Friday, 26 November 2010

4 legs good, 2 legs bad

George Orwell created a dystopian vision of the future in his 1945 novel 'Animal Farm'.  Pigs are praised and humans are banished.

I think of the novel every time I hear people discussing the work of Michael Kirton on cognitive style.  Innovators are praised and adaptors are shunned by many who are new to the KAI inventory.  Kirton wrote that each has a different approach to problem solving, neither good nor bad, just different.

Who would you rather be: Steve Jobs or Bill Gates?

In the 20th century Microsoft was the dominant player with Bill Gates making enough money to put him near the top of the Rich List and many scorned Apple as the maker of kindergarten machines that didn't run many computer games.

Both of these men creatively swiped ideas from the work of Rank Xerox at Palo Alto.  However they trod different paths.  Bill Gates steadily adapted the Windows format and added features by buying the work of successful small companies.  He told small business people who trained and serviced Microsoft products "I plan to get rich by making you rich".   From his lawyer father he learnt the power of the small print in contracts.  Entrepreneurs who dealt with him sometimes made the mistake of not checking the paperwork thoroughly before signing and discovered that in tough times Microsoft contracts might mean 'heads we win, tails you lose'.

Steve Jobs used brilliant people like Steve Wozniak to design new products from the bottom up.  His incomplete education and detour through a calligraphy course led him to focus strongly on aesthetics.  Apple had a tiny share of the market and lots of problems.  They launched products that disappeared without trace.  Apple Stores seemed targeted at the top end of the market and struggled to cater to any market successfully.

If I asked them to take the KAI inventory I bet Gates would feature at the adaptor end of the scale and Jobs at the innovator end.  They've both solved lots of problems, but in very different ways.

Now in the 21st century, Jobs is the successful developer of NeXT and Pixar Animation, before returning to Apple to launch the iPod, iPhone and iPad.  When I ask the same question today, the choice isn't so clear cut.  Both men are seriously rich and successful.

In the personal computing world there is an element of '4 legs good, 2 legs bad' and Apple fanatics may refer to Bill Gates as the Prince of Darkness.  With the advent of dual platforms and interchangeability of software, the hostility is less marked.

Michael Kirton has added another dimension to managing diversity.  Above all he has highlighted the difference in what people need to thrive in problem solving:  the amount of structure and consensus in agreeing that structure.

More posts on Steve Jobs here.


  1. Suzanne,
    Thank you for a very useful article about Kirton's theory and the example of Animal Farm.
    All the best,

  2. John

    Thanks for your feedback. I enjoyed your piece about Kirton and conflict resolution.