Sunday, June 21, 2020

Adaptability Quotient (AQ): The new leading intelligence?

 “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” 
- Albert Einstein

I.    Adaptability

Adaptability Quotient, or AQ, is the measurable study of the most basic of our human talents: the ability to change on purpose.  Adaptability is a form of intelligence with increasing importance for work and recruitment in times of unprecedented change; AQ is the intelligence scale that can measure, test, and improve aptitude and skills.  It asks not how much people know, but how well they manipulate information, including ability to unlearn what is no longer productive.  It infuses exploration into thinking and work, asking, in business competition, “What might kill you next?”

It is the key to evolution described by Darwin, who focused on adaptability to changing environments as more important to species survival than strength or intelligence, as in “adapt or die.”   Evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman describes responsiveness to change as part of human cultural evolution, beyond physical anthropology.  Culture is the sum of ideas and practices passed on between human generations, being the baseline—a received value system—for creative problem-solving and innovation. Collective intelligence is not static but evolutionary, and personal intelligence likewise morphs to carry us across the adult development chart from birth.
Forbes’ “Adapt or Die” (2013) whitepaper defines AQ as: “the ability to adjust course, product, service, and strategy in response to unanticipated changes in the market.” While the Forbes definition is  business-orientated, Martin, Nejad, Colmar, and Liem in their article "Adaptability: How Students' Responses to Uncertainty and Novelty Predict Their Academic and Non-Academic Outcomes” (2013) defined AQ more broadly as “the capacity to adjust one’s thoughts and behaviors in order to effectively respond to uncertainty, new information, or changed circumstances."

According to Harvard Business Review, adaptability is “The new competitive advantage for the 21st century.” (2011)   In Fast Company in 2018, Natalie Fratto reported that “adaptability quotient will soon become the primary predictor of success [in business, exceeding] general intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ – Goleman’s term).” 

Stuart Parkin (2010) defines AQ as the ability to perceive when change is occurring, ability to come to terms with new demands--and then to identify opportunities to seize on--not just for survival but leveraging new circumstances to thrive.  Parkin uses the example of Moore’s Law from computing as a model of constant innovation needed to assess and meet ongoing change. When we change successfully, the reward of neurochemicals to the brain gives us the motivation to pursue creative solutions to what stresses us out. The World Health Organization calls stress “the number-one health epidemic of the 21st century.” Much of stress is, full circle, the outcome of trying to adapt to change under the constraints of uncertainty, which blocks our decision-making confidence.

Stress is the mental-health problem that fast emerges when efficacy fails us; as in the crisis we experience, either personal or world-wide, when things don’t go as planned – the Covid crisis is now our Crisis #1.  It has caused a confidence rift in our individual sense of competence, extending out to local, national, and world systems, while forcing all of these to be rapidly re-assessed and adapted.  A visible instance is the business case of restaurants either converting to take-out or opting to close completely, a decision between quite different business models.  Parking-lot dining al fresco is a third adaptation.

In 2012, in HR Magazine, Jo Ayoubi set out AQ as a skill-set predisposition to:
1)     Quickly appreciate when change is happening
2)     Test and experiment early and often, beyond products and services, to examine business models, process, and strategies [as systems]
3)     Manage stakeholders and relationships, especially within multinationals
4)     Motivate and lead in rapidly changing environments

The whole question of adaptability will be getting a global workaround in the coming months and years, because major changes are more about adaptability than conventional “best practices” that can be known, measured, and evaluated by historical precedent or status quo.  This will be a new ball game.   Including the meaning of competence for customer service systems as they adjust to new measures of efficacy for the customer experience based on flexibility and based around the need for just-in-time information.
For individuals, adaptability creates a new dimension for applying and measuring intelligence under the “press” of rapid change and novel circumstances.  This pressure may raise awareness that agile expert systems are more necessary than ever for effective problem solving, and consumers of everything from coffee to higher education might feel relieved of their ongoing need to think they can handle problems using just their own resources and wits.

II.    Disruption
Off-plan problem-solving is essential to dealing with disruptions, unplanned-for change versus long-term planning outcomes.  Human beings respond first to fear rather than rationality, because that’s the way the mind responds to any urgent need for changed behavior.  This happens when weak signals (that something is wrong and needs fixing) become stronger and harder to ignore (something must be done now). 
AQ is a mental practice that people take up not because they want to, but when forced to by extraordinary events.  It is a form of off-plan thinking, the route the crew of Apollo 13 had to follow when their oxygen tank blew up on the way to the moon in 1970.  Anytime the rules change mid-game is when we are forced to reset our approach to the hierarchy of ideas—what is most important, what is urgent or less urgent, and possibly the very nature of our mission.  For Apollo, it meant re-imagining the mission from the original moon landing to returning to earth.
Likewise, in AQ testing, subjects are asked to imagine disaster scenarios in which their main income stream dries up suddenly, or a climate change cuts off customers (Fratto).  “What if” questions introduce these or a like unprecedented disruption that interrupts the comfort of previous learning to impose a totally different knowledge set as the next database of operations.  The leading questions then become:

How well can you manipulate new information?  How quickly can you pivot to let go of old assumptions that are no longer reliable, but actually mislead your thinking in irrelevant directions?  How good is your ability to learn from failure and experiment with options almost 

An applied answer is the difference between how Blockbuster and Netflix looked at the market for movie rentals, or Kodak versus IBM in going digital with imaging.  Carol Dweck’s work on the Growth Mindset has proven the value of looking at neuroplasticity as a constantly developing process, rather than intelligence as a static state of mind.
In business, where AQ is a developing industry, 90% of HR decision makers identify AQ as the top trait to deal with change and uncertainty, as the shelf-life of skills shrinks by 35% every 3 years, job changing accelerates to every 4.2 years, and workers hold 9-plus jobs over their worklife, within  3, 4, 5 and more careers.  On a wider scale, for the S&P 500 index, the average company tenure was 33 years in the early 20th century, while now that time is cut by almost two-thirds to just 12. 

Adaptability is what has made us the leading species on earth.  However, it is not our naturally desired state.  We are drawn to rely on established doctrine and standardized ways of looking at problems and potential solutions--the legacy of culture.  These sources reflect deeply held beliefs about the way things should work, assumptions about what our values should be, and which alternatives fit and don’t fit our values and long-term purposes.

Questioning our own assumptions is not something we like doing.  It goes against our presumption that we can trust our own thinking (see briefing on Overestimating Judgment).  So not everyone is going to be ready to adapt, and even fewer to innovate (the adaptor/innovator scale developed by Michael Kirton as KAI).  Radical change happens under great stress, the very circumstance when we most seek to maintain the status quo as a form of societal security.
AQ questions (Executive Agenda, Nov. 13, 2019): Typical AQ questions, rated on a scale of 1-5 (practiced rarely to routinely):

1.      I can readily imagine new uses for old ideas.
2.      My failures present opportunities for innovation.
3.      I like to experiment with new ideas.
4.      I am able to shift gears with minimal complaints or issues.
5.      I challenge myself to question what I presume to know.
6.      My core ideas are clear to me and others.