Adaptability in this Technological age

Dr. Brendan O'Brien

There is a “new kid” in town, a new meaning to examine, and a new concept to explore. That is the Adaptability Intelligence quotient: AQ. Something which is going to become increasingly part of the improved understanding on how to navigate this complex world we inhabit. This metric defines the ability to tolerate failure, to learn, relearn and unlearn, to demonstrate flexibility and curiosity, to delay personal gratification, exhibit refocused resilience and increase problem solving skills.

venn diagram showing adaptability quotient vs eq vs iq

All of these attributes have been previously included in varying forms, under the umbrella of Emotional Intelligence: EQ. Due to the rapid ongoing societal technological evolution we are part of, we contend (in Creative Thinking Institute: CTI) that these subgroups are best, to be re-evaluated under their own metric, that is the Adaptability Intelligence Quotient. In essence, we propose that AQ has well and truly emerged from the EQ bubble as its own separate important entity. This is needing to be evaluated in an inclusive way, which is very relevant to today, in this current and future Covid-19 environment surrounding us. Indeed, in this ultra-competitive world, financial, legal and accounting corporations as well as medical institutions, continually require their teams of employees to be able to pivot, refocus their intent and develop new decisions, new plans and new directions or diagnoses, rapidly and effectively. The new “agility” is widespread “corporate adaptability”.

Indeed increasingly, Fortune 500 companies are interviewing new employees with a specific eye towards Adaptability- who will be able to adjust the best, pivot the easiest and take others with them to benefit the company as a whole through times of transition and change. Who can do all of this with competent, inclusive, empowering leadership skills? We at CTI believe, that while your IQ gets you through your course, and your EQ gets you through your interview and early career success, it is your AQ level which ultimately will determine how far you advance in positions of leadership in your career. This may initially appear to be somewhat artificial, but the reality may be that AQ is the more important domain in our world. Give it some thought. How is your AQ?

Today’s short learning cycles require employees to be able to unlearn, relearn and most importantly be able to handle failure readily and efficiently and move on. Our research is looking to take this concept further, examining the correlation of EQ and AQ with changing stress and performance levels. There may be some newly observable associations in the medical and corporate professions during task orientated and general medical, surgical or corporate activities, which objectively relate to one’s intrinsic EQ / AQ ratios. In addition, the intersection of all quotients AQ/ IQ/EQ is where our true Performance assessment lies(PQ)- more on this in future posts.

chart showing adaptive personality subtypes

Adaptive personality subtypes would appear to be what’s needed. This appears closely correlated with the requirement for medical or corporate professionals to learn new techniques, adapt to adverse patient or client outcomes, develop refocused resilience against the unexpected and reapply this knowledge in an ever-changing medical or corporate framework.

The specific aspect of tolerating failure needs to be addressed. Given that this human reality has been in part disregarded due to the intense effects of the ever present medical or corporate litigation that can quickly follow adverse outcomes. Human error, leading to patient /client complications is not tolerated, by all parties. This is understandable, as standards should always be as high as possible. But in order to combat increasing levels of burnout, there is an important need for workers to demonstrate adaptability to real patient / client outcomes.

Specifically, two components of stress decompensation, in the form of emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation, as measured by Maslach, may be due in part, to a low Adaptability Quotient: AQ. As studies have shown, EQ can be partly increased through specific educational interventions, we hypothesise that increases in AQ will also be amenable to carefully crafted educative efforts. Thus, our hypothesis, which is currently being tested, is that major inroads can be made to improve stress management in physicians / corporate leaders through programs specifically aimed at creating improvements in the combined EQ/ AQ interface. Such programs may subsequently improve excessive stress levels and improve patient / client outcomes through better decision making.

In the past, the term AQ was used to describe the Adversity quotient (=AdvQ). This concept was introduced by P G Stoltz in the 1990’s. He has since written extensively, with great merit, on the subject of corporate resilience and the assessment and improvement of an individual’s ability to respond to adverse events in their career and life in general. The central aspects relevant in the overall assessment of an Adversity Quotient (AdvQ) have been recently outlined in a carefully constructed article by Li Bingquan et al, in Psychology and Behavioural sciences (2019).

In their assessment of the Adversity Quotient score (AdvQ comparing such with that of work by P. G. Stoltz), and the development of their validated scoring regime, they stated, it is important to assess additional factors that define the subsequent responses after adversity. They utilised six subcategories to structure their position. These were in the cognitive, behavioural and emotional domains, looking at reactions of an individual to adversity (relating to Chinese college students). This referred to the cognitive understanding and secondary adoption of a positive or negative performance reaction to an adverse event or life situation. Also specifically assessed were an individuals’ “responsibility” responses, sense of mission, “tenacious” volition and positive goal orientated response to an adversity. These subgroups relate to one’s focus, decision making skills and ability to be self-aware. More aligned to some original EQ attributes. This construction of an Adversity score (AdvQ) in relation to the assessment of Chinese college students does have significant merit.

In our current society, the response to adverse situations or negative life outcomes is a significant differentiating factor in one’s successful negotiation of the numerous learning hurdles of life.However, what we at CTI are intending to measure is ones’ adaptability to adverse events. Hence the term Adaptability Quotient, AQ, may be more appropriate in describing these essential coping metrics. As such, the AQ as described by CTI, would appear to be more inclusive of the importance of learning and unlearning following a college or university tertiary degree. Also, increasingly recognised in this rapidly progressive technological age, is that the time frame of knowledge relevance is shortening to 4-5 years (from 10 yrs).

When referring to stress management / burnout prevention in the medical / corporate professional cohort, there has also been a reaction to the frequent use of the term resilience. Do we need to completely avoid any implied suggestion of weakness or lack of fortitude?

What is relevant here, is that we do need to step back and incorporate a wide lens view of the sphere of AQ. Resilience is very important in handling failure or unexpected adverse outcomes but has in part been over-emphasised as the only concept at play. We need to see resilience, as only one attribute of the overall dynamic and its importance needs to be refocused in the wider setting of the Adaptability subset and all other AQ concepts.

Studies in the UK reveal that medical students, start off their training as some of the most resilient tertiary students ever tested. But this can decrease over the subsequent years of their medical training. This is an active area of current research and needs to be tackled in a concerted manner. Why are they becoming less resilient over time and how can this be averted? Perhaps one reason is the specific training focus on the prevention of failure or bad decisions.

Does this in some way contribute to avoidance type reactive behaviours rather than a more balanced realisation and acceptance of all of one’s own limitations in skill. Emphasising the need for ongoing structured mentoring, guidance and coaching training.Whilst, recent research has revealed that the best conditions for learning involve 85-90% successful decisions and 10-15 % failure, are we holding workpeople of the medical and corporate arenas to a different less realistic measure?

In summary, it is already clear, that those in high positions of leadership in today’s corporate or medical worlds are required to possess and readily demonstrate, a high EQ. Increasingly, attention needs to also be focussed on the requirements to develop improved AQ in one’s leadership qualities, “en route to the C suite” or similar levels across other professions. It is our belief, that attaining greater leadership career abilities specifically depends on having a high AQ. The combined aspects of a leader with a high EQ and high AQ create an engaged empathetic leader, prepared to act cohesively in the best interests of the organisation as a whole. But particularly, also able to demonstrate this for the individual employee as a specific essential co-member.

This could be one of the focal points to training the physicians / corporate leaders of the future. At CTI, we would like to think, undergraduate and post graduate professional training should routinely incorporate the continued education of EQ / AQ qualities in a profession specific environment. This is the future we should all be aiming for. This is the future Creative Thinking Institute wants to help foster and one we will be an active contributor to.

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