Adaptability Quotient (AQ) is a metric of adaptability used to measure performance in the workplace and assess individual potential. The earliest article published by Stuart Parkin in 2010 gave rise to the term Adaptability Quotient. This has inspired many others to expand and research the area. A recent deep dive into Adaptability Quotient can be found at SingularityU London Adaptability Webinar: "Developing adaptable workforces, a roadmap to recovery", where Ross Thornley, is joined by Jason Slater from UNIDO and Professor Nicolas Deuschel . Additionally Amin Toufani in 2014, shares his insights during his public lecture at Singularity University. he defines AQ as the ability to realize optimal outcomes based on recent or future change. Ross Thornley and Mike Raven's work at AQai is deepening the scientific research of AQ in the workplace, opening up new frontiers of understanding and links across multiple disciplines. Their A.C.E model is widely seen as the most holistic and comprehensive assessment. AQ is defined as, "Measuring the abilities, characteristics, and environmental factors which impact the successful behaviors and actions of people, and organizations to effectively respond to uncertainty, new information, or changed circumstances.” Decoding AQ 2020, Ross Thornley. (As of 2019), there is a growing body of literature surrounding adaptability, and consequent interest in being able to harness, measure, and quantify adaptability in the workplace. Adaptability was identified as the “new competitive advantage” by the Harvard Business Review in 2011. In 2014, The Flux Report (published by Right Management in the UK) revealed that 91% of HR managers thought that: "People will be recruited on their ability to deal with change and uncertainty" as opposed to other skills. Specifically adaptive performance in the research literature means numerous organizational scholars have recognized that traditional models of performance are static and need to be augmented to include "responsiveness to changing job requirements" — labeled adaptive performance (AP; Allworth & Hesketh, 1999, p. 98; Griffin, Neal, & Parker, 2007; Pulakos, Arad, Donovan, & Plamondon, 2000).
The root of the word adaptation is apt, from the Latin aptus, meaning 'fitting or suited' (OED), a root meaning already used in the career construct of “aptitude”. The word adapt can be traced, through Latin and French, to aduptare, meaning “to fit.” The idea of fit (or congruence) remains the central construct in trait-and-factor or person-environment theory.
The popular understanding of adaptability as a factor in survival and human endeavour can be traced back to Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of The Species (1859): "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, it is the one that is the most adaptable to change". Current literature, however, describes a shift from a mindset of survival to one of ‘thriving’; rather than simply adapting in response to change, becoming more adaptable to predict it: "Staying ahead of the curve is not just about responding to change, but predicting and influencing it".
The term "Career adaptability" was first coined in 1981 by Super and Knasel, but the earliest mention of “Adaptability Quotient” specifically was in 2010. In his article What’s Your Adaptability Quotient Stuart Parkin outlines the link between motivation and adaptability and how we may be more willing to adapt in some areas than others. Parkin also outlined that adaption should not be simply in ‘response to change’, or in other words survival, but a constant: “Given that there are many aspects of a job to which we might have to adapt -- such as location, new responsibilities, new reporting structures and new skills -- the worst time to adapt is when you are told to. Conversely, the best time to adapt is quite simply, always. This is unless you believe that nothing around you will change.” Parkin also links the need for adaptability in the modern world to Moore’s Law.
In 2012, Jo Ayoubi’s article "Adaptability is critical for successful organisations – but how adaptable is HR?", outlines the four key success factors of Adaptability Quotient in large organisations:
(1) "The ability to quickly appreciate when change is happening (or even before it starts) and to respond quickly.
(2) The ability to test and experiment quickly and often. In the past the focus of testing has focused on products and services, but this ability also applies to business models, processes and strategies.
(3) The ability to recognise and effectively manage stakeholders in complex relationships and roles; in particular in multinational locations.
(4) The ability to motivate and lead in a rapidly changing environment."
Adaptability Quotient is linked to Intelligence Quotient (IQ), established in 1912; Emotional Intelligence (EQ), made popular in 1995 by Daniel Goleman’s book of the same title; and SQ or Social Intelligence Quotient: "capacity to know oneself and to know others". However, in 2018, Natalie Fratto, writing at Fast Company, claimed that: "adaptability quotient (AQ) will soon become the primary predictor of success, with general intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ) both taking a back seat".. Fratto provides three rules of thumb for testing for AQ in a business setting. First, she suggests asking "What if" questions. Second is to look for signs of "unlearning". Third is to look for a heavier weight on exploration (within the context of exploration vs exploitation tradeoffs, which is a reference to an important tradeoff in machine learning, for systems that solve the multi-armed bandit problem).
In 2018, LinkedIn revealed that adaptability made the top five most in-demand soft-skills.
