The Adversity Quotient
Paul G. Stoltz
John Wiley & Sons, 330 pages, $23.50
The Adversity Quotient @ Work
Paul G. Stoltz
Morrow, 316 pages, $39.50
The Adversity Advantage
Paul G. Stoltz and Erik Weihenmayer
Fireside, 283 pages, $32.99
How many adversities do you encounter in a day? Does 23 sound right? That’s the number that Paul Stoltz, who has written widely on adversity, says on average we confront daily. Whether the estimate fits your life is probably less relevant than another point he stresses: how you deal with those adversities predicts whether you will be successful.
He first laid out his ideas in The Adversity Quotient, arguing that we need to learn to turn obstacles into opportunities. He defined success as the degree to which one moves forward and upward, despite all obstacles. He set out a metaphor of life being like a mountain – prophetic, as it turned out, since his most recent book, published 10 years later, in 2007, was written with a blind mountain climber. On our journey up the mountain, he says we encounter three types of people: quitters, who have abandoned the climb; campers, who terminate the ascent and remain on a comfortable plateau; and climbers, who never allow any obstacle to get in the way of the ascent. Sounds like the office, right?
The initial book noted that some people who are high on both IQ and emotional intelligence still fall tragically short of their potential. He argued that AQ, their Adversity Quotient, was the explanation. AQ is something we can intuitively understand, but he stressed it’s not easy to spot. A study he conducted of coaches found they couldn’t predict which of their athletic charges would improve and which would do worse after receiving a slower time. “Despite knowing these athletes for as long as four years, the coach was accurate only 25 percent of the time, where random guessing alone would result in 50 percent accuracy,” he notes.
AQ, therefore, must be measured, and the book allows you to determine your own score by answering 30 questions that probe your attitudes and behaviour. He is fond of acronyms and frames his questionnaire and our understanding around four dimensions he brings together under the label CO2RE:
- C = Control: This deals with the question of how much control you perceive that you have over an adverse event. Life is filled with situations where most people would figure nothing can be done, but someone – a Mohandas Gandhi, taking on the British Empire, for example – acts and things change. And it’s not just Gandhi: think of government executives sent into sinkholes who managed to turn things around. “Those with higher AQs simply perceive greater control over life’s events than do those with lower AQs. As a result, they take action, which results in more control. Those with higher AQs are more likely to climb, whereas those with lower AQs are more likely to camp or quit. The self-fulfilling prophecy is real,” he observes.
- O2 = Origin and Ownership: Here two questions are posed: who or what was the origin of the adversity? And to what degree do I own the outcomes of the adversity? Let’s start with origin. It’s important for you to acknowledge if you are responsible in some way for the adversity arising. You want to learn from the incident. But you must place an accurate degree of blame on yourself, not overdo it, since too much self-blame can be demoralizing and destructive. You need to put your role in perspective, recognizing other factors probably also played a part. While you don’t want to heap excessive blame on yourself, you still want to take complete ownership of the situation, regardless of the cause. You don’t wait for someone else to solve the problem, or leave it to fate. You act out of a sense of ownership and overcome the adversity.
- R = Reach: Here the crucial question is how far will the adversity reach into other areas of your life? People with low AQ let the adversity bleed over into other facets of their life. So a bad meeting becomes a ruined day, if not week. “The lower your R score [in his quiz], the more likely you are to catastrophize bad events, allowing them to spread, consuming your happiness and peace of mind in the process,” he warns. On the other hand, people with high R scores limit the reach of the problem to just the event at hand. They don’t extend beyond that incident.
- E = Endurance: Here two related questions are asked: how long will the adversity last? And how long will the cause of the adversity last? Again, people with low AQ facility tend to catastrophize. They believe adversities like this always happen to them or their team, things will never get better, and their department is doomed. They view the adversity as permanent, which renders them helpless to change. People with strong AQ tend to view the situation and the cause of the adversity as temporary, something that can be overcome.
The book has lots of tips for dealing with adversity. When your boss gives you a dreadful assignment, focus on your pen for 30 seconds to distract you from exaggerating the awfulness of the situation into a catastrophe. More generally, it offers a handy formula for handling adversity better, called the LEAD sequence.
You must learn to Listen to your CORE response when you hit adversity, interrupting your traditional pattern of response if it’s poor. Then you must Establish accountability, determining which part of the adverse situation you are responsible for improving – to even a minor degree, no matter how small. Next, Analyze the situation to determine why the adversity seems to be out of your control, far-reaching, and long lasting. Finally, Do something to start overcoming the adversity.
Much of that is repeated in his second book, The Adversity Quotient @ Work, but he also looks at how to use the ideas for evaluating and improving the AQ of your teams, building a climbing culture, and using the notion of AQ in your behavioural interviewing. In The Adversity Advantage, he teams with Erik Weihenmayer, the only blind person to reach the summit of the seven highest mountains, who interestingly was influenced by Terry Fox’s magnificent attempt to run across Canada on one leg. The book weaves Weihenmayer’s compelling stories of climbing mountains with Stoltz’s research and experiences working to improve individuals’ ability to handle adversity, all centred on a metaphor of climbing seven summits:
- Summit 1 – Take It On: Instead of turning away from your adversity, you must turn directly into it and welcome it, recognizing the challenge will strengthen you and allow you to go further by overcoming it.
- Summit 2 – Summon Your Strengths: In contemplating action, don’t count on your existing strengths to ease you through. Use the adversity to sharpen existing strengths, but even more importantly let it help you grow new strengths.
- Summit 3 – Engage Your CORE: This urges you to control what you can, take ownership, minimize the reach of the impact and how long you believe it will endure.
- Summit 4 – Pioneer Possibilities: You must go beyond the tried and true responses to your situation and pioneer new possibilities. Weihenmayer, for example, has developed all sorts of unique systems for mountain climbing to compensate for be