The Importance of Context: Why We Need To Think Collaboratively If We Are To Adapt

Ross Thornley
February 8, 2020
February 8, 2020

Warning — this post contains lot's of information.

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One thing I’ve noticed is in Western thinking we often tend to disregard context. Western civilisation as a whole is very individual-focused. Our entire psyche is formed around the concept of lone geniuses or heroes on missions to save the world. We have terms such as bread-winner (from the Anglo Saxon term for Lord, hlaford, which means ‘giver of bread’, as it was the Lord who distributed food to their community), which again prioritises the role of the individual. However, in our exponential world, we are increasingly seeing the need for collaboration, teamwork, and communal efforts to solve problems.

At AQai, we are transforming the field of ‘people metrics’, and we see again that there is often an individual-focus. With rare exceptions, such as the Motivational Map, which has team and organisational functionalities, the majority of people metrics such as Kolbe, Strengthsfinder, and psychometrics such as Myers Briggs, deal with individual reports.

Our mission at AQai is to measure Adaptability Quotient (AQ), and to help people improve it, ensuring no one is left behind in this period of rapid and exponential change.

Here is a quick demo of our assessment and platform:

We’re living in a period of great uncertainty, disruption, and transformation. Every other story in business is one of either bankruptcy and sacking staff, or, by distinct contrast, the emergence of billion-dollar evaluated unicorns. Back in 2000, twenty years ago, I was running projects for Sony about shifting marketing from print to digital! The world of two decades ago was a linear one focused on productivity and incremental tweaks. It was a knowledge economy, where what we did yesterday would help us tomorrow.

Now, we’ve entered an imagination economy. We cannot predict things in the same way, because they’re changing too quickly. Adaptability has always been important, but we’re entering a period where it has become more important than ever, because as a species, we are not adapting at the same pace as technology is. This is where friction manifests and where we risk leaving people behind. There is an evident correlation to my mind between the technological boom and higher levels of anxiety, depression, and mental health difficulties than perhaps at any point in human history. People need help ‘levelling up’.

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We need a new operating system for change, for exponential change.

Many of the previous models were about managing risk. This fostered a belief that this conservative operational methodology led to higher chances of success. However, in a mere decade, some of the largest and most successful retailers in the world, such as Sears, have gone bankrupt, with many others losing 90% of their market cap. They couldn’t adapt, orunlearn the old methodologies. However, it isn’t just that the retail industry in its entirety is going to collapse. People who are using imagination in the same industry, such as Walmart and Amazon, are seeing massive uplifts in their valuation in the same period. Both of these companies have shown great adaptability to the changes in their industry. To survive, and not merely survive but thrive, we must do the same.

Many people see a need to adapt, but the problem is we often have a blindspot when it comes to ourselves (hence the existence of all these people-metrics, psychometrics, and self-perception inventories). We might be able to see how other people need to adapt, but it is much more difficult to gain vision of that in ourselves (or in our own organisation). We all have things to unlearn, and our unlearning depends on the context surrounding us as much as it does our adaptability skills.

At AQai, we have created an AQ assessment, giving people insight into their AQ and importantly help individuals, and teams begin to understand the effect of their Environment on their adaptability.

We break down Adaptability Quotient into three dimensions:

  • Ability
  • Character
  • Environment

(We call it the A.C.E model)

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Whether we can adapt or not, and how easy we find that process, depends greatly on context (the interrelation of Character and Environment with our Ability).

For example, you might be completely okay with taking critical feedback from an internal, regular source. This might lead you to adapt your output, working style, or methodology without problem. But feedback from a competitor or the market itself, might be distressing or destabilising. We must start to view adaptability as not just a skill that some people have and some don’t. Seemingly highly adaptable people may well, in different contexts, be less able to adapt.

One thing I often talk about is the difference between responding and reacting.

Reacting is instinctive. Reacting is hackles-up, instant. It is when we receive a bit of information that perhaps challenges us and it causes an involuntary almost chemical flare up. The alternative is responding. Responding is not instant or instinctive, it is about taking our time to consider the information and give an appropriate answer. However, we are not always able to respond in this way, especially if environmental pressures are putting us in a headspace of fight or flight.

25 companies went through our phase 1 beta (about 1000 people). We’ve run some initial multivariate regressions on predicting how people thrive at work. We thought, environmentally speaking, it would be the personality and relationship to the manager that would be the biggest influence on adaptability, behaviour and how we respond to change. However, interestingly, it’s much more the view of the team that’s had the most influence on stress levels and excitement. In other words, a holistic, collaborative aspect. Specifically, to what degree problems could be openly discussed and disagreed with in a team setting; this had a drastic influence on adaptability performance. So, a key indicator of adaptability may well be how good you, collectively, are at disagreeing with people, and whether the team can cope with those discussions.

If you would like a full copy of our benchmark report: Adaptability, an organizational superpower — Insights from the Global AQ 2019 Study, then shoot me an email.

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Our AQme assessment is available and you can sign up here.

We must view things with the lens of context. When we talk about someone failing to adapt, or perhaps thriving with adaptability, we must consider what their context is. It might be much easier for someone with a tight support-network of collaborators to adapt than someone on their own. The goal then needs to improve their Resilience or Mental Flexibility (some of their adaptability skills) alongside building an environment to foster adaption. A community of highly adaptive collaborators.

Our aim at AQai is to curate the most powerful adaptability tools, interventions, and coaching, then help organisations integrate them into their cultures and communities at a bone deep level building future-ready organisations.

The past and the old way:

I think this leads on to another key distinction in how we want to approach AQ and helping others. Though we are a HR-Tech and ED-Tech startup, we are not solely focused on Talent Management, but also Change Management. Talent Management asks questions such as: Are we hiring the right people? When we do hire them, are they in the right seat? Do they need any learning opportunities to progress? Change Management is a different kettle of fish. It asks: What happened, what makes me up (state of the employee)? Often these measures are static. Some of the good Change Management tools or people-metrics go one step further and explore Why did that happen? What led to the employee being in this state. It’s all past-focused.

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The future and a whole new way:

We differ in two ways. Firstly, AQ is not static, it can be improved over time and in different contexts. You might do the same assessment in six months and get a radically different result in certain areas. We want to build an ecosystem and platform to allow people to manage and up-level their AQ, including digital coaching. In addition, we are begining to leverage AI to predict what will happen when. Then, we can help individuals and organisations optimise their approach: we now know how to make change happen. 73% of change initiatives fail. If we can understand the factors that influence that, it will be invaluable for organisations to help them succeed in transforming their approach to thrive in this new era.

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For more information on AQ, check out this interview with Ross Thornley by Shannon Wallers on the Strategic Coach Team Success Podcast:

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What’s Your Adaptability Quotient? — With Entrepreneur And Expert Ross Thornley — Your Team Success

Or you can go to Adaptai’s website

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