Forbes’ Adapt or Die whitepaper defines AQ as: “the ability to adjust course, product, service, and strategy in response to unanticipated changes in the market.” Whereas Forbes’ definition is exclusively 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, defined AQ more broadly as: “the capacity to adjust one’s thoughts and behaviours in order to effectively respond to uncertainty, new information, or changed circumstances".
Whereas Martin, Nejad, and Colmar, and Liem, focus on adaptability or AQ solely as a ‘capacity’, or in other words, a learned ability, The National Institutes for Health defines it as: "a disposition and skill", identifying it as a characteristic or personality trait as well as an ability. The extent to which AQ is inherent or learned has yet to be determined. However, there is critical consensus that adaptability can be improved.
Ross Thornley and Mike Raven, Co-Founders of Adaptai, define it as: “AQ or Adaptability Quotient: The ability to adapt to and thrive in an environment of continual and accelerating change.” Building on Slavick's paper on career adaptability, the Adaptai model expands the previous model by emphasizing the role the environment (context) and the process/ changeable nature of adaptability have: “We measure adaptability across three core dimensions (ACE): Ability (your adaptability skills), your Character (the innate aspects of Self that determine the ways in which you may approach adapting), and Environment (how your environment can help or hinder your adaption).”
Because it touches each segment, the construct of adaptation offers a potential bridge across the individual differences, developmental, self, and contextual segments in life-span, life-space theory. The four perspectives on careers bring into focus different aspects of adaptation. The individual differences perspective focuses on the objective status of an individual’s adaptive skills and styles for fitting self into situation. The phenomenological perspective centers on the subjective goals of adaptation that a self constructs and values as she or he subjectively authors a life story and strives to become more complete and more fully engaged with the world. The developmental perspective highlights the functions and processes of adaptation across the life course. And finally, the contextual perspective concentrates on the historical and cultural situation, with its attendant barriers and affordances, within which the individual must adapt and flourish.
Ross Thornley also links AQ to Moore’s Law of exponential progress and the emerging world of abundance (as outlined by Peter H. Diamandis in his book Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think). “There is no dispute technology directly influences our way of life, our culture, and now the collective potential of the human race. As a result, with every new advance comes obsolescences and alterations.” Because the pace of the world is increasing, therefore, our ability to adapt and change in response to these developments needs to increase with it.
There are several measures of ‘Adaptability’ and a very small number of ‘Adaptability Quotient’ measures in existence.
Super and Knasel defined the term "career adaptability" in 1981 as an adult’s "readiness to cope with changing work and working conditions". In her review of Career Adaptability literature Claire S. Norton defines career adaptability as: "a psychosocial construct including both readiness and resources for successfully facing vocational tasks, occupational transitions, and unexpected challenges". In The Best of Both Worlds: The Role of Career Adaptability and Career Competencies in Students’ Well-Being and Performance (2018), Jos Akkermans, Kristina Paradniké, Beatrice I. J. M. Van der Heijden, and Ans De Vos apply the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) theory in an educational setting. Their findings suggest that career adaptability and career competencies are: "important career resources that predict both life satisfaction and academic performance via students’ satisfaction with the choice of their major and study engagement...The results revealed that career adaptability and career competencies were positively linked to students’ life satisfaction, both directly and via study engagement. In addition, these career resources were positively, yet indirectly, related to academic performance via study engagement. Overall, the results suggest that career resources contribute to study engagement, life satisfaction, and academic performance".
Whilst this study focuses on an academic environment, there is emerging literature around ‘career adaptability’ in the workplace. In The association of psychological capital, career adaptability and career competency among hotel frontline employees, Homayoun PashaSafavi and MonaBouzari found that “There is a positive significant relationship between career adaptability and career competency” and that “Career adaptability mediates the effect of psychological capital on career competency.”
Individual predictors of sensorimotor adaptability (Rachael D. Seidler, Ajitkumar P. Mulavara, Jacob J. Bloomberg, and Brian T. Peters) approaches adaptability from a physiological and neuroscientific standpoint, specifically, adapting to altered gravity. “The capacity to rapidly adapt to changing gravitational environments is increasing in importance as NASA targets having the capability to send humans to Mars in the 2030s (U.S. National Space Policy, 2010).” Weightless gravity environments create the need for new postures and movement dynamics, as well as a shift in the way sensory stimuli are processed. Crews generally adapt to these conditions over a few days. When they subsequently return to Earth, however, and experience Earth-gravity: “the responses that are adaptive in space cause immediate maladaptive motor behavior on Earth”. The purpose of their study was to ascertain predictors of fast-adapters for future spaceflight programs. There are specific genetic polymorphisms associated with faster adaptation on manual joystick tasks and faster recovery of function following a stroke. Moreover, neuroscience has demonstrated that observing the extent of recruitment of specific brain regions during learning and adaptation can predict the “magnitude of subsequent learning".
