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The Success Quotients: Intelligence, Emotions & Adaptability

by Amy Pechacek

By now, pretty much everyone in the western world has heard of the IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test, and unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ve probably also heard of EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient). But have you heard of the new Q on the block?

The Adaptability Quotient (AQ), sometimes referred to as the Adversity Quotient, has gained quite a bit of popularity over the past few years, perhaps because of the many challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. And experts now say it’s just as relevant — and possibly even more so — than either IQ or EQ in predicting success in business and in life.

IQ tests have been used for over a century to measure the cognitive abilities, or brainpower, of individuals. The first modern IQ tests were developed with the intention of differentiating between those children who were truly intellectually challenged and those who were of average intelligence but were simply lazy. Then, as things do, these tests evolved into being used to measure how intelligent or “smart” kids were.

The validity of these tests is rather difficult to establish, due to how the science world measures and compares two or more things and because there are no accepted theories for these measures when it comes to human cognition. As Ian Deary stated, “There is no such thing as a theory of human intelligence differences—not in the way that grown-up sciences like physics or chemistry have theories.”

Although not considered accurate measures in the world of hard science, IQ assessments are still used to measure intelligence and according to the father of cognitive psychology, Ulric Neisser, “psychometricians generally regard IQ tests as having high statistical reliability.”

In other words, IQ tests are accurate enough to be considered a valid measurement of intelligence. And so, they remain a part of the educational setting, even today. But what happens when we move beyond our school years? Does IQ remain relevant?

The short answer is yes and no.

Iceberg with IQ above water and EQ below the water surface

For many years, it was the sole test used to predict success in life. Intelligence undoubtedly plays a role in the type of work some people are able to do. For example, rocket scientists, brain surgeons, design engineers, and IT developers generally have a greater concentration of highly intelligence individuals than other professions.

Having a high IQ can also help open doors to better opportunities early in life, even before stepping into a career path. As we know, some of those opportunities can have a snowball effect on learning, growth, and advancement. But is IQ an accurate predictor of success in one’s career, much less in their life?

This is where it gets tricky. One can be extremely intelligent, but if they lack the social skills or drive necessary to advance, those with lower IQs may be more valuable to employers than those with higher intelligence.

Therefore, the other popular Q is a much more accurate measure of success than IQ. In fact, it’s been said that IQ is “worthless” if you don’t have EQ. In other words, a genius who has poor social skills and can’t have positive social interactions with others, may not be able to make the most of their intellectual abilities.

The Power of Emotional Intelligence: Why EQ Triumphs

Remember Sheldon from Big Bang Theory? Sheldon was highly intelligent, but lacked even a single iota of empathy, much less the emotional intelligence necessary to read the emotions of his friends and colleagues.

He was also quite arrogant, as he was quick to brag about his superior intelligence, and he believed those with lower intelligence were beneath him.

Sheldon from Big Bang Theory

Even though Sheldon’s quirkiness is what made him endearing and entertaining, many find him grossly annoying. Do a quick Google search and see for yourself. Type in “Sheldon Cooper annoying” and the number of hits is mind-blowing – I just did it, myself, and had 379,000 results.

In the real world, someone with such a low EQ and lack of empathy would find it very difficult to blend into corporate America and would most certainly never climb the ladder to the top. Having emotional intelligence means you have the ability to relate to others, and someone like Sheldon, unfortunately, would struggle with this.

So what is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence refers to one’s ability to perceive the emotions they experience and remain in control of them, while evaluating emotional situations and responding accordingly. Emotionally intelligent people express themselves more often in a calm and rational manner, instead of blowing up and “causing a scene.”

Emotionally intelligent people separate events from emotions and have developed strategies to keep from getting emotionally hijacked.

For a more in-depth explanation on emotional hijacks, how they plays out in life, and some tools around preventing them, read Lessons from a Road Rage Incident.

Emotionally intelligent people can recognize the emotions of others and are adept at responding appropriately. They also know when to reserve their emotional energy and restrain from right-fighting or insisting on proving their point, when discussing current events or other hot topics.

Have you ever noticed how heated conversations on social media can become?

Yes, that was a rhetorical question.

You may be interested to know that those who regularly participate in these fights with total strangers generally have very low EQ. Those who have naturally high emotional intelligence – or those who have developed theirs – are better able to control their emotions, recognize that the “fight” is not worth the emotional energy expended, and scroll on by.

In addition to keeping their emotions in check, they also possess higher levels of empathy, allowing them to relate better to those around them.

This explains why EQ is regarded as more important than IQ in predicting one’s likelihood of success.

In business and in life, we have to interact with a number of individuals, who oftentimes have very different personalities from our own. Interpersonal skills, such as effective communication, conflict management, and empathy are among the top skills employers value.

Because these interpersonal skills are critical to the success of professionals, it makes sense that experts say it is a stronger indicator of success than IQ.

But what about AQ? Where does it fit in? And by the way, what the heck is it?

Understanding AQ: The Importance of Adaptability in a Changing World

AQ is referred to as both the Adaptability Quotient and the Adversity Quotient. Although the terms are used interchangeably, and both are used the explain the same concept, I believe “adaptability” is a better description of AQ, as not all events we encounter are adverse. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s back up and talk about what AQ actually is.

AQ measures how well an individual or an organization adapts to changes as they occur. These changes could be adversarial, or they could simply be fluctuations in the marketplace, new approaches to business dealings, or advances in technology. In a nutshell, it measures how we respond when something “different” happens.

