By: Dr Iwan Jenkins– a Kirton Adaption Innovation (KIA) practitioner and founder of The Riot Point
It comes down to finding your opposite, as opposites make profits
Steve Jobs did not save Apple, Tim Cook did.
And even if the headlines did say “Jobs saves Apple”, I’ll concede that Jobs did save Apple—but only because he had the insight to hire Tim Cook.
And applying the insight behind the recruitment could save your business—and possibly your marriage.
Here’s the take-away up front.
If you see yourself as a Steve Jobs type and you want your business to succeed, then find yourself a Tim Cook.
If you see yourself as a Tim Cook and you want your business to succeed, then find yourself a Steve Jobs.
Why? because opposite personalities make profits.
Jobs and Cook had divergent personalities, personalities that would often clash with the potential of destruction. There’s rarely a word used that summarises these relationships perfectly—oppugnant; opposing and sometimes antagonistic.
But examples in love, war, the arts, and business show the power of an oppugnant relationship—if you can make it work.
Nothing kills innovation like too much innovation
Steve Jobs was an innovator and visionary, and until 1998 he was pretty poor at running businesses. His organisations were always short of cash. His organisations were always running on a quarter of a tank (or less), desperately driving from one cash giving station to the next.
Stimulated by novelty and ‘the big picture’, Jobs had ignored the details of business operations, confident in his abilities to generate high profits through great products well promoted.
Flying solo, he’s not a great role model for running a business. The bankruptcy courts are full of Steve Jobs types on a Monday morning. Great ideas poorly executed; never out of ideas but always out of cash.
Staying inside the box ends in suffocation
Yet running a business like an early version of ‘Tim Cook-without-Steve’ has limited attractiveness. Yes, they’ll be prudently managed, and stay around forever, but they’ll be reined in with minimal growth and little market impact. They’ll tinker with aerodynamically designed horse and traps, while the Tesla flashes by.
The painful conclusion is the best of the careless Jobs and the cautious Cook together works best.
Are you creative?
In the late 1970’s, a British Industrial and Occupational Psychologist, Dr Michael Kirton, started to make sense of how people prefer to solve problems.
He noted that some people prefer routine, control, the tried-and-tested, safety, and clarity.
When you observe them they come across as: Organised, structured, tidy, safe, reliable, efficient, systematic, stable, good with detail, judicious, cautious, thorough, conventional, look for consensus when working with others.
Kirton called these people, creative adaptors. Examples include Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook.
In contrast, he noted that others typically like new, fun, challenging, different, spontaneous activities.
When you observe them they come across as: Adventurous, ground-breaking, plain-speaking, experimental, pioneering, good in a jam, unconventional, blue-sky thinking, boundary-pushing.
Kirton called these people creative innovators. Examples include Nikoli Tesla, Ada Lovelace, Elon Musk and Steve Jobs.
Kirton uncovered that history is littered with pairs of adaptors and innovators who collaborated with great success. In fact, Kirton observed that “Behind every successful innovator, there’s an adaptor, and behind every successful adaptor there’s an innovator.”
Examples include, Jobs and Cook, Hidenburg and Ludendorff, Gilbert and Sullivan, McCartney and Lennon.
Who should you recruit to improve your business?
Are you creative like Jobs and Musk? Or are you creative like Cook and Bezos? How do you like to solve problems?
To take the guesswork out of the answer, Kirton came up with a 33-item psychometric inventory, called the KAI. In the absence of the KAI you can get a clue from the following:
Are you more of an innovator? (e.g. Jobs and Musk)? You like the new, boundary pushing, experimental and more unconventional, so minimise the amount of time you spend on working with details, repetition, conformity and regulations.
Are you more of an adaptor? (e.g. Cook and Bezos)? You like being meticulous, careful and organised so typically prefer to minimise risk taking and anything which challenges the status quo.
You are your strategy
Quite often, businesses strategies reflect the preferred problem-solving style of their owners and senior management. After all, isn’t running a business simply a big (and often fun) problem to solve?
Businesses dominated by creative innovators are superb at developing new business and acquiring new customers.
They are less good at keeping those customers when they have them, thus losing opportunities to maintain profit streams over the customers’ lifetime.
