Resilience matters!

Woman jumping over a wide gap

An article made for the moment.

I first spotted this in the May 2008 edition of the Australian Financial Review’s BOSS magazine. We have re-produced it here in much shortened form but acknowledging its source none the less. The article was written by Mike Hanley and based around study and research conducted by Paul Stoltz, CEO of US based research and consulting firm Peak Learning.

In October 2003 Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was diagnosed with a Pancreatic Tumour, whilst deep in the middle of the turn-around of Apple Corp. Jobs (now famously) refused an operation and decided to pursue alternative treatment through diet. For 9 months Jobs persisted with his treatment causing the board of Apple much concern over their disclosure obligations until after 9 months Jobs relented and had the surgery.

This aspect of the story itself is not remarkable as many people endure illnesses such as this one all the time. However those close to Jobs said that what DID make it remarkable was that throughout the ordeal, even those close to him saw nothing in Jobs that suggested anything was awry in his demeanour. Conversely most of us faced with such a life threatening diagnosis would find it near impossible to focus on anything else. Steve Jobs though dealt with the internal battle (beating the disease) as well as the external battle (dealing with a board of directors and the market) as well as the every day challenges of being such a high profile figure known the world over, and all of this without a glimmer of uncertainty. 

Clearly Jobs is different to most ordinary mortals in that he deals with adversity better than many of us…

The article reported that when Paul Stoltz was a student at the University of California, he once posed a flippant question to one of his lecturers –

‘In business, life, sports - who wins?’

The teacher told him to make that his research project and Stoltz has now been studying the subject for some 27 years after finding the available literature on the subject of ‘who wins’ largely unsatisfactory.

His enquiries led him to various conferences where he would pose ‘nosy’ questions to experts. The answers eventually produced a strong theme: Adversity.

He discovered that thriving on adversity runs like a thread through people who choose to be entrepreneurs and leaders of any form.

‘They actually enjoyed stepping up to life’s challenges rather than feeling exhausted by them’

Eventually his studies led him to wrap more science around the concepts and thus was born the ‘Adversity Quotient’ a psychological yardstick that Stoltz likens to the Intelligence Quotient, or the Emotional Quotient.

The AQ is designed to measure an individual’s propensity for resilience – the ability to overcome and even relish, adversity.

Since creating the quotient and a test to measure it, the test has been applied to half a million people around the globe, the latest version in collaboration with the Harvard University. The results show that humanity’s AQ is a bell curve, with a mean of 150 and a standard deviation of close to 11. Steve Jobs is up around 180 and the rest of us hover around 150. 

The Resilience Core.

So what does it mean to have a high AQ, to be resilient? The AQ profile measures four dimensions of resilience:

  1. Control – People who have a strong sense of control believe they can influence events and change them as they arise to suit their purposes. A stock market crash becomes a buying opportunity, or a new market regulation is not an administrative burden but becomes a barrier to entry protecting you against competition.

  2. Ownership – People who take ownership, more readily step up when difficult situations arise, taking the initiative to improve things for themselves.

  3. Reach – This dimension assesses the extent to which you let a setback in one area reach over and affect you in other areas. How good are you at compartmentalising adversity? How much does a setback in your personal life reflect in your performance at work?

  4. Endurance – This measures your propensity to hold on to adversity rather than letting it go. While Reach captures how adversity in one part of your life affects another part, Endurance measures how long you let adversity keep you at hostage.

Born or Made?

Is AQ another element of the genetic lottery that determines whether or not people or organisations are successful? If you are a low AQ person should you be satisfied or seek out less demanding and lower stress situations that play to your lower level of resilience?

According to Stoltz, the answer is no and the research seems to suggest that genetics account for only 10% of the AQ. AQ does becomes hard wired at around 16, but it can be changed through cognitive therapy. Awareness is also important according to Stoltz and you can change it simply by knowing about it and how it affects your responses to things and how then you can more actively respond to life’s little annoyances as well as it’s big adversities.

Whether born or made, either way clearly people who perceive they have a lot of control over the outcome of things, who are prepared to take responsibility for how things play out, who don’t let adversity in one part of their life rule other parts and who let go of bad things easily, will be pretty resilient. They will bounce back more readily and they will stride more purposefully towards their future. And as the financial crisis unfolds, as equities markets crumble, as trading conditions worsen, these kinds of traits will become much more valuable, both for individuals and for the organisations who depend on them