A series of questions leads to a compelling answer: Exceptional human effectiveness must have something to do with how people respond to adversity.
AQ Origins, History, & Applications
In 1979, as an undergraduate at the University of California, a young student named Paul G. Stoltz asked his mentor this question.
“What do you mean? At what?” his professor inquired.
“Anything, I guess. Business, life, sport, school... How do we really know who comes out ahead? Who wins?”
This was the birth of the first research project that led this student on a lifelong path of research and discovery, which eventually entailed completing a Ph.D. in organizational leadership, communication, and psychology.
As part of his masters’ and doctoral studies, Stoltz became active in leadership development at Honeywell, Inc. As he designed and delivered top-rated programs, he became increasingly curious about what he dubbed “the training cliff,” or the brief learning retention and even more limited actual gains demonstrated by most training. High program evaluations in no way correlated with actual behavioral change or sustainable business benefits. As companies spent more on developing their talent, Stoltz realized that dramatic improvements were required to achieve measurable and meaningful gains.
So, as Stoltz’s research evolved through the physical, social, and the burgeoning hybrid sciences, he discovered that his question had changed.
What is it inside the rare individual and enterprise that thrives on even the most difficult circumstances, when most do not?
This question — and a quest to create positive, meaningful, and enduring change in people and their enterprises — prompted Stoltz to found PEAK Learning in 1987.
The big “aha!” came when he and his growing team forced themselves to extract the central ingredient from all their piles of research derived from seemingly unrelated sciences. Team members arrived at the same conclusion: The central element in exceptional human effectiveness must have something to do with how people respond to the difficult side of life, or adversity.
There was compelling evidence that how we respond to life’s “tough stuff”— from the smallest hassles, annoyances, and hindrances to the most daunting tragedies — plays an epicenter-level role in all human endeavor.
Can we measure it?
That was the next question Dr. Stoltz posed to his team. Their research suggested that there should be a way to gauge AQ. They created the AQ Profile and began testing their theory. To their delight, even the early versions of the profile proved surprisingly effective at predicting resilience. What typically could take five to ten versions and rounds of testing to develop became reality in the first two to three. So, they began a quest to improve the profile, a journey that continues today
Can we improve it?
This was the next challenge. Was AQ fixed, like a tattoo? Or was it malleable, changeable, even late in life? The research on the human brain suggested that we could potentially rewire our patterns of response to adversity. Literally.
Early attempts at an AQ program showed promising results. Through decades of trial and error, Stoltz and his team developed a series of scientifically grounded, globally tested, and proven tools that consistently drive improvements in AQ.
As the initial AQ theory, measure, and improvements proved true, Stoltz realized that most people would never be able to complete an AQ program. So he wrote his first book, Adversity Quotient, Turning Obstacles into Opportunities, in 1997, which became an international bestseller in 14 languages and highlighted AQ in the media worldwide.
Can it stick?
Teaching AQ was one thing. Making the new behaviors and the gains people experienced really sustain was a bigger challenge. Again, Stoltz and his team turned to various studies on the human brain, as well as some on the biochemistry of learning. Applying these principles, they created the AQ SkillSites — a reinforcement challenge in the form of a 90-day “mountain climb” — that culminates with reassessing AQ. Results indicate that every group that completes an AQ program measurably and significantly improve their AQs and resilience. They also show that these results stick. With the help of focused reinforcement, once AQ goes up, it stays there.
Why has the word about AQ spread?
Since its inception, PEAK has tracked AQ results to gauge its effectiveness and found repeatedly that it predicts and drives a broad array of key success factors. Researchers from all over the world have contacted PEAK with their interest to explore and apply AQ in new ways. PEAK formed the Global Resilience Institute in 1999, in an effort to bring this growing community of scholars together. Today, the GRP includes research from 29 countries, representing an increasingly broad array of AQ studies, ranging from health care and education, to leadership, wealth management, and ethical fortitude.
So... who wins?
Over the 30-plus years since a young undergraduate student asked that question, we have discovered some pretty compelling answers. We have learned that the molecule of human endeavor consists of two essential parts: events and responses. And while we cannot often control the events, we can always increase our mastery of the response.
Today, AQ is the world’s leading theory, measure, and application of human resilience. PEAK has grown every year since 1987, and AQ is in more demand than ever. As the world faces bigger opportunities and challenges, AQ can play a more critical role in helping humanity thrive. For PEAK and AQ, the ascent has only begun.
AQ applications in education and health
In 2006, Harvard Business School contacted Dr. Stoltz with its discovery that resilience was a key factor in leadership and business success, requesting permission to integrate PEAK’s AQ theory and methods into executive education courses. As AQ proves its popularity and effectiveness among the HBS faculty, it is finding its way into a broader array of executive education and Harvard MBA curricula.
In 2008, a groundbreaking study in the UK revealed that AQ predicts a broad range of new factors including respiratory, digestive, cardiac, nutritional, sick days, and mental health. The same study showed that AQ predicts (correlates with) optimism, happiness, engagement at work, and overall quality of life. New health care studies, currently underway, are sure to expand this promising and critical application of AQ.