Modern Work & the Adaptability Quotient

November 4th, 2019
Modern workers are always looking for that little something extra to help them forge ahead in their careers. Whether you're a mechanic, a salesperson, or a surgeon, making moves in your chosen field was always thought to be a combination of smarts and hard work. As it turns out, however, additional capacity may also be needed. Along with regular and emotional intelligence, the adaptability quotient (AQ) has recently been recognised as a key driver of success.

There are many elements to success, including knowledge, experience, and creativity. Despite this multiplicity, the intelligence quotient (IQ) test was one of the only ways to measure human workplace capacity until very recently. An IQ test measures things like memory, analytical thinking, and mathematical ability, with these qualities integral to many jobs. More recently, emotional intelligence (EQ) has entered the mix, which is broadly characterised as your interpersonal, self-regulation, and communication skills.

However, while your IQ and EQ both play an important role in your working life, the new AQ indicator is a better indicator of your long-term performance. In today's fast-paced world, your AQ is important as a subjective set of qualities that define how well you react when subjected to fast and frequent changes. Both throughout your working day and your working career, your AQ is your capacity to absorb new information, make changes where needed, and overcome the challenges that get in your way.

How well you react to the changing world is an important element in your long-term success. According to a recent IBM study, 120 million people in the world’s 12 largest economies may need to be re-skilled due to automation alone. In order to meet and overcome these technological challenges, a flexible and agile mindset is required. According to Natalie Fratto, a New York-based vice-president at Goldman Sachs, “IQ is the minimum you need to get a job, but AQ is how you will be successful over time.”

According to Amy Edmondson, a professor of leadership and management at Harvard Business School, intelligence, emotional intelligence, and adaptability can be understood on a linear path. While all three elements co-exist with iteration and complex feedback, it's your IQ that helps you study, your EQ that helps at the interview, and your AQ that helps with promotions and career changes. With career paths shifting before our very eyes, those unable to adapt are likely to get left out in the cold.

The three quotients are also complementary at any one time, with novel hiring decisions, flexible job titles, and the new gig economy highlighting the importance of workplace adaptation. According to the IBM study, the most sought after behavioural skill at job interviews is a “willingness to be flexible, agile and adaptable to change”. In order to improve your AQ, you should ask yourself lots of “what if” questions, learn to unlearn outdated information, and enjoy exploring new territory and seeking out new experiences.