Glop Shop: Demonstrating Conative Theory

The ancient philosophers theorized that there were three aspects of the mind: cognitive, affective, and conative.

The cognitive refers to those things that you know, or things that you think.  Although everyone has an innate aptitude for cognitive reasoning, it is certainly true that reasoning skills can be improved with education.  It is already widely acknowledged that when building effective teams, it is necessary to have people with cognitive skills that match the task(s) at hand.

The affective refers to those things that you feel and things that you value.  According to some affective personality assessment instruments (such as Myers-Briggs), everyone has affective dispositions, such as introversion or extroversion.  However, these are not necessarily stable over time.  Certainly feelings and values can change, and so can other aspects of personality.  Although Universities typically focus on developing the cognitive aspects of the mind, sometimes higher education will also address the affective.  Unfortunately, when working in teams, feelings become much more important than most people are trained to understand, especially when confronting obstacles to interpersonal communication, conflicting motives, or what are sometimes called personality conflicts.

The conative aspect of the mind is the least well understood, but may be the most important.  Conation refers to those things you will actually do when striving (Kolbe 2002).  Everyone has innate (or instinctive) behavioral modes of action when confronted with a problem or working towards a goal.  Failing to acknowledge these individual instincts when building teams can result in disappointment, frustration and conflict because people can be counted on to perform at their best only when they are free to act as themselves.

Because conation is the aspect of the mind that deals directly with action, it is possible for actual behavior to be out of alignment with thinking and feeling.  For example, I know (cognitive) how to be organized.  I value (affective) being organized, and I feel good (affective) when I am organized.  But I just won’t be organized (conative).  That doesn’t mean I’m irrational!  It simply means that I’m instinctive, like all people.

You might ask, “Well… why won’t he get organized?   Why is he always making changes to the syllabus or the class schedule?   Why doesn’t he keep his calendar more up-to-date?  Doesn’t he know (cognitive) how this makes other people feel (affective) when he is late for appointments?”

The answer is that organization does not come easily to me.  My conative instinct is to adapt, not to plan (or stick to a plan).  My instinct for adaptation is a strength in situations that are surprising, such as when the rules or other circumstances change.  However, I instinctively resist patterning and organizing (and filling out paperwork, like forms).  To do these things requires me to override my instincts, and that takes a lot more energy from me than it does for people who instinctively do these things.

To help me understand my individual instincts, I used an assessment instrument called the Kolbe A™ Index that characterizes conative strengths in Four Action Modes® on a scale from 1 (most resistant) to 10 (most insistent).  According to

“(Conative) instincts are not measurable. However, the observable acts derived from them can be identified and quantified by the Kolbe A™ Index. These instinct-driven behaviors are represented in the four Kolbe Action Modes:

  • Fact Finder (FF) – the instinctive way we gather and share information.
  • Follow Through (FT) – the instinctive way we arrange and design..
  • Quick Start (QS) – the instinctive way we deal with risk and uncertainty.
  • Implementor (I) – the instinctive way we handle space and tangibles.

“The Kolbe A Index result is a graphical representation of an individual’s instinctive method of operation, or modus operandi (MO). The numbers in each Action Mode represent different points on a continuum, rather than relative values. Each point on the continuum indicates a positive trait. There is no such thing as a negative or “bad” Kolbe Index result.”

The figure below is a visual representation of my conative strengths.  Because the most insistent trait is Quick Start (QS), my index is characteristic of someone that is experimental, innovative and willing to challenge the status quo.  However, I also initiate in Fact Finder (FF), which indicates that I will use my QS to try new things just for the sake of learning what happens (which is very true).

The Kolbe A Index is a visual and quantitative representation of conative strengths. (Kolbe A and the Kolbe Actions Modes are registered trademarks of Kolbe Corp.)

Scores between 1-3 are resistant, which indicates behavior that prevents problems.  (Resistance is an important conative strength!)  Scores between 4-6 are accommodative, which indicates behavior that will work with both insistent and resistant teammates.  (Accommodation is an important conative strength, because these facilitators hold the team together!)  Lastly, scores between 7-10 are insistent, indicating behavior that initiates solutions.  (Insistence is an important conative strength, too!)

According to the Kolbe Wisdom, it’s important to emphasize that lower scores are not “weaknesses,” just different strengths.  My resistant Implementor means that I will not instinctively devise tangible, mechanical solutions.  However, I will be able to conceptualize solutions, portray concepts symbolically, and deal with abstractions.

According to the Kolbe Statistical Handbook, “an initiating Quick Start will most likely succeed at tasks which require an individual to:QS strengths(and) an initiating Fact Finder will most likely succeed at tasks which require an individual to:

FF strengths

Not all projects require these sorts of tasks all the time.  Therefore, effective teams will need a diverse array of conative strengths.  If they have too many people with similar profiles, they may feel very good about the quick agreement they reach with their teammates, but they won’t be productive.  Important parts of a project may go neglected, such as when a group of insistent Fact Finders spend too much time on research without producing results.  On the other hand, if they have too many people with contrasting profiles, they will experience conflict.  (See for a glossary of terms related to conation).

Kathy Kolbe, who also founded Kolbe Corp, has designed an exercise called “Glop Shop” that helps people understand conation by observing people solving problems that require action and interaction, but can’t be solved by experience or learned behaviors.   In this series of videos, Ms. Kolbe interprets the Kolbe A Indexes for three students in my Engineering Business Practices class at Arizona State University.  Each student completed the Kolbe assessment, but was otherwise unknown to Ms. Kolbe.  The three students, Jason, Helene, and Travis, were asked to wait in the hall while she shared her interpretations of their conative strengths and made predictions about how they would behave while working together with a random assortment of miscellaneous materials.

When the students come back into the room, Ms. Kolbe instructed them to try and build a prototype of a new game.  (Building a tangible model is something that an insistent Implementor will instinctively do, but resistant Implementors may experience conative stress by being asked to behave in ways that are against their instincts).

As you watch the video, look for behaviors that match (or contradict) the conative predictions.  You’ll see cartoon bubble captions appear when predicted behaviors are exhibited.

The audience, (and the three participants) usually go from skepticism to realization as they see the predicted behaviors demonstrated in real time, right before their eyes.  But because the three people participating are typically experiencing conative stress, it’s important for Ms. Kolbe to reassure them that they haven’t really failed at anything – they’ve simply been acting naturally.

After the students finish the exercise, Ms. Kolbe asked the audience to share their observations.

Knowledge of conation has profound implications for teamwork, education, and business organizations because people are most productive when working on tasks that align well with their conative strengths.  Unfortunately, when people are asked to work against their conative strengths, they sometimes blame themselves for failing.  They might feel they are stupid, lazy, or lack willpower — when none of these things are true.  In fact, when people are asked to work against their strengths, the conative stress can be so overwhelming that they will experience adverse physical symptoms (as well as low productivity).

One of the most powerful insights provided by conative theory is the realization that everyone is better off when we all have the freedom to be ourselves.

Kolbe K. 1990. The Conative Connection, Addison-Wesley.
Kolbe, K. 2004. Powered by Instinct , Monumentus Press.

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1 thought on “Glop Shop: Demonstrating Conative Theory

  1. Jonathan Edgington

    The glob shop YouTube videos were a great demonstration of just how accurate the Kolbe index works.
    The support in understanding how a team will respond to each other is very critical when constraints exist on the projects projected objectives or targets for success.


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