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Winning Through Adversity

Updated: Dec 1, 2017



Much has been written about the secret to successful people, having something to do with the ability to get up after being knocked down. The drive to overcome obstacles by finding a way over, under or around them, like the fish swimming upstream and over the rocks. Can it really be this simple? Not easy, but simple?


One of my favorite books is written by author Malcolm Gladwell (Blink / Tipping Point / David and Goliath and others) OUTLIERS. In this book, he determines that we spend a lot of time examining what people are like, and pay too little attention to where they are from: that is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing.


Willie Jolley wrote the popular "A Setback is a Setup for a Comeback" in the 90's. He re-introduces the idea of Adversity Quotient, or AQ. He wrote that successful people possess a higher AQ (Adversity Quotient), which is a predictor for success along with IQ and EQ (Emotional Quotient). He writes about everyday people who refused to cower in the face of hardships, and found opportunities in unlikely places. There are humorous insights ("sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug") and practical methods (Need to rid yourself of negative thoughts? "Face it, trace it, erase it, replace it!"). Read that last one again, it may be one of the greatest memory tools in the book.


Most of us understand IQ, and the 90's fixation on EQ brought it clearly into the fore. AQ has had less press, and scientists debate its validity, especially as a hiring filter.


in 1998, Paul Stoltz, a Flagstaff, Ariz.-based consultant on organizational performance, wrote a book on the subject, aptly named: 'Adversity Quotient'. He examines the difference between employees who stride over hurdles and those who are 'stopped in their tracks', and developed a test for measuring a person's 'AQ'. His research indicates that AQ is a better predictor of success than intelligence, education or socioeconomic background. Depending on the scores, Stoltz outlines three distinct categories of achievers - Quitters, Campers and Climbers. The good news is, that AQ is not fixed for life, folks can change how they look at life and their approach.


1. The Quitter

Quitters don't handle change well. They complain incessantly about how the company is run, but they are the first to pick apart new initiatives. And heaven forbid they take it upon themselves to make things better.


They interpret every small irritation, such as a traffic jam, a frozen computer or a snippy co-worker, as a major setback. They've got more whine than Ernest and Julio Gallo, more "can't" than a German philosophy class. They spend a lot of time complaining about how office politics or "the system" is holding them back, when the truth is they've fallen and simply won't get up.


2. The Camper

Ever been to a national park and seen those tourists driving RVs as big as Rhode Island? They've got Oprah on the TV, steaks on the gas grill and the water-bed heater cranked on high for those chilly mountain nights. To heck with that backpacking stuff. They're so comfortable they may never leave the parking lot.


Transfer that cozy image to the workplace and you've got the camper. Unlike quitters, campers have experienced some success. (How else could they afford those expensive motor homes?) In fact, says Stoltz, most campers are former climbers. At some point they simply decided they had gone far enough. That's when they looked around for that cushy spot that would allow them to lounge right into retirement.


Workplace campers tend to like the familiar, the status quo. They're competent at what they do, comfortable doing it, paid well for it. But the old days of stretching and striving are over. Risk-taking and change aren't warmly embraced. That would mean breaking out of the comfort zone, maybe looking foolish or feeling like a goat if they make a mistake.


3. The Climber

Stoltz outlines that maintaining drive on a consistent basis is the mark of the climber.


Climbers demonstrate a spunk and heartiness that keeps them pushing ever upward. When big obstacles land in their path, they figure out a way over, around, under or through them. Like eating an elephant, they take it one chunk at a time, refusing to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task.


Remember Gilligan's classic response when, during some typically silly castaway mishap, he was told this was no time to panic? "It's as good a time as any," replied the bumbling star of "Gilligan's Island."


Climbers don't panic, or not for long anyway. If a project blows up, they build a firewall and go to work, instead of whipping themselves into hysteria thinking their entire career has been torched.


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