if an organization skews heavily toward being adaptive, they will get really good at doing the same thing over and over. They will have one or maybe a handful of solidly polished products, but they will fail to keep up with their industry and will eventually lose relevance. They won't be able to adapt to changing market conditions, and will continue to hold on to what works, afraid to take risks on new product lines. 

We have seen examples of both of these types of scenarios all over the tech and business worlds. The pendulum swings to one side and stays there, until a crisis of some kind causes the pendulum to swing drastically back toward the other side. This will prevent an organization from ever truly living up to their creative potential.

The organizations that thrive are the ones that recognize that balance is necessary. Balance between innovation and adaption is critical to survival. In Kirton's AI theory, he recommends building diverse teams of both innovative and adaptive people and educating them on how to work with one another. It takes more than just throwing them into the same room and telling them to solve a problem for that to work. Kirton goes on to state that there are always two problems to solve when working toward a solution; the people working to solve the problem and the actual problem. 

Due to the creative distance between highly adaptive and highly innovative people on the creative continuum, many of the solutions posed when solving a problem will either not be drastic enough for the highly innovative or too drastic for the highly adaptive.

The key, is building a team that knows their creative style and knows how to work with others of varying styles. This will lead to a team that is well managed throughout the creative problem solving process and will help build an organization thriving with creativity of all kinds. This in turn, will directly impact the bottom line of any organization that manages creativity well. 

Don't believe me? Does your organization preach diversity? Why? 

The answer is more selfish than noble. Diversity of thought is a simple way to bring together adaptive and innovative individuals. Diversity of ethnicity or culture carries with it at its core, people who think along different points of the creative continuum. It's an easy way for an organization to infuse their organization with diversity of creativity. Now, if you talk to an HR department about this, they would probably have no idea what it is you're talking about. But it's at the core of what they do when they hunt for the best "diverse" talent. They may be thinking about ethnicity or gender, but the root of that lies in the creative styles lurking just below the surface that are fueled by the varying experiences of people from different backgrounds.

So why does great creativity bring with it great responsibility? Well, once you have a diverse organization filled with individuals all along the creative continuum, you are sitting on a lot of power that has to be used wisely. A highly creative organization is a force to be reckoned with, but it's also a force that can backfire and lead to a spectacular crash and burn.

Creating a safe environment where Highly Adaptive and Highly Innovative people can thrive and both feel equally important is critical. 

I can't tell you how many times I've talked with Highly Adaptive people who feel that they are useless because the company they work for only values innovation. These are insanely bright people who are more critical to their organization then their management team realizes. What happens in these scenarios is that the Highly Adaptive people leave because they don't feel valued.

This is the death knell for an organization.

Once you start to hype one style of creativity over the other, you ostracize half of your creative talent. And what happens when you do that is that a lot of your talent begins to leave. And eventually, your organizational power begins to wane. You loose what you had and become weak. You lose your creative power. And when you lose your creative power, you lose your competitive advantage.

Many of the great companies that have existed for a long time and have thrived, have come to understand this. They have built their organizations to leverage both the adaptive and innovative. They have created an environment in which both styles of creativity can flourish. They have established themselves as a 100-year company (or more). That's what's at stake when you fail to handle your company's creative power responsibly.

So why am I saying all this?

I myself am rated on the KAI scale as a Highly Innovative person. I can come up with a lot of ways to solve a problem that are viewed as "out of the box" thinking. But I am only half of the solution. I seek to shed structure, and tend to look for solutions toward the boundaries of, or outside of, the paradigm. The phrase "It's the way things have always been done," causes me nightmares and I always seek to do things differently.

It's difficult for me to create a highly adaptive solution to a problem. And to be honest, sometimes a highly adaptive solution is the one that is necessary. Sometimes a highly adaptive solution is the best solution. And the inverse is also true.

But without that balance, true problem solving does not occur.


For further information on KAI theory, check out Kirton's book.