Venture investor Natalie Fratto met with 273 start-up founders last year.
Over brief encounters, Fratto had to make a quick judgment about which one has the potential to be really big.
Most venture investors in her position focus on technical credentials and charisma: Did they go to an Ivy League school? Have they worked at a blue-chip company? Can they build teams and rapport with customers and clients?
Essentially they’re asking, “How smart is this person?”
Fratto has a different methodology to assess start-up founders. As Fratto shared in a 2019 TED Talk:
“ I look for signs of one specific trait. Not IQ, not EQ. It’s adaptability: how well a person reacts to the inevitability of change, and lots of it. That’s the single most important determinant for me. I subscribe to the belief that adaptability itself is a form of intelligence, and our adaptability quotient, or AQ, is something that can be measured, tested and improved.”
Adaptability isn’t just useful for startup founders — any job seeker, entrepreneur, creator, marketer, or leader should be investing in their AQ.
The world is speeding up
Technology, media, education, relationships — they're all accelerating, forcing our brains to react to more change than ever before in human history.
Disruption is changing how jobs are done and will continue to make certain positions obsolete if you’re unwilling to adapt. According to a 2019 IBM study, over the next three years, 120 million people in the world’s 12 largest economies may need to be reskilled because of automation.
As Dave Coplin, CEO of The Envisioners told BBC, “Any roles that involve spotting patterns in data –lawyers reviewing legal documents or doctors making a patient diagnosis, for example — are easy to automate.”
Edmondson says every profession will require adaptability and flexibility, from banking to the arts. He uses accounting as an example: You need a minimum IQ to qualify for the job and a level of EQ to land an offer. But AQ determines how successful you will be in that job over the long-term. When systems change or aspects of work are automated, AQ will help you accommodate this innovation and adapt to new ways of performing your role.
The good news is, adaptability isn’t a fixed trait. It’s not something you're born with. Anyone can exercise their adaptability like a muscle. Here’s how.
Ask “what if” questions to test different simulations
What if my main revenue source dried up overnight? What if a storm tomorrow prevents customers from visiting my store?
The strength of someone can be learned by how many solid, distinct scenarios they come up with to answer those “what if” questions.
Speaking from personal experience, this became a reality very quickly for our marketing agency in March. The ability to remain engaged with clients through digital platforms was key to keeping our team running. Everyone, from the CEO to an entry-level assistant, needed to anticipate different what ifs and solve them as quickly as possible.
Guess what? We made it through some very difficult periods that saw other agencies close their doors. We adapted. They didn’t. It’s an unfortunate reality of surviving in an ever-evolving business world.
Rather than testing how you retain information, test how you manipulate information in order to achieve a certain goal. Then, when change happens (and it will), you’ll be ready.
Be a flexible “unlearner”
In elementary school, I heavily favored my right hand while playing basketball. Dribbling with my left hand felt uncomfortable and unnecessary. Why go left if I was better going right?
As I graduated to junior high, this bad habit stuck. I was a good basketball player, but I still resisted using my left hand.
After a botched layup in practice, my coach pulled me aside and said, “If you don’t start playing correctly, you’re going to stop playing.” Message received. For the next two months, I lived in my garage only using my left hand. I relearned how to dribble. And I spent the following seven years playing competitive basketball.
“Active unlearners seek to challenge what they presume to already know, and instead, override that data with new information. Kind of like a computer running a disk cleanup.”
Are you willing to unlearn skills you already know to embrace change? If a sixth-grader can do it, you can too. That’s what adapting is really about.
Embrace exploration in life and business
In 2000, a man snuck his way into a meeting with John Antioco, the CEO of Blockbuster. He proposed a partnership to manage Blockbuster’s online business.
Antioco, a wildly successful businessperson laughed him out of the room, saying, “I have millions of existing customers and thousands of successful retail stores. I really need to focus on the money.”
In 2010, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy.
In 2018, the man from the meeting brought in 15.8 billion dollars.
His name? Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix.
The Blockbuster CEO was too focused on exploiting his established business model. He was shortsighted and couldn’t see what was around the corner — previous success blinded his potential.
We tend to overvalue exploitation because it shows an immediate ROI. But an exploratory mindset is where innovation happens.
Adaptability creates opportunity
This tumultuous year has taught us that success comes to those who are willing to take on new skills and responsibilities under pressure.
Even minor changes in life require adjustment. Something simple like “unlearning” can take months or even years to master. Don’t get discouraged. The willingness alone is what matters. And that’s what Fratto looks for when she decides who to invest in — an open mind.
By practicing simulations with “what if” questions, seeking out ways to challenge and unlearn what you think you know, and prioritizing exploration over exploitation, you can train your mind to be more adaptable.
Good luck and happy adapting.