Cognitive styles of entrepreneurs, knowledge workers & managers: adaptive or innovative?

AuthorSayeed, Omer Bin

Major Research Studies

The construct of Adaptation-Innovation has been extensively researched in the Western context besides using the theoretical framework in students' samples. In fact, different samples from various professional groups, as reviewed here, generally held hierarchical roles and performed various structured, semi-structured or unstructured tasks in their own right as position-based leaders of small or large segments within the organizations they belonged to. This indicates certain implicit acts of managing one's leadership behavior and influencing others. Mintzberg (2009) delineated managerial roles as position-based or position-dependent skills that tend to combine interpersonal, entrepreneurial, negotiating and leadership behavior components while a manager performs his job. Drawing from the characterization of Mintzberg the activities performed by any professional group with a role (structured, semi-structured or unstructured) or type of work (routine or complex) and influence processes created by high or low position power, indicative of low or high interaction level of person concerned highlights leadership skills and are largely determined by his unique temperament, preferential interest and dominant style of functioning.

Very few researchers in the Indian context showed interest to verify the construct of adaption-innovation using Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAII). Singh, Bhandarkar & Prasad (1959), using a modified version of adaption-innovation scale reported that Indian professionals are overwhelmingly high adaptors, but poor innovators. On Adaption-Innovation traits, they have examined data of IAS Officers as one of the professional groups and concluded that 80.62 per cent respondents are low innovators, 14.19 per cent medium innovators and only 5.19 per cent are high innovators. Singh et al (1959) labeled this professional group as more of adaptive than of innovative-cognitive style in the Indian bureaucracy. Using a contrastingly different sample Pettigrew & King (1993) found that budding nursing professionals as students were significantly more adaptive in problem solving and were less innovative compared with non-nursing students. Nursing majors of traditional ages (17-22 years) scored as more innovative in style than did those of non-traditional ages (23-60 years). The above study confined itself to one professional group out of several groups in the Indian organizational setups such as manufacturing firms, service sector and non-corporate bodies etc. Gupta (1993) documented that managers in the private companies were significantly more innovative than their counterparts in the public sector undertakings. By and large managers in computer and production departments were found to be a great deal innovative as compared to their counterparts in finance, research and development, quality assurance, engineering, personnel/administration and material/stores departments. However, studies in the West on professional groups as bankers, accountants and those involved in production, who are largely required to work within the available system in which the answer to various managerial problems can be found in an easily well defined manner, tended to be more adaptive (Kirton, 1980; Thomson, 1980; Kirton & Pender, 1982; Hayward & Everret, 1983; Foxall, 1986; Gul, 1986; Gryskiewicz, Hills, Holt & Hills, 1987). Adaptors even try to solve problems or prefer decisions that preserve as much as possible the context of the problems. Adaptors try to do things better through improvement and alteration thereby basically maintaining things much as they are (Goldsmith & Kerr, 1991). Adaptors try to build and maintain the system respecting the context of the problem whereas innovators enlarge the scope of managing change and development within the company while redefining the context of the problem itself (Singh et al., 1995). Innovators often transform or transcend the context of the problem as part of the solution, preferring decisions that more radically alter the context or framework of the problem. It is also eminently argued that "Innovators want to do things differently, changing the way things are" (Goldsmith & Kerr, 1991; Korth & Pettigrew, 1999) so as to enable a transformational process to be built into a system of work with some degree of originality.

Kirton (1980) further documented that even within an organization, the culture of which required an overall emphasis on one or the other mode of decision making and problem solving, particular departments with such managers whose collective cognitive styles were either predominantly adaptive or predominantly innovative may shift the change process. Drawing from a study of a large business firm, it was noted that the organizational members performing managerial functions, whose jobs involved interaction with other departments or external organizations were more innovative than those individuals who were entirely or almost entirely remained within a single department. The KAII means of members of internally-oriented functions (costing, maintenance, product, and support services) as compared with members of externally-oriented functions (corporate planning, sales, finance, and engineering) were more adaptive than innovative, whereas the latter group was more innovative than adaptive.

Studies on cognitive styles across the globe revealed that compared to the managerial scores from the West, the Indian scores tended to be low on the innovative style of functioning due to cognitive inadequacy that Indians are not able to take initiative (Gupta, 1993; Hosseini, 1981; Dewan, 1982; Singh, et al., 1994). Thompson (1980) conducted a replication study on managers in Singapore and Malaysia in an attempt to validate Kirton's theory in the far eastern milieu. Results showed that the mean scores of the Singapore and Malaysian managers were comparable with those of their western counterparts. Further, there were significant differences in the scores of managers based on the type of job they were involved in, such as civil servants showed an inclination towards adaption as compared to the general population (Singh et al. 1995; Holland, 1987). Kirton (1978) further contented that those who have chosen to live in a different culture from their own are likely to have higher mean scores on the innovative side of the adaptation-innovation continuum in a similar way as someone prefers to use computers and other advanced/efficient work producing gadgets. It is worth noting that managers in the Western owned companies in Singapore were the highest scoring of the Singapore groups on KAII (Foxall, 1992; Korth & Pettigrew, 1999).

Kirton (1994) emphatically posited that it is possible to examine the concepts of creativity, problem solving, and decision making of individuals and to predict their behaviors. His findings are consistent with the premise behind the construct of adaptor and innovator. Adaptors in a team training project accepted the 'decision already made' and identified strategies to design customized team training. They talked about...

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