A History of Innovation Styles®

Innovation Styles is a proven, practical approach to help optimize your innovativeness as an individual, group and organization.

The Beginning of Innovation Styles

The Innovation Styles model was first developed by William Miller when he was head of the Innovation Management Program at SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute).

His primary work was to conduct “Innovation Searches” where he would bring together 20-30 technology, market, and other specialists from the SRI staff, along with appropriate senior executives and management from client companies, to produce innovative solutions to client challenges.

His projects included developing innovative business strategies for DuPont’s spun-bonded materials business (Tyvek, etc.), and for Brunswick’s new line of bowling equipment.

At SRI International, some of William’s colleagues were key staff members of the proprietary VALS (Values and Life-Styles) Program, a major competitor to Yankelovich in terms of psycho-demographics of the USA adult population. They asked William to do a study of how the eight different VALS segments of the USA society exercised their abilities to be creative and innovative.


A starting point for William’s thinking was the pioneering work of Michael Kirton in the late 1970's, who first established that people could be equally creative yet have two different "Creative Problem-Solving Styles" - which he called "Adaptor" and "Innovator." 

Kirton's study showed the relationship between the KAI and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI); the primary correlations of the KAI were with the MBTI’s Sensing-Intuiting (S-N) and Judging-Perceiving (J-P) scales. (Thinking-Feeling and Introvert-Extrovert were not highly correlated.)

Kirton’s study showed that the Adaptors were a combination of Sensing/Judging (SJ) and the Innovators were a combination of Intuiting/Perceiving (NP):

VALS had done the first-ever entirely random sampling of the USA adult population using the MBTI, along with their VALS questionnaire – so William had extraordinary data about the MBTI preferences of the statistically distinct VALS segments. William began to lay out the eight VALS groups along the axis of SJ to NP – which simulated the KAI Adaptor – Innovator continuum.

He noticed that there were very distinct VALS groups that had almost the same point along this axis (note: Achievers and Sustainers; I-Am-Me’s and Societally Conscious). He knew that by all psycho-demographics, they just weren’t that alike, so he suspected something was being hidden in using this axis alone.

William experimented with the other two combinations of the S-N and J-P scales: the SP and the NJ. These would be perpendicular to the other combinations, so he put them on a vertical axis and then tabulated the NJ and SP scores for the VALS groups so that he could plot their points in two dimensions instead of one.

William observed how the Sustainers went down due to their SP orientation, while the Achievers went up with their NJ orientation, and how the I-Am-Me’s went down with their SP orientation, whereas the Societally Conscious went up with their NJ orientation. This was William's first breakthrough: that the KAI Adaptor-Innovator survey didn't measure a second important dimension. It is more complete and accurate to say that there are FOUR styles of innovation rather than two.

The Innovation Styles Model

In 1987, William left SRI and started his own consultancy, the Global Creativity Corporation. As he finished formulating the model, he realized a second breakthrough: that the four styles apply to more than just creative problem solving. The four styles are integral to the entire process of innovation, which includes steps such as: setting a goal, assessing risks, developing confidence, analyzing key issues, generating creative options, making decisions, implementing solutions, and evaluating results.

Thus, William termed his discovery "Innovation Styles" to reinforce how they can be applied throughout the entire innovation process, not just generating creative ideas. He named the four Innovation Styles: Visioning, Exploring, Modifying and Experimenting.

The Innovation Styles model has the two key variables (the “X”) similar to the S-N and J-P scales of MBTI. They relate to:
(1) “What kind of information stimulates your innovative thinking?” – Facts, details, and analysis or Intuition, insights and images;
(2) “How do you approach challenges?” – Focused, well-planned, and outcome-oriented or Broad, perceptive, and learning-oriented.


As William began to introduce this Innovation Styles model to clients (such as Pillsbury, Procter and Gamble, Shell Canada), he used the MBTI to identify people into style groups. But his clients insisted that he should develop his own questionnaire to assess innovation and change strategies.

In the fall of 1987, while teaching a course on “Creativity” at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, William began to formulate and test an Innovation Styles self-assessment. He gave the questionnaire to an initial 375 people in Canada, England, Singapore, and the USA – all English-speaking, but from different cultures – and had the results analyzed by a well-known specialist in social research: Paul Ray, author of The Cultural Creatives.

The result was a well-validated self-assessment with 28 items. Click here to download a copy of the original validation study.

In 2006, a second validation study was conducted using a data base of over 4,000 corporate professionals who had taken the ISP on-line. The results reconfirmed the Innovation Styles model. New items, based on observations of individual and team tendencies related to the Innovation Styles, are currently being tested as possible additions to the core ISP items.

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