Forget IQ. What’s your ability to ADAPT or AQ?

[Post by Diego Kerner, Managing Partner for Latin America]

The great Stephen Hawking defined intelligence as ‘the ability to adapt to change’. And change dominates the landscape of any marketer today. Brands are re-defining their role in society, seeking to be more purpose-led. Media and communication channels are changing faster than we can sometimes understand. And the retail world is moving into a new and uncertain age, as Amazon increases its reach and start-ups like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club use direct-to-consumer models.

In this new context, managers need to develop and grow their ‘Adaptability Quotient’ or AQ (thanks to innovation expert Sebastian Campanario for sharing this concept). AQ is an evolution of the famous EQ (Emotional Quotient), adding the ability to quickly and effectively adapt to change. It involves acknowledging and accepting new facts, and then being abile to respond rapidly and positively to the challenges they pose.

This may all sound logical and even obvious. But in reality,  big companies have the dangerous habit of seeing changes coming, but then ignoring them or underestimating their impact. We call this ‘marketing inertia’, illustrated by a series of posts on the the dramatic demise of once-famous brands like Nokia, Blockbuster, Kodak and Toys R Us.

On the other hand, there companies that have shown how to scan for changes that are happening and, most importantly, do something smart in response. We posted here about Shop Direct, a mail-order company that transformed itself from a 100% printed catalogue business into a pure digital player. And Facebook step-changed its capability in the fast growing mobile space by acquiring and scaling up Instagram.

So, how to boost your AQ? This requires improving your capability in areas such as the following:

  • Quickly recognize and learn from your mistakes: despite what we night hear about initiatives related to recognizing mistakes internally (e.g. ‘F*ck up nights’), the reward systems of many companies still encourage covering up mistakes or down-playing them. Massive hidden costs come with this, such us the inability to learn and improve, with mistakes repeated twice or three times. Peoples’ valuable energy is wasted on explaing away the errors, rather than using them as a stimulus to create and move forward. Unless employees feel safe to accept and share mistakes, obviously always accompanied by learning, they won’t do it.


  • Learn to say “I don’t know” and ask for help: declaring a lack of expertise in a topic can be seen as a sign of weakness in the corporate world. Again, it generates waste, with managers planning and executing initiatives without proper knowledge or experience. There can also be an unspoken and harmful lack of trust among colleagues, who can’t rely on each other (if you doubt someone’s ability, you don’t trust them to execute it well).


  • Working in ‘beta’. Really.: much is talked about prototyping, starting small and changing fast….but in reality, doing this for real is still quite rare in established businesses, such as big consumer goods companies. This is closely related to the point above about the difficulty of recognizing mistakes and learning from them. Speed, learning and effectiveness could be unleashed if we approached projects in a circular and iterative way, instead of a linear and logical one (which in reality never happens anyway). Each loop enable us to learn and adjust. As founder and CEO of Launrapp Edward Relf said in a post here, ‘Test. Learn. Scale or kill. At speed.’

In conclusion, though it sounds paradoxical in a digital and algorithm-dominated era, businesses need more than ever for leaders to surrender to their humanity. By accepting their vulnerabilities and flaws, they will learn better and faster, and in doing so become more capable of surviving and thriving in today’s turbulent times.