Businesses dominated by creative adaptors are great at eking out profits through continuous improvement. They are great at growing through acquisition, improving businesses through disciplined appellation of continuous improvement processes. And once they’ve got a customer, they nurture them (and profit from them) for life.
If it was easy, everyone would do it
The challenge for a business owner is having both adaptors and innovators in the team. Sometimes the problem-solving styles clash and when that happens there’ll be more collision than collaboration.
Under times of stress, when results aren’t coming and problems are mounting, those helpful differences become stones in shoes.
When this happens Adapters view Innovators as:
- Abrasive and insensitive
- Not even aware of the havoc that he/she is creating
- Disturbers of the peace
While, Innovators view Adapters as:
- Stuffy and un-enterprising
- Wedded to systems that are restrictive
To illustrate this further, here is a real example of business partners I supported with opposite personalities -Cindy and Jerome.
Cindy and Jerome have a fight—then make lots of money
“You seem to have a real problem with commitment, “said Jerome.
“The only problem I have, is you,” said Cindy.
Could be a domestic dispute but it comes from the factory not the kitchen.
On the KAI, Cindy is a highly driven innovator. She has twenty years of experience as a senior marketing executive in a global cosmetic business. Her innovative ways of working have brought great success. She has the proof.
Jerome is a highly driven adaptor on the KAI. He has thirty years of experience as a senior manufacturing and operation executive in a global fine chemicals business. His adaptive ways of working have brought great success. He has the proof.
In 2018 and on her 45th birthday Cindy cut the corporate cord and started her own cosmetics business. The launch and first three months reflected Cindy, big picture, energy, and flamboyant. And that flamboyance extended to her spending.
“I was fit and having fun——but failing in my finances. I hated looking at the figures. I knew I was spending a lot, but I was always confident, perhaps too confident, that we’d eventually make everything up with really good sales.”
Cindy did all of the marketing plans (kind of), customer trials and product mixes completed. But she had no manufacturing experience so she recruited Jerome.
Within two weeks, the spats began. Jerome wanted to settle on the final lipstick formulation so he could start to refine the manufacturing process and control costs.
Cindy didn’t want to be tied down.
“We need to respond to the market, make a wide range of products and see what sells,” she said.
“We’ve got six weeks of cash at the current rate of spend. Unless we make at least $120,000 worth of sales in the next month, we won’t be here to respond,” he said.
“It’s too early to decide,” she said.
“It’s nearly too late for you to decide,” said Jerome. “You seem to have a real problem with commitment.“
“The only problem I have, is you,” said Cindy.
The meeting ended and the business almost did too.
However, by recognizing and respecting each other’s problem solving styles, Cindy and Jerome are now able to work together. Cindy turned down the torch on her innovative flame (just a touch), and Jerome modified his manufacturing processes to include a flexible small scale pilot plant. And in late 2021 they turned down an acquisition approach from the world’s largest cosmetics and fragrance company.
Success is the best aphrodisiac
Favourable collaboration outcomes have three pre-requisites
The good news is, all of these three items can be learnt.
You have to know who you are and recognise your peaks and valleys. Then you must recognise the peaks and valleys in others, and seek those who compliment your strengths and weaknesses, not duplicate them.
Finally, your collaboration must lead to success. You can tolerate a lot of diverse thinking in your team if you’re successful, and success is a very powerful aphrodisiac.
About Dr. Jenkins
For over three decades, Dr. Jenkins has proven his expertise in the field of problem-solving leadership and how it applies to strategy, innovation and marketing. He spent the first 20 years of his career in, as we like to say, the real world – helping blue chip companies around the world hone their strategies, marketing and sales efforts, and mergers and acquisitions tactics. He started rioting on his own as an executive coach and consultant 20 years ago for entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs.
Dr. Jenkins is a practitioner of the practical. Does he know the ins and outs of cognitive theory and complex systems science? But of course. More importantly, he knows how to make the theoretical applicable in today’s business world. Everything he does or suggests you do is grounded in common sense.
Reducing stress and risk for executives while increasing their success and confidence (as well as their organisation’s success and confidence in them) is at the core of Dr. Jenkins’ work.