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The Use of the Kai Assessment Tool to Enhance TRIZ Sessions

The Use of the Kai Assessment Tool to Enhance TRIZ Sessions

| On 17, Mar 2001

Jack Hipple
Tampa, FL

As has been pointed out before, TRIZ as a problem solving methodology is seldom practiced in a vacuum. It is frequently incorporated into a broader corporate innovation program or as a problem-solving tool coupled with a problem identification tool such as Six Sigma or QFD. To adopt TRIZ into the existing corporate problem solving and innovation structure, its tools and components must be integrated to make maximum use of its capabilities and potential. A frequently overlooked point is that TRIZ problem solving is also done by different people with varying social and problem solving styles. In previous TRIZ Journal articles (3,4), Steve Ungvari has discussed the use of Organizational Engineering assessment tools to align the use of various TRIZ tools with the particular strengths of the problem solving team. In a parallel TRIZ Journal article in this issue, Darrell Mann summarizes the DeBono Six Hatsâ„¢ thinking tool and how it might be used in conjunction with TRIZ problem solving. In this process, all participants take defined thinking roles at various times during a meeting or problem solving session to avoid polarization, and to insure the group is focused in the right areas at the right time. This paper will summarize another very powerful and well-validated tool that has been successfully used within TRIZ problem solving sessions.

Michael Kirton, a renowned British industrial psychologist, has developed an instrument known as the KAI (Kirton Adoptive Innovative) which measures the style of individual problem solving. For details on the method, please refer to the references (1,2) at the end of the paper. Style, in this case, refers to an adoptive, building, or analogic problem solving style vs. an innovative or pioneering style. Both skills are needed in organizational problem solving, but the differences are not often recognized nor measured. Characteristics of “builder/adapters” and “innovators/pioneers” are shown in Table 1. Table 2 illustrates how each is viewed by their opposites.

Table 1
General Characteristics of Adapter/Builders and Innovators/Pioneers

Builder/Adapter Innovator/Pioneer

Efficient, thorough, adaptable, methodical, organized, precise, reliable, dependable

Ingenious, original, independent, unconventional

Accepts problem definition

Challenges problem definition

Does things better

Does things differently

Makes “goals” of the “means”

Questions or disregards the “means”

Concerned with resolving problems rather than finding them

Discovers problems and avenues for their solutions

Seeks solutions to problems in tried and understood ways

Manipulates problems by questioning existing assumptions

Reduces problems by improvement and greater efficiency, while aiming at continuity and stability

Is catalyst to unsettled groups, irreverent of their consensual views

Seems impervious to boredom; able to maintain high accuracy in long spells of detailed work

Capable of routine work (system maintenance) for only short bursts: quick to delegate routine tasks

Is an authority within given structures

Tends to take control in unstructured situations

Table 2
How the other side often sees high/extreme scoring Builder/Adpaters and Pioneers/Innovators

Dogmatic, compliant, stuck in a “rut”, timid, conforming, and inflexible

Unsound, impractical, abrasive, undisciplined, insensitive, and one who loves to create confusion

A simple 33-item questionnaire is used to measure an individual’s problem solving style on a scale from 60-160 and is typically done by problem-solving participants at least 2 weeks prior to the TRIZ session. This assessment tool can be completed in about 15 minutes. A person with a building/adoptive style will score in the range of 60-90 while a person with a pioneering/innovative style will score between 110 and 140. Those with scores in between are frequently bridges within groups or teams and have some of the qualities of both extremes. This assessment tool is extremely accurate and has been globally validated across many cultures over decades. Along with the score itself, the individual is provided with customized feedback materials to help them understand their problem solving style vs. that of others. The use and distribution of the KAI assessment tools is overseen and controlled by the KAI Center at the Hatfield Polytechnic Institute in England, with U.S. training and certification handled by the Blumberg Center at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, IN.

How is this used within the context of TRIZ problem solving? First of all, TRIZ itself is a significantly different way of problem solving and thinking for most individuals. It is a far more structured and time-consuming tool than conventional brainstorming or some of the other random stimuli tools used. This is frustrating to those who are used to moving immediately into the solution space of a problem solving exercise. On the other hand, it provides stimulus to those who need it in their problem solving efforts. Thus, it provides what both extremes of the KAI problem-solving continuum require. The up-front problem-definition provided by such tools as the Innovation Situation Questionnaireâ„¢ and the Problem Formulatorâ„¢ provide structure to the problem solving that pioneers and innovators need to focus their creative energies. The stimulus provided by problem solving operators and picture examples of previously solved problems provides the needed stimulus needed by analogic/builder thinkers.

When KAI is integrated into a TRIZ session, it can be done in a number of ways. First, a 1-2 hour session, usually over lunchtime in the middle of a multi-day session, provides an overview of the principles of KAI and the assessment tool. Individual assessments are passed out and team members are free to discuss their scores and reaction to them. Another interesting way to provide group learning is to separate groups of people according to KAI scores (prior to their disclosure to the individuals) and demonstrate the difference in how people at opposite ends of the spectrum approach problem definition using a tool such as the IWBâ„¢ Problem Formulatorâ„¢. One finds that a group of builder/adopters will develop a very structured diagram (see Figure 1) while a group of innovator/pioneers will develop a very disorganized graph (see Figure 2) that, while is perfectly understandable to them, is not easily understood by builder/adopters.

Showing these various graphs to each other provides a great deal of learning regarding how different people approach problems differently. Combining the two styles usually provides the best of both worlds. The recognition of the differences within groups is absolutely critical to effective team problem solving. It is also possible to match the use of TRIZ tools, as Steve Ungvari has suggested, with KAI profiles as has been done with OE assessment tools. One would expect pioneers/innovative KAI scoring individuals to respond better to software and example stimuli, while builders/adapters would prefer Su-Filed modeling and the use of the Problem Formulatorâ„¢.

We are just at the beginning of learning how TRIZ and KAI can be combined to increase the impact and learning from a TRIZ session. Additional group studies over the next year or so will be shared with the TRIZ community to the greatest extent possible.

One possible outcome of the various studies which have been done, as well as those in progress, would be “knowledge base” of joint application methods as a function of (1) the type of problem being solved and (2) the type of people solving the problem.


  1. Kirton, M.J. “Adaptors and Innovators-Why New Initiatives Get Blocked”, Long Range Planning, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp137-143
  2. Kirton, M.J. “Adaptors and Innovators-The Way People Approach Problems”, Planned Innovation. Vol.3, pp 51-54
  3. Ungvari, Steven F. “(TRIZ)OE = Improving TRIZ Results by Dynamically Matching to Team”, TRIZ Journal, 10/98
  4. Ungvari, Steven and Skrupics, Michelle. “Management Response to Inventive Thinking (TRIZ) in a Public Transportation Agency”, TRIZ Journal, 5/00

IWB, Problem Formulator, and ISQ/Innovation Situation Questionnaire are registered trademarks of Ideation International

Problem Formulatorâ„¢ Diagram Drawn by Builder/Adaptors

Problem Formulatorâ„¢Diagram Drawn by Innovators/Pioneers