The Adaptability Quotient

The inevitability and rapid pace of change in our world means we have to reconsider how we assess the suitability of people to particular jobs and career paths. In the past, intelligence was considered critical for career success, so employers focussed on IQ (intelligence quotient) tests for assessing that attribute.

But IQ tests are flawed. The questions are typically culturally biased with many experts denouncing them, saying the only thing a high IQ test result represents is a strong aptitude to completing IQ tests.

More recently, Emotional Quotient (EQ) has become popular. Although EQ has been around since the 1960s, it took hold in corporate environments during the early 2000s. EQ measures the capability of individuals to recognise their own emotions and those of others. And while there’s no strong science suggesting a strong causal relationship, high EQ scores correlate with greater mental health, job performance, and leadership skills.

Yet when we look to the future, determining the suitability and likelihood of success of an individual is unlikely to be accurately predicted from their EQ either. Something more is needed.

In a world where change happens daily, the ability to form new neural pathways, integrate and use new data, accept stimuli from previously unknown sources and the capacity to learn fast will become key skills. The measurement of this ability to adapt quickly is measured through the Adaptability Quotient (AQ).

The evolution of AQ is a natural consequence of the changing business and social environment. During the 1950s, processes and engineering were central to workplaces. So, being outcome or task focused was critical – hence the focus on IQ.

By the early 2000s, as the Internet took hold as a core place of business, understanding people and behaviour became more important. That service-led movement and an increased focus on the importance of collaboration led to EQ’s popularity, pushing IQ down the list of important workplace attributes.

Now, as we enter the third decade of the millennium, the pace of change has accelerated exponentially. The ability to adapt by learning new skills, accepting new data that might contradict previous understanding, rejecting old assumptions that no longer hold water and availability of new tools and methodologies have all usurped EQ and IQ.

Albert Einstein said “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking”.

The challenge, therefore, is to find ways to change how we think. And while many of us have worked with people who have struggled to adapt to change, the good news is that creating the required flexibility to improve your AQ is possible and easier than trying to increase your IQ or EQ.

One way to change your AQ is to reconsider the way you approach a problem. For example, workplace automation through software, industrial robots and other tools has led to a significant change in the industrial landscape. In many cases, the call has been to protect the jobs of workers.

What if, instead of protecting the jobs, the focus is changed to protecting the workers.

In Sweden, for example, the government provides healthcare and free education, while job-training programs are provided by employers so that workers are prepared for new jobs. Workers are supported as they develop new ways to think about their roles and assisted with developing new skills.

In contrast, countries that lack access to free healthcare and education find themselves unable to adapt quickly as new technologies arrive and they can’t support their workforce to adapt.

The ability to adapt can be seen at the organisational level as well, and it’s a professional role I predict will grow in prevalence in the future. When digital photography was in its infancy, the market leader in film photography, Kodak, steadfastly refused to believe the business model that had served them for almost a century needed to change. Within a decade, the company was in tatters and of course is now a frequently referenced case study in how to fail. A Chief Adaptability Officer may arguably have been able to alter the course of Kodak’s history.

In contrast, other old businesses such as General Electric and IBM have continually changed and adapted as the business world changed.

In the 1980s, a computer had to be “IBM compatible” to be considered for an office. By the mid-2000s, IBM sold off its PC division to Lenovo and focussed on developing large cloud data centres.

Modern workplaces, built around large office spaces where workforces convene each day are also disappearing. As the number of freelancers increases and the nature of work means the need to be in a specific place diminishes, new co-working spaces are developing where workers can go when they need an office, form communities that share knowledge and resources, and move as needed depending on the need of their clients at a point in time.

The concept of long-term leases is changing as co-working, and even co-living, takes hold. Adapting to that change, both for companies and for workers requires a rethink of the nature of work. Increasingly, work will be a thing you do rather than a place you go.

The ability to assimilate new data and accept that what was correct yesterday might not be right today is critical. People and businesses with a strong AQ will be the ones that persist into the 21st century. An anti-disciplinarian approach will play a strong role in this.

The ability to do things faster than ever before is a great opportunity. Never before have we been able to experiment and learn as we can today.

To improve your AQ, you need to acknowledge change is needed and take ownership of the situation. Develop a plan to adapt to the new situation and then execute the plan.

Unlike IQ and EQ, you can improve your AQ by using the familiar gap analysis process. But it starts by recognising that what you’re doing today is unlikely to keep working in the future.

We are now in the early stages of the fourth Industrial Revolution and the pace of innovation and disruption is accelerating. The world’s population is swelling and the Internet, low-cost air travel and telecommunications are making the world smaller.

All of those factors, as well as the accelerating pace of climate change, changes in the geopolitical landscape and technological innovation, mean our capacity to adapt, or AQ, is fast becoming a critical skill.