Another Look At Creativity Styles: Reporting On Research and A New Question

by Marci Segal

In the early literature, a survey of studies relating the MBTI to creativity showed a tendency for N’s, especially NP’s to be considered more creative than S’s and SJ’s (Myers & McCaulley p. 214 – 221, Myers, McCaulley, Quenk, Hammer, 1998 p. 191 – 194).

Support for intuitive perception as being the more creative function was also given in a review of Dr. Donald MacKinnon’s (1978) study. When MacKinnon’s research was being conducted, creativity was thought to be demonstrated through divergent thinking characterized by…thought processes that radiate outward, visualize, generate and explore new ideas, options and possibilities.” (Carson & Runco, 1999).

Dr. Paul Torrance (1961) wrote that divergent thinking is characterized through a combination of four components: fluency of ideas, flexibility of the kinds of ideas, originality of the ideas generated and elaboration on other ideas. Divergent thinking ability, the capability to generate these kinds of ideas, was highly regarded as the indicator of an individual’s creativity quotient. With that in mind, it is not surprising that creativity was equated with the divergent thinking described above and that it was highly related to preferences for N and P.

Dr. Michael Kirton (1976, 1986, 1989, 1999) points out that this early research focused on creativity, style, rather than creative ability. Kirton separated one’s style of creativity from level of creative accomplishment. Creative accomplishment can be defined in many ways: peer evaluation, life history, success in developing a creative product and having others appreciate it and so on. A simple definition used in the field of creative studies defines a creative product as something that is new and relevant to its context.

Kirton defined creativity as the capacity for initiating change. As a result, views of human creativity have shifted away from evaluating how much creativity a person has to describe how and in what ways a person is creative. His instrument, the Kirton Adaptor Innovator Inventory (KAI), helps people find their creating styles and how they use them to initiate a change that is both new and relevant to their context.

Kirton’s styles are called Adaptive Creativity and Innovative Creativity. He has taken the liberty to put his own meaning to the word innovation in this regard. Briefly, innovative creativity changes the status quo in revolutionary ways. Adaptive creativity maintains the status quo and improves its systems in an evolutionary fashion.

Dr. Kirton supports the notion that all people have creative ability — and that these abilities are different in style and approach. He defines creativity as problem solving, decision making and initiating change within measures of role and group conformity, efficiency and originality factors.

In his book Positive Turbulence, Dr. Stan Gryskiewicz, gives an example of the difference of these two styles. He talks about each approach to solving the Rubik’s cube (p. 179)

“Most people, following the directions, rearrange the different parts until, sometimes hours later, they have gotten one-color faces. These individuals follow the adaptor approach. The other group, practicing the innovative style, disregards the directions; they pull apart the individual pieces and reassemble them, or peel off the color decals and reposition the – getting the same results as the adaptors.”

Dr. Teresa Amabile at Harvard (1983) describes the creative person as having the following attributes:

  1. expertise in a domain
  2. creativity skills such as independence, flexibility, perseverance and risk taking
  3. Liking the task or work.

Amabile’s thesis also supports the opinion that all people have creative ability.

Some continue to argue that creativity rests solely in the domain of intuiting and research to support this exists. Gryskiewicz (1981) shows that Kirton’s innovative style of creativity correlates with N and P while the adaptive style relates to S and J. The research in the MBTI Manual (1998) also supports this finding. This research however, may be flawed because reported MBTI type rather than true type was used in the analysis and reporting.

Research presented by Stephanie Rogers at APT XII (1997) demonstrated that SP’s are less likely to score true type when they interact with the MBTI. Through intensive interviews with SP’s who scored different from their type on the MBTI Rogers discovered that SP’s respond to questions intended to discern other preferences.

Both Form G and Form M of the MBTI are reliable instruments. Yet, the type community is aware that people may choose responses different from their own for a variety of reasons. As such type practitioners practice the ethic of having respondents self-select their preferences prior to their receiving their reports. If the reports are different from the self-select, respondents are encouraged to select the type that best fits their experience — and this may not be the type reported. The authors of the instrument insisted “there is no piece of paper that knows you better than yourself”, taking into account the environmental and emotional conditions as influencing factors which may impact the way people respond to the questions as they complete the form. The research reported by Gryskiewicz uses test type rather than true type. If the research had been done with true type the findings may have come out differently.

