How to improve your AQ and become more adaptable

If the future is unknown, how do the most successful individuals, companies and nations agilely adapt to perpetual uncertainty? The secret is a high adaptability quotient, or AQ, which is something that can be measured, tested and improved just like our intelligence (IQ) and emotional quotient (EQ) can.

In 2000, the CEO of American video-rental giant Blockbuster, John Antioco, was given an opportunity to partner with another company, co-founded by Reed Hastings, who wanted to manage Blockbuster’s fledgling online business. Antioco laughed Hastings out of the room. Nearly 20 years later, Hastings’ business nets US$116.42 billion as Netflix – while Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010. The lesson, as Natalie Fratto says in her TED Talk on adaptability, is that the Blockbuster CEO couldn’t see around the next corner and wasn’t able to adapt to the changing environment around him.

What is AQ?

According to Inc., AQ is “the ability to adapt and thrive in an environment of change” while ForbesBooks describes it as “the ability to adjust course, product, service, and strategy in response to unanticipated changes in the market”.

While IQ is a measure of intelligence and EQ is a measure of emotional intelligence, the adaptability quotient refers more to resilience.

The exponential complexity of our world and rapid pace of change are catapulting AQ to podium position as a top skill that employers are seeking in high-performing talent. A key part of AQ is the ability to learn continuously and learn fast. Fast Company predicts normal neuroplasticity soon won’t be enough to keep pace with the level of learning required in an average 45-year career. Super Jobs – hybrid roles that combine technological prowess and soft skills, with a focus on enhanced productivity – will call for super ways of learning. We’ll continuously be adapting to new ways of working, which means AQ will be the most important measure of all.

What is the importance of AQ?

Harvard Business Review has called AQ ‘the new competitive advantage’. But it’s not new. It’s ancient, as Charles Darwin proved. What is new is our understanding of how this kind of capability can be improved on. It used to be that some people were ‘bad at change’, others thrived on it. The problem is no one can really afford not to embrace change. In a time of uncertainty and disruption, business leaders are desperate to fast-track talent that’s future-fit and innovation oriented.

Penny Locaso, SingularityU faculty member, cited an Exponential Organisations’ finding that most of what people learned just ten years ago is now irrelevant. She also quoted Charles Darwin – the species that survives is the one that is most adaptable to change. She connects the rise in mental health issues to the increase in new technologies. We’re facing an ‘adaptability skill gap’ which is causing significant stress.

If you struggle with change, you need to actively wok on your AQ. It’s about shifting a mindset as well as behaviours, according to Locaso. It’s hard to change very entrenched behaviours – but, the good news is it’s possible.

How to improve your AQ

Locaso, and her organisaton BKindred, suggest you need to consciously work on the following skills:

  • Be curious – Write a list of all the things you’re curious about when it comes to ‘the future’. Specifically, your – and your organisation’s – future. Highlight the one thing that jumps out for you that you want to learn more about. Then create a learning plan.
  • Be self-accountable – Take accountability for your actions and how you spend your time.
  • Be focused – Stop the emails, halt the notifications, switch off the phone, and get off the social media platforms. Breathe. Now focus for the time period you’ve set.
  • Be courageous – It’s hard to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Locaso suggests everyday acts of ‘micro-bravery’. Do a daily, small task that moves you out of your comfort zone.
  • Be connected – Never underestimate the power of human connection. Talking to other humans means opportunities to grow, learn, problem-solve and feel supported.
  • Be reflective – What did you learn this week? What went well? What could you have done better? Take 10 minutes to reflect.

It can be hard to build these kinds of capabilities alone. Take it a step further and consider doing a course. USB-ED’s Master Class in Scenario Planning is an exceptional way to learn to imagine all possible future scenarios. Plus, it teaches you how to bring about the scenarios you want to happen and mitigate the scenarios that you’re less keen on. Getting comfortable with thinking about the future is a very valuable skill. And it can be taught.

Learning the fundamentals of innovation and design thinking with USB-ED’s Master Class in Innovation and Design Thinking could also serve you well. To be able to adapt to something, you need to understand it. Design thinking teaches a problem-solving methodology that systematically defines complex problems. By being able to define a problem, you can start to tackle it, in a creative and innovative way.

What is the four-step model to improve AQ?

A final tool for your AQ arsenal is The Oz Principle, which applies to accountability and AQ. Defined by Roger Connors, Craig Hickman and Tom Smith, the four-step model goes like this:

Step One: See It: Recognise that you need change. Understand the reasons why you need it. Ask others about the situation and for feedback on how you can positively impact change. Handle change candidly to prepare yourself for it.

Step Two: Own It: Instead of resisting change, take ownership of it. Take it on yourself to be accountable for its implementation. Keep sight of the goal and accept failure as an inevitable part of the process.

Step Three: Solve It: Have a plan for how you’ll action change and spot solutions to bring about improved adaptability. Keep asking, ‘what else can I/we do?’ Collaborate with others and ensure you have diverse perspectives weighing in.

Step Four: Do It: Execution is everything. Follow through on the plan and keep talking to your team. Build trust and accountability by delivering on what you promised. Be transparent when things don’t go as planned.

Seems simple enough doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled! Shifting your mindset and behaviours will take time, but it’ll be an exciting journey. And, with AQ pushing EQ and IQ off the podium, it’s a journey you cannot afford not to undertake. Have a partner alongside you by choosing to learn with USB-ED, which offers premium courses designed to instill the new ways of thinking that’ll enable you to face disruption and change bravely and aptly. This’ll make you an incredible asset to any organisation you choose to be part of. And, it’ll help you become a leader your team feels confident to follow.

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