Many of the behaviors, procedures, and models we have perfected over the past several decades are becoming obsolete.

Personally, I see an argument for AQ being under the umbrella of EQ. But then again, AQ is standing on its own, and rightfully so.

Over the past year, AQ has gotten quite a bit of attention in business and leadership circles, probably because of all the changes ushered in during the pandemic. If organizations didn’t adapt, and do so quickly, they risked financial ruin.

The number of businesses that have closed their doors since 2020 is absolutely devastating. However, one interesting thing to note is that a number of businesses were able to thrive during the pandemic and the ensuing shutdown. Chipotle is one such example.

Innovating Through Adversity

In 2019, before the pandemic, Chipotle executives were already looking at innovating their business model. They had begun testing some new methods, so when the whole world went sideways in 2020, they were able to make quick, smart adjustments that allowed them to stay relevant and profitable. In doing so, they reaped huge rewards.

In the height of the pandemic, leaders at Chipotle implemented more “Chipotlanes” to serve customers primarily through mobile orders. Rather than having customers come into the store to order, pay for, and eat their meals, Chipotle invested quite a bit of money in transitioning their operating procedures to meet the demands of the market in the form of drive thru technology and online ordering.

These adjustments have proven so successful that they are currently investing in more online-order only Chipotlanes and, according to CEO Brian Niccol, they even have plans to more than double their locations. Additionally, customers have responded so positively to this new ordering method that other companies are looking to them as a model of success, when accessing and adapting to market demands.

The Cost of Ignoring Market Trends

Unlike Chipotle, Blockbuster and Kodak both failed to keep pace with the changing demands of the marketplace. And we all know what happened to them. Executives at Blockbuster failed to recognize consumers were appreciating the convenience of streaming movies more than the experience of browsing the shelves of a video store.

When given an opportunity to buy Netflix, they declined. It’s actually been reported that the CEO of Blockbuster thought it was all a joke. I imagine several folks, who were at the top of that organization, have kicked themselves dozens of times for that one devastating decision.

As for Kodak? When was the last time you took a roll of film to be developed? And if I’m speaking Greek to you right now, because you don’t know what taking “a roll of film to be developed” means, then I believe my point has been made. Hint: we take digital pictures, now.

And it’s not just customers driving change for businesses. The workforce is demanding organizations adapt, as well. Many of the behaviors, procedures, and models we have perfected over the past several decades are becoming obsolete.

Companies that have the option of allowing employees to work remotely but refuse to adopt this policy are seeing higher than normal rates of turnover, in part because during the pandemic, workers proved they can be just as productive working remotely as they can working from an actual office building.

Both fully remote and hybrid work models mean decreased commute times and a better work-life balance. For those who live in major metropolitan areas, this can be a huge incentive.

Remote worker in a virtual meeting looking at colleagues on laptop

Another benefit? Companies and candidates both win from breaking down the location barrier.

Human Resource professionals can recruit from broader areas – heck, worldwide, if they’d like – and applicants no longer have to move across the country to accept their dream job.

The businesses accepting these new demands and adjusting accordingly are reaping the benefits of stronger, more qualified employees. Those who aren’t may soon find they become obsolete, as top talent generally desires to remain on the cutting edge – in more ways than just technology.

The Role of Adaptability in Achieving Success

Like businesses, individuals must learn to adapt to the changes that happen throughout their lives. As the old saying goes, if you’re not learning and growing, you’re dying. And perhaps this doesn’t mean a literal death, but it can certainly mean an end to growth, happiness, and abundance. Dr. Paul Stoltz’ writes, AQ is a better index in achieving success than IQ, education or even social skills (EQ).”

Success is one of those words I believe has a very personal meaning and can be defined very differently depending on what various individuals want out of life. But hopefully, we can all agree whatever our definition of success is, we will all be faced with situations that cause us to pivot and doing something different at various points in our lives. How we choose to respond, when this happens, is what matters.

So how do we do that?

We must take personal accountability for our own growth and development. Roger Connors, Craig Hickman, and Tom Smith have written quite a bit about this topic and in their recent book, The Wisdom of Oz: Using Personal Accountability to Succeed in Everything You Do, they stress how we can’t allow our circumstances to define who we are and what we do.

They have also developed a four-step model, which describes a method you can use to effectively adapt to change and to respond accordingly.

Four Steps to Accountability

  1. See it – Acknowledge change is needed and evaluate why it’s needed. Prepare to make the change and deal with it openly. Seek out feedback and constructive criticism from others, as it is vital during this stage.

  2. Own it – Take personal ownership of the situation and understand it may not be easy. Keep focused on the end goal throughout the entire process.

  3. Solve it – Create a game plan. Determine everything you need to do to ensure the change is successful. Remain open to new solutions and ask yourself, “What else?” What else can be done to solve the problem?

  4. Do it – Execute the change. This is when you take action on the steps you determined in part three. You commit to doing whatever it takes to implement the change, remain accountable for things that happen, and continue reviewing, reflecting, and revising.

There’s no better way to increase your AQ than to intentionally do the things that provide opportunities for you to grow, but that are outside of your comfort zone. In other words, face the things that scare you in life and in business, and then go out and do them.

In addition to increasing your AQ, you may just find you have a much richer, enjoyable life.

After all, everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. And once you get there, the view is amazing.

Is there any better measurement of success than the ability to enjoy one’s own life?

Perhaps that’s the next Q we’ll meet.


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