The following tables outline descriptors of Kirton’s styles, characteristics of each of the four temperaments, labeled with their corresponding MBTI type preference letters, and descriptions of the preferences for S-N and J-P dichotomies. By comparing the overlaps and similarities among the descriptors, one can begin to theorize that perhaps Kirton’s Innovative style also encompasses SP or Artisan Temperament. Further, rather than thinking of the KAI as an SN dichotomy instrument, we may begin to appreciate it as a JP indicator. Or, in others words, an indicator of which of the two cognitive processes, judging or perceiving, is extraverted.

Table 1: Characteristics of Kirton’s styles (1999, p.34)

High Adaptors In response to problems is seen by others as: High Innovator In response to problems is seen by others as:
Precise, reliable, master of detail; conforming, methodical, prudent; (hence) often pedestrian Thinking tangentially, approaching tasks from unsuspected angles; (hence) often undisciplined, inefficient
Seeking solutions to problems in tried and understood ways Often querying the problem’s basic assumptions; manipulates problems
Solves problems by use of rule Solves problems despite rule
Maintaining continuity, stability and group cohesion; taking too tight and in-group view Being a catalyst to settled groups & consensual views; radical but abrasive, creating dissonance
Being an improver –> Being a mold-breaker — often challenging rules, customs and consensual views Over-cautious Reckless

Producing a (manageable) few relevant, sound, safe ideas for prompt implementation

Producing many ideas including those seen as irrelevant, unsound, exciting, “blue sky”, “new dawn”


Table 2: Characteristics of the four temperaments are adapted from Berens, Linda V., Understanding Yourself and Others: An Introduction to Temperament, 1998 p24-25.

Idealist Rational Guardian Artisan
Need Unique Identity Competence Belonging Freedom
Interacts Through Recognition Knowledge Service Impact
Communication Style Dramatic Scholarly Factual Colorful
Communicates with Metaphors, universals Conditionals, precise definitions Comparatives, measurments Anecdotes, questions
At work, promotes Growth Efficiency Structure Opportunity
Career focus Ideas & causes Ideas & models People- Caretaking Services People- Impacting
Leads by Giving praise Developing strategies Administering Taking action
Best Environment Expressive/ personal Innovative/ intellectual Organized/ secure Stimulating/ variety
Stressors Betrayal Incompetence Insubordination Boredom
Motto “To thine own self be true” “Be excellent in all things” “Early to bed, early to rise” “Carpe diem”


Table 3: Preference dichotomy descriptions for Sensing-iNtuiting (Adapted from Myers et al 1998 p. 6, 24)

(S) Sensing (N) iNtuiting
Focusing mainly on what can be perceived through the five senses Focusing mainly on perceiving patterns and relationships
Observable facts Meanings and possibilities that have been worked out beyond the reach of the conscious mind
Establishes what exists Sudden discovery of patterns
Realistic Theoretical
Acute powers of observation Perception beyond what is visible
Memory for details Imaginative
Practical Abstract


Table 4: Preference dichotomy descriptions for Judging-Perceiving (Adapted from Myers et al 1998 p. 6, 24)

(J) Judging (P) Perceiving
Preferring the decisiveness and closure that result from dealing with the outer world Preferring the flexibility and spontaneity that results from dealing with the outer world
Seeks closure Suspend judgement
Organizes activities Attuned to incoming information
Shuts off perception as soon as enough information is gathered Open, curious, interested
Plans operations Spontaneous, adaptable
  Open to what is new and changeable

Kirton’s styles (Table 1) may be more related to which of the functions is extraverted.

Summary: All people have creative ability, and express it in accord with their personal style. The research comparing type to the Kirton styles may be flawed because it is based on test-type rather than true type. Further research is recommended to test if investigate “true type” in relation to KAI scores shows the results earlier found. Further research investigating the relationship of the Innovator and Adaptor styles with the temperament patterns and with the J-P dichotomy.


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