The Adaptability Quotient (AQ) and Why It's So Important

Knowing how to adapt has a great evolutionary advantage. It's also a trait of intelligence. Would you like to know what people with a high adaptability quotient are like? Being open-minded is one characteristic. Discover the others below.
The Adaptability Quotient (AQ) and Why It's So Important
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 04 May, 2023

Health crises, social changes, economic ups and downs, wars, and the perpetual shadow of uncertainty. Throughout history, and not just in recent years, human beings have faced multiple challenges. It isn’t easy to adapt to what the future brings. However, knowing how to adjust to it, as far as possible, always benefits us.

“Adapt or die” claims the old adage. It suggests that an inability to adapt involves a great deal of capitulation and little flexibility or mental ingenuity. Indeed, it never hurts to consider that, at difficult times, adaptation can make the difference between sinking or swimming.

As a matter of fact, some experts claim there’s a need to invent a new term. One that allows us to evaluate the ability of adaptation, a skill that’s both extraordinary and essential at the same time. After all, we’re all rather afraid of change and interference in our routines. Furthermore, nothing in this world is ever certain or 100 percent predictable. Therefore, knowing how to adapt is a basic act of survival.

Society, technology, the economy, and culture are evolving at an unprecedented rate. For this reason, knowing how to adapt is essential.

girl before road thinking the adaptability quotient
People, like social organizations, must learn to adapt to changes and the demands of the environment.

The adaptability quotient (AQ)

The adaptability quotient defines a competence with which we can put aside knowledge or strategies that are no longer useful to adapt to change via more effective resources. This term was coined by Professor Stuart Parkin, director of the Max Planck Institute for Microstructure Physics in Halle, Germany.

The purpose of the adaptability quotient is to reformulate the world of business and organizations. This is because the so-called fourth industrial revolution, (technology) requires the implementation of new systems and new ways of thinking. In effect, we’re facing numerous imminent changes and need to have a competitive and evolutionary advantage.

Think back, for a moment, to Charles Darwin and his theories. He claimed, “It is not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. This mechanism is adaptation. Being able to measure it, just as we do with IQ or emotional intelligence, is an interesting concept.

“The best time to adapt or to anticipate the need to gain new skills, hard or soft, is quite simply, ahead of the time that change occurs.”

-Stuart Parkin-

Characteristics of the individual with a high adaptability quotient

The adaptability quotient concept is still a project in the making. However, since 2010, it’s proved to be useful in many areas. For example, data offered by the World Economic Forum in 2017 suggests that 65 percent of the jobs around today will no longer exist when children in primary school now enter the labor market.

Moreover, it’s not just companies that need to be more adaptable. In fact, all of us must develop our capacity for adaptability to the maximum. Let’s explore the characteristics of the individual with a high AQ.

  • They’re not afraid of new situations.
  • Their gaze is firmly focused on the future.
  • They consider themselves to be learners in life.
  • They’re empathetic and possess good social skills.
  • They’re interested in learning concepts and strategies.
  • They demonstrate good problem-solving skills.
  • Their aim is to see and understand reality from all perspectives.
  • They have a flexible mental approach and possess good lateral thinking.
  • They’re extremely environmentally aware and conscious of social problems.
  • They’re creative and handle stress well.
  • They have open minds. Furthermore, they’re curious and aware that we all tend to reinforce certain cognitive biases that we must deactivate.

The usefulness of the adaptability quotient

In 2016, the University of South Carolina (USA) proposed a method for measuring individual differences in adaptation. The authors explained that individuals with high levels of adaptability possess better psychological resources in the face of changes and challenges. Having an instrument for the evaluation of AQ will allow us to train those who need skills in this area.

However, you may still be wondering about the whys and wherefores of AQ and how useful adaptation really is. Find out here.

We can’t foresee the future, but we can prepare for it

No one has a crystal ball and can see what’s going to happen tomorrow. For instance, nobody foresaw that we were going to suffer a pandemic. Whilst it was not outside the realms of probability, it still caught us all off guard, companies, social organizations, and individuals alike.

Therefore, developing skills for adapting to change, with good resources and no resistance, makes life easier for us. After all, we’re all walking our own tightropes and must maintain our balance in the face of any movement or small vibration. Knowing how to adapt means being able to move forward without fear.

Better problem-solving skills

Adaptation doesn’t mean submission, resignation, neglect, or passivity. It’s a response that includes goal-oriented motivated behavior. Moreover, it’s characterized by a good dose of creativity, self-confidence, and courage. In fact, adaptation is synonymous with facing challenges. It involves assuming reality with no resistance, promoting situations in our favor, and moving forward.

Adaptability promotes the visualization of possible future results in different circumstances. This doesn’t mean that they’re going to happen, but that, if they do arrive, we’ll be prepared.

Benefits our psychological well-being and personal and work prospects

The adaptability quotient suggests that we should all optimize adaptability a little more. It’s a muscle that promotes self-realization, progress, and even mental well-being. To understand it, think of the people you know with adaptation problems and how unhappy they are.

We all need to know how to navigate uncertain seas with no resistance. What we don’t accept causes us stress and anxiety. Moreover, not understanding that life means change, subjects us to ignorance and blindness. Society, work, and even our relationships can vary from one day to the next. Adapting optimizes our development.

Woman on the mountain thinking about the adaptability quotient
On the horizon, there often appears to be multiple challenges. Knowing how to adapt to them allows us to live better lives.

Final reflection

NASA aims to send humans to Mars in the 2030s. In fact, programs are already being designed to promote the physiological and mental adaptability of the astronauts who’ll face one of the most challenging projects in history. However, returning to our little blue planet for a moment, we’ll also be facing multiple challenges.

For example, technology will continue to transform lives in many ways. There’ll also be new social, labor, and psychological challenges. We must be psyched up and prepared. Our adaptability must encompass optimism, hope, and passion. We must also trust in our abilities to respond and create a better future. That’s the key.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Ployhart, R. E., & Bliese, P. D. (2006). Individual adaptability (I-ADAPT) theory: Conceptualizing the antecedents, consequences, and measurement of individual differences in adaptability. In C. S. Burke, L. G. Pierce, & E. Salas (Eds.), Understanding adaptability: A prerequisite for effective performance within complex environments (pp. 3–39). Elsevier.
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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.