What’s Your AQ?

Ah Q Spirit or low AQ? (image: Sweet Briar College Gallery)

Ah Q and his low AQ
(art:Sweet Briar College Galleries)

When I first heard about AQ, it was in China, and I thought it was somehow related to the story of Ah-Q, by the father of modern Chinese literature, Lu Xun. In “The Real Story of Ah Q”, the title character is a coward and petty thief, who is frequently getting beat up by everyone including other thieves. Yet Ah Q believes that he is superior to all of his tormentors, and that every time he loses, he wins. Though this story was written in the 1920’s, there was a popular book recently in China about the “Ah-Q Spirit”, which suggested that Ah-Q’s way of thinking actually helped him to survive, first by taking the route of surrender against superior odds, and by creating a positive self-image of that motivated him to face his miserable existence.

When most people talk about Ah-Q spirit, they are using the term derisively, about someone who deceives themselves into thinking they are successful when they fail, and who turns tail at the first sign of trouble. This is the kind of person who, according to behavioral scientist Dr. John G Stolz, is suffering from low AQ (no relation to Ah Q). Stolz coined the term Adversity Quotient as a means of measuring human resilience. AQ will tell you a lot about a person’s response to crisis, rejection or sudden change. In his book, Adversity Quotient, Turning Obstacles into Opportunities, Stolz uses something called the ARP (Adversity Response Profile), as a way of creating a baseline AQ score.

The first time I took the test I scored 182, (200 is perfect) which I believe has everything to do with the ‘baptism by blowtorch’ I received starting up companies in China for 18 years. This score says that I eat adversity for breakfast. Unfortunately, there is no correlation between the AQ score and IQ score (on which my math skills are equivalent to those of a teenage gibbon). Yet Stolz found in years of research that even high IQ people who have low AQ, are significantly less successful than low IQ people with high AQ scores. His results pointed to AQ as a solid predictor of sales, performance, agility, problem-solving and long-term success.

I tested this theory on a group of employees among whom I was experiencing a higher than usual turnover rate. My company at the time, ALTEC was hiring dozens of teachers from the U.S. and Canada to place with multinational companies in China as language trainers. They were on 1 year contracts, but I found that nearly half of them would quit well before the end of the year, yet we had very low turnover among other staff. The trainers, despite a week of onboarding training, were experiencing culture shock, home sickness and partying with other trainers to the point where people were not making it to work. After a couple of years of these problems, which bahavioral interviewing wasn’t improving, we gave prospective candidates an AQ test in their home country before hiring them. As a result, we declined to hire those with low AQ scores, even when they had much better qualifications on paper than those with higher AQ. The result was a stunning 50% reduction in turnover among the group.

I was so impressed by the results, that I began teaching AQ theory & methodology to our corporate clients. What I was teaching them was how to identify high AQ people in hiring, how to create high AQ teams and raise organizational AQ. The key components of this theory are C.O.R.E., which stands for Control, Ownership, Reach and Endurance. So to understand your own AQ, you want to focus on these areas by asking powerful questions such as:

How much control do I really have in this situation? Except for natural phenomena, there is a lot you can control, such as your thinking, emotions and behavior. While you can’t control other people, you can influence them through exercising more conscious awareness of your thoughts, feelings and words. When low AQ people answer, “I can’t control 90% of this situation,” I’ll remind them that they can always control 100% of their attitude. 

How much am I willing to own in this situation?  High AQ people realize that even though they didn’t necessarily casue a problem, they can still take on ownership for it. Ownership is a state of mind as much as a legal or administrative right, just as one can lead from any position, regardless of title. Everytime you exercise driving coutesy, you’re taking ownership for the problem of aggressive drivers. Even though you can’t control them, you can influence them and own part of the solution.

How much of my life am I willing to let the problem effect?  Imagine segmenting your life like an orange. You’d have a work life, family life, spiritual life, intellectual life, financial life, personal life, etc. So if one thing happens in one part, are you willing to let it effect the other parts? This is sometimes known as compartmentalizing or isolating, and it can be very effective in letting, say, a bad day at the office negatively influence family & friend relationships and vice versa.

How long am I willing to let this situation continue?  If your AQ score is low in the E (Endurance) component (mine is), it means you tend to procrastinate and lose sleep over things that you could action now. This part of AQ relates to jumping in rather than walking around the pool when it comes to solving problems.

Finally, Stolz introduces L.E.A.D., as an acronym to help you raise your score:

Listen to your AQ response: is it high or low? “My life is over” (low) or “What can I do differently?” (high)

Evaluate the origins of the response: what is telling you you have no control or ownership in the situation?

Analyze the evidence: where is the evidence that this has to go on forever/ruin your life, etc? (Hint: there isn’t any)

Do something: because doing nothing will get you more of the same, so take constructive and decisive action

I’m a fan of AQ theory because it has helped me personally as well as my company in dealing resourcefully with crisis. I’m now working on a long-term and rewarding project: becomig a high AQ family. Please check in regularly, as I’ll be sharing my success stories (and not so success stories) here on UnboundedLife.com.