Adaptability may be more important than IQ or EQ

For most of my career, I have favored candidates with high Emotional Quotient (EQ) over those with high Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Just like my mantra that culture eats strategy, I believe situational awareness often trumps pure smarts.

Of course, I’ve never known any candidate’s IQ test score let alone their EQ score. (Yes, you can test for EQ.) But, in my experience, success on standardized tests has rarely translated well into the unpredictability of the business world.

Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, has some startling evidence to back up my experience: people with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70% of the time. Furthermore, he claims 90% of top performers have high emotional intelligence while only 20% of bottom performers have high emotional intelligence.

Studies have shown high emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance among a wide variety of workplace skills. EQ explains “a full 58% of success in all types of jobs”. Bradberry summarizes:

You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but the chances are slim.

While I still favor EQ over IQ, over the last few years, I’ve felt like there’s something missing. We live in a world of constant change and neither high EQ nor IQ seem to be good predictors of a person’s ability to thrive in this new environment. Change means we can’t rely on what we’ve learned in the past as it often no longer applies. Lately, I’ve been using the rallying cry: “what got us here won’t get us there.” We need to be more adaptable.

Because being adaptable is increasingly important, I wonder whether there should be an adaptability quotient (AQ). A high AQ would suggest someone is less bothered by new situations, can extrapolate from seemingly unrelated experiences, and embraces new ideas rather than resisting them. Different roles require varying levels of AQ.

Actually, this isn’t a novel idea. Eight years ago, HBR declared that adaptability was the new competitive advantage. Five years ago, a UK study found that 91% of HR decision-makers thought it was likely people would soon be recruited on their ability to cope with change and uncertainty. And a Fast Company article earlier this year suggested a blended measure of IQ, EQ, and AQ as the way to screen employees.

While the term AQ pops up frequently in articles and many people seem to agree adaptability is important, there isn’t a commonly-agreed way to measure it. Until there is, I recommend asking interview questions designed to understand the adaptability of candidates. For example, ask a candidate to describe a time they were unprepared for a situation, how they reacted, and what was the ultimate outcome. If the candidate relied solely on standard approaches, it suggests they are less adaptable. If they changed strategy and showed resourcefulness, it’s likely the candidate will do it again when faced with uncertainty in the future.

IQ to EQ to AQ. Adaptability is everywhere.