cover photo Reflect Blog
Ingo Kallenbach

The Adaptation Quotient (AQ) - Adjust or Drown

Our working world is changing - that's an old hat now. Digitisation means that activities are more important than occupations. However, these often have to be acquired without prior knowledge. The skills needed to work effectively today have a short half-life. The traditional concept of formal education based on the motto "once and for all" quickly becomes irrelevant.
To be successful in the long run, people in this environment need to be lifelong learners more than ever.  It is not precisely predictable which changes will occur, but they will come and require new ways of thinking and acting.
Proven processes, familiar patterns of thought and action and business models that are still successful today will be put to the test. Along with these challenges, the AQ (adaptation quotient) of companies and their employees will be important.



What is the AQ?

The adaptation quotient (AQ) focuses on the individual's ability to make himself highly adaptable through learning in a world in which existing baselines are constantly changing.

The adaptation quotient (AQ) is described as the ability to adapt and succeed in a rapidly evolving ecosystem and has become a key factor for people to navigate the VUCA world.

In order to be successful in a constantly reinventing world ("permanent beta"), we need to be able to adapt in real time to all external indicators that announce these changes. Research from a PwC study shows that employers need adaptable employees, many of whom currently do not have the right positions to deal with future challenges for their businesses.

How does AQ differ from IQ and EQ?

IQ, EQ and AQ can be simply defined as follows:

The IQ or intelligence quotient measures the cognitive or intellectual skills required to acquire knowledge and to use that knowledge meaningfully to solve problems with clearly defined goals and structures.

The EQ or "Emotional Quotient" is a measure of a person's ability to perceive, understand and deal with his or her own feelings and those of others in a situation.

The AQ or "Adaptability Quotient" describes the ability to adapt to an environment of change and to succeed. In addition to the established IQ and EQ, the AQ could quickly develop into a key competence for successful employees in the future, even though the concept has hardly arrived in German-speaking countries.

In earlier articles we already pointed out the importance of learning agility. As a consequence, we should move from traditional, strongly IQ-based thinking to the innovative AQ-centric approach. The goal in "permanent beta" is to succeed through adaptation in an ever faster changing world without losing personal stability and value-based attitudes. Ultimately, people need both: commitment and growth - stability and change.

How is the AQ measurable?

One way to assess whether potential employees have this quality is, for example, by interviewing candidates about their previous work history in order to illustrate how adaptable they were in the past.

In addition, through practical scenarios and random exercises in interviews, HR managers and recruiters can see how adaptable someone is. Randomness is an important key here because adaptability is the opposite of predictability, so random exercises can prevent participants from preparing for the test in advance.

An AQ test that meets scientific quality criteria does not yet exist. However, we have found a small self-assessment tool, which we would be happy to make available to you if you are interested.

How can you build up the AQ of your employees?

"Man is a creature of habit." As true as this sentence may be, a lack of adaptability for the future of companies and individuals can be fatal. How can you as a manager support your employees in becoming more adaptable and accompany them in their personal growth?

Balanced leadership is a crucial aspect of promotion. A manager who sees himself as a support for the self-management of his employees and who creates a constructive work context for all employees makes it possible to identify and develop the potential of both the individual employees and the team and even the organisation.

We all know that past life is much more convincing than just talking. If you exemplify an attitude that expresses that change and intelligent adaptability are the normal state, employees will orient themselves accordingly. In short, personal conversations you can make your conviction clear, provide for exchange and radiate optimism.

Create framework conditions in such a way that experimentation is possible and explicitly desired. In this way, successively create a culture in which learning and experimentation are anchored as guiding principles.


The adaptation quotient (AQ) is an essential success factor for the working world of today and tomorrow. Both in the agile transformation of companies as well as in personal development for the future, this basic human ability will be in demand. In an entrepreneurial context, balanced leadership can be the central lever for developing the adaptability of employees and thus of the organization.

Further information about the AQ can be found in the whitepaper of Advantage/Forbes Books. The authors deal above all with current examples such as Wordpress and Apple, which in comparison to other "death elephants" (BlackBerry, Yahoo, MySpace, AOL, Kodak) have managed to survive in turbulent times thanks to their AQ.

If you would like to find out more about "balanced leadership", employee development or coaching, please feel free to inform yourself about our services in this area or simply contact us.