In other studies, factors such as career concerns, learning orientation and performance-prove orientation (Yousefi, Abedi, Baghban, Eatemadi, & Abedi, 2011), and hope (Hirschi, 2014) have been identified as predictors of adaptability responses. All in all, studies suggest that future research should disentangle the effect personality plays on adaptive performance. Something the ACE model does by linking the Big Five and Regulatory Focus to adaptive performance across industry settings: "For example, researchers may begin to examine the extent to which personality traits predict above and beyond cognitive ability or even interact with cognitive ability to affect adaptive performance. In addition, future studies may include personality measures outside the trait domain (Funder, 2001). In particular, recent research has examined how individuals may adjust their momentary personality dynamically in various situational contexts (Huang & Ryan, 2011; Minbashian, Wood, & Beckmann, 2010)." (Huang et al. 2014)
In Combine Your "Will" and "Able": Career Adaptability’s Influence on Performance (2019), Xueyuan Gao, Xun Xin, Wenxia Zhou and Denise M. Jepsen outline the link between adaptability and CCT (Career Construction Theory): "Adaptivity and adaptability are two key elements representing one’s “willingness” and “ability", respectively, in the career construction theory (CCT) framework.” Their study of 232 Chinese employees revealed that: “career adaptability positively predicts performance, with this relationship partially mediated by career self-management. The positive effect of career adaptability on career self-management is stronger among those who are more proactive than less proactive. ”Gao, Xueyuan; Xin, Xun; Zhou, Wenxia; M. Jepson, Denise (January 2019). "Combine Your "Will" and "Able": Career Adaptability's Influence on Performance". Frontiers in Psychology 9: 2695. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02695. PMID 30723445.
The KAI model or "Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory" was established in 1976. It is used predominantly as a change-management strategy and training tool for managers and teams. The KAI is both a model and psychometric. “Adaption-Innovation” theory can be used by practitioners in coaching and personal development. The theory distinguishes between level and style of creativity, problem solving, and decision-making. Cognitive style differences lie on a distributed continuum, ranging from “high adaption” to “high innovation”. The psychometric itself is a form with 32 questions. Only certified practitioners can use the KAI model.
The "key assumptions" of the KAI theory are as follows:
All people problem solve (and are, therefore, creative); creativity is a sub-set of problem solving.
Problem solving is the product of cognitive function operating within environment.
Cognitive function influences behavior producing stable characteristic patterns; from its operation are derived dimensions of personality, of which Adaption-Innovation is one.
One element of cognitive function is cognitive effect, which is made up of cognitive (preferred) style and cognitive (potential) level (or capacity).
Cognitive Style: People differ in the amount of structure they require and the degree to which that structure is consensually agreed, to feel comfortable in tackling any problem, allowing for different importance of outcome (levels of reward and punishment).
Cognitive style is early set and highly stable and correlates with a cluster of related, entrenched, characteristic well listed personality traits. The elements in cognitive affect are unrelated (uncorrelated) with those of cognitive style; cognitive style is uncorrelated with cognitive (potential) level and all elements in cognitive resource (e.g., manifest capacity). All elements of cognitive function are influenced by, but are independent of, environment.
All the main elements of cognitive function are associated with cognitive processes: problem solving, learning & memory, motive; so is social environment: group dynamics.
It follows that the key assumption relevant in the development of the measurement of this theory is that people can be located on a continuum of cognitive style, ranging from adaptor to innovator, dependent on the characteristic mode in which they solve problems (create or make decisions). The Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI) is the measure devised to locate respondents on this continuum.
Lisa Leong published an article in BBC Worklife101 (July, 2019) citing Adaptability Quotient as the "X-factor for career success", and outlining Otto Scharmer’s three-tier model: "keeping an open mind, so you see the world with fresh eyes and remain open to possibilities; keeping an open heart, so you can try to see any situation through another person’s eyes; and keeping an open will, letting go of identity and ego to sit with the discomfort of the unknown". In September, 2019, Ross Thornley offered a response to Leong’s article, discussing the wider implications of AQ outside of the workplace.
