Adversity Quotient: Secret of successful people

By Frederick Mordi


Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was a dogged fighter and an enduring symbol of perseverance. Lincoln grew up in abject poverty and often went about without shoes. For this reason, he was nicknamed ‘Barefoot Abe.’

He did not receive formal education because his parents were poor. But he loved reading. He was an omnivorous reader. He read any book that he came across, often by the fireplace, as electricity was not common in those days. Little by little, he taught himself how to read and write. He eventually became a lawyer. As a lawyer, he had a reputation for being honest. This also earned him the moniker: ‘Honest Abe.’ He did various jobs including: manual labourer, railroad builder, store clerk, soldier, and surveyor, before he entered politics.

It is said that he failed several times in his political career. He was defeated when he ran for the position of Speaker; he was defeated when he tried to get nomination for Congress; and he was defeated for the Senate. He also lost the nomination for Vice President. But he did not give up, until he finally became President. Apart from politics, he also failed in business. Lincoln’s interesting story demonstrates man’s inherent ability to triumph over adversities. It proves the truth in the well-known saying often used to encourage people who are passing through difficulties in life: ‘Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.’


People have different threshold levels for managing adversity. Some people have low threshold, while others have high threshold levels. Those with high threshold levels are able to push on, when others give up easily. Successful people appear to have high threshold levels of managing adversity. A few examples will drive home this point.

Henry Ford’s early business ventures failed before he became successful; Soichiro Honda, the man who founded Honda, once failed a job interview with Toyota Motor Corporation, but did not lose hope; even Bill Gates Jr. founder of Microsoft and one of the wealthiest men on the planet, failed in his first business. All three surmounted the initial obstacles on their path and went on to become successful.


Dr. Paul Stoltz, who has studied the capacity of people to handle adversities, coined the term Adversity Quotient (AQ) in 1997. Stoltz defines AQ as a score that measures the ability of a person to deal with adversities in his or her life. AQ is also referred to as the science of resilience. Stoltz put together his research findings in a book entitled: Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities, which became an international bestseller.

It all started during his undergraduate days at the University of California, when he sought to know from his professor what makes people win in business, sport, school and even life. The professor could not answer this question. And so Stoltz took it upon himself to find out why. It was his research that eventually culminated in the concept of Adversity Quotient.

Man using scissors to remove the word can't to read I can do it concept for self belief, positive attitude and motivation

Stoltz discovered in the course of his research that people respond differently to adversity. He found out that how people respond to adversity determines how successful they become in life. Perhaps, the most interesting part of his discovery is the fact that AQ is not fixed and as such can be improved upon. Stoltz and his team have come up with a series of scientifically backed, internationally tested, and verified methodologies that consistently drive improvements in AQ.

Currently, PEAK, an organisation that he set up to research into AQ, has helped schools and companies to increase their performance. For instance, Harvard Business School has integrated Stoltz’s AQ theory and methods into its executive education courses. Apart from education and business, the AQ concept also finds application in the field of health. A study in the United Kingdom further established that there is a correlation between AQ and optimism, happiness, meaningful engagement at work, and general quality of life. AQ is quite different from Intelligence Quotient (IQ), which measures one’s level of intelligence; or Emotional Intelligence (EQ) that relates to a person’s ability to make mature decisions.


It is important to build up your strength to be able to confront adversity, when it comes. One of the ways of defeating adversity is by refusing to give up in the face of daunting challenges. The words of Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, may serve as an inspiration as you do so: “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.”



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