Pulakos et al. (2000) represents the only work to date that articulated the construct space for adaptive performance. It defined adaptive performance as the proficiency with which an individual alters his or her behavior in response to the demands of a new task, event, situation, or environmental constraints. Using a content analytic procedure to map critical incidents at work onto different dimensions of adaptive performance, Pulakos et al. (2000) created an eight-dimensional taxonomy. However, a single factor was found to underlay supervisor ratings of soldiers’ performance (Pulakos et al., 2002). Similarly, Ployhart and Bliese (2006) proposed an adaptability second-order factor to account for co-variation across the eight behavioral dimensions. Griffin et al. (2007) situated adaptive performance at three work role contexts—individual, team, and organization—and subsequently obtained empirically distinct measures of adaptability in each work context; however, each of their adaptability measures collapses across behavioral dimensions (e.g., coping with changes, learning) and captures overall adaptive performance. Thus, to date, despite acknowledgment that there are different behaviors that may be labeled as adaptive performance, there is a lack of empirical support for considering adaptive performance as multidimensional.
AQai’s model is also three-tier (Ability, Character, Environment). Ross and Co-Founder Mike Raven describe their assessment as the “first AI powered holistic measure of adaptability”. Each of the three primary dimensions also has five sub-dimensions (for a total of 15). Their model is based on behavioral psychology models and research conducted at the IE Business School and IE University, with the support from Professor Nicolas Till Deuschel, researcher on employee effectiveness and human capital. Innovation and change literature has shown that employees are likely to perform best in diverse workplaces when they bridge between competing (and sometimes opposing) demands of their traits or states and the context.
In The 4 Key Success 'abilities' of Adaptability You Can Learn Today, Ross Thornley outlines the sub-dimensions that correspond with the first of the five dimensions “Ability”. He defines these sub-dimensions as:
Resilience: “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness’, or, in other words, the ability to ‘bounce back” (OED) In their study 'Resilience Training That Can Change the Brain’ (2018), Golnaz Tabibnia & Dan Radecki stated that: “One of the challenges of consulting and coaching psychology is helping individuals, teams, and entire enterprises weather life and work stressors. These stressors can be one-time and acute, such as unexpected job transfer or job loss, or more chronic, such as bad bosses, broken peer relationships, and dysfunctional team members. Some people are more resilient than others in the face of such stressors, but many of the skills that make for resilience can be learned.”
Flexibility: "the quality of bending easily without breaking" (OED) In their article 'Transitioning Towards New Ways of Working: Do Job Demands, Job Resources, Burnout, and Engagement Change?', Elianne F. Van Steenbergen, Cilia van der Ven, Maria C. W. Peeters and Toon W. Taris outline factors that may help transitioning into new work modalities: "Judge, Thoresen, Pucik, and Welbourne (1999) found that managers higher in Openness to experiences were better able to cope with organizational change. Moreover, practical personal resources such as flexibility (i.e., adapting to changes at work)… may enable employees to make an optimal transition to telecommuting. (Lapierre et al., 2015)".
Learning Drive: "characterised as our passion and hunger for more knowledge"  Learning Drive has been linked with ‘unlearning’. Unlearning was first introduced by Marshall Goldsmith in 2008 with his book What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, which outlines the philosophy of letting go of redundant methodologies in order to succeed. In 2018, Barry O’Reilly published Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results, a “transformative system” for leaders.
Mindset: 'The Direct and Indirect Effects of Employees’ Mindsets on Job Performance' by Matt Zingoni & Christy M. Corey, defines mindset as a continuum: "At one end of the continuum are those with an entity mindset; they believe that human attributes are fixed and cannot be changed. At the other end of the continuum are those with an incremental mindset; they believe that human attributes can be changed through effort and hard work. Where individuals fall on this continuum has been found to have profound effects on their thoughts and behaviors (e.g., Dweck, 1999; Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995)".
Despite differing models and measures, there is widespread critical consensus that Adaptability Quotient is not fixed, but improvable.
Parker and Collins (2010) explore the links between pro-activity and career adaptability, creating three overarching categories to describe pro-activity: (a) proactive work behavior, including taking charge, innovative behavior, voice, and problem prevention; (b) proactive strategic behavior, including issue selling and strategic scanning; and (c) proactive person–environment fit behavior, including feedback seeking and job change negotiation (idiosyncratic deals).
Proactive personality can strengthen the benefits of career adaptability on enhancing career self-management and improving performance. The effects that proactive personality has on the mediated relationship between career adaptability and performance indicate that some interventions could improve employees’ career adaptability and proactivity. For example: increasing career confidence by giving useful and positive feedback or providing them with opportunities to solve some problems; or help them to make clearer career goals to enhance their sense of control and thus improve the overall level of career adaptability.
For those wanting to expand their understanding of AQ, the podcast series on The Success Network - DECODING AQ, hosted by Ross Thornley, shares insights from world leaders in business, psycology and academia.