AQai is an intelligent algorithm platform that measures, understands, and improves an individual’s or teams adaptability quotient (AQ), found that the ability to unlearn could boost adaptability by 40%. Here Ross Thornley, co-founder and CEO, shares how forgetting the past helped him avoid burnout, breakdown and boredom in his career.
We find ourselves in a shared world experience. One where everyone is in the same storm, but their boats, crews and location on the sea are vastly different as they ride the three ‘B’s -burnout, breakdown and boredom.
I am fascinated by how we all respond and react differently in situations; when a storm warning comes in, for example, some will batten the windows, tie down the hatches and hunker in. While others chase the ride, the rush, only to feel alive and be in the wild moments, risking everything for the adrenaline, the story, the experience.
Riding the COVID-19 wave
Beyond the life-changing direct health impact for those families touched by COVID-19, it has affected almost everyone on the planet. How we live, work, and socialise. Businesses are under tremendous pressure to survive, to adapt to the new environment. Turning to accelerate their digital transformation programmes, drive radical innovation and hang on. A few ‘lucky’ ones have been able to ride the wave, coming out stronger, more experienced, healthier, both mentally and physically.
The three ‘B’s’ burnout, breakdown and boredom often happen after the intense energy of a super bright flame, when the source fuel is empty, or the oxygen is all gone. Life gifts us many experiences, the key is to see them all happening for you not to you, whatever they are.
Navigating burnout, breakdown and boredom
Over the past 25 years of being an entrepreneur, I have experienced multiple ‘mini-burnouts’. For me, these manifested as my body shutting down and saying enough, a few days or a week of illness follows. My immune system so low, unable to battle the infections and viruses. But as an ambitious, young professional, I would ‘bounce-back’ after a quick rest period. Ready to fight another day. My resilience to go back stronger, committed to making better life choices, to balance the rock’n’roll of growing a small business. Months and years would pass, as I grew my first business over 17 years, to a successful exit in 2017.
On reflection, those 17 years gifted me with many of the adaptability skills I use to avoid personal, team and organisational burnout or breakdown and for me personally, boredom just never stood a chance!
While I had tremendous grit, a huge passion and level of determination and perseverance to succeed kept me returning to the mission, to be so committed to building a successful business, reputation, and professional career. ‘How’ this would come to pass was open. The flexibility in ‘how’, the many experiments, the continual learning and curiosity has enabled me to navigate uncertainty, the unexpected continually and to thrive in a high risk, unpredictable environment.
We must learn mental flexibility to discover new paths and ways to solve challenges continually. To openly accept new data, and to evaluate based on ‘today and tomorrow’ not on yesterday. Just because something worked yesterday, does not mean it will today… for many this is incredibly destabilising, where a basic human need for certainty erodes confidence and limits commitments and growth. This is the concept of unlearning, the ability to let go of past experiences, knowledge and processes.
When I look at the challenges and opportunities we all face now, I have years ahead of me of intentionally hardwiring my brain ahead to seek opportunity, to seek gratitude, to seek for the signs of possibility. To continually cultivate hope, something way more powerful than optimism.
Some might say some of these are natural traits and characteristics; I say it is from intentional crafting, a learnable skill—a decision to write both my history and my future. What I mean by this is choosing what to record and what to remember to shape my future self. Seeing my future self as a different person.
Re-imagining your future self
There’s a lot of research that shows that if you imagine your future self as a different person, you begin making decisions based on what your future self would want. As a result, you make a lot better decisions in the present, so whatever view you have of your future – that is what determines your present.
For me, setting a 25-year vision for myself, some seven years ago enabled me to evaluate opportunities and effectively respond in the present and to overcome changes. Working in 90-day cycles allowed me to evaluate and plan in manageable chunks.
I treat each period as an experiment, as a period to learn, as a period to both ‘add’ and ‘subtract’. For me, every 90-days is about getting 1% closer to my 25-year vision. To evolve better strategies, better information, to feed me with positive influences. To importantly, boost my level of hope and adaptability.
Without hope, you have no freedom; you do not have the freedom to choose; you don’t have the freedom to take action. And so if you don’t have agency (agency, belief, willingness and freedom to choose), you’re not going to take any goal-directed action because you don’t believe it’s possible, you need hope that the future you want, or the outcome you want is possible.
Angela Duckworth is the psychologist who has been studying grit for over a decade, and she says that grit depends on a different kind of hope. It rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. I have a feeling tomorrow we will be better, is different from, I resolved to make tomorrow better. So, to have grit, to endure challenges and hardships and hard things, you have to have hope. And the more hope you have, the grittier you can be the more you can push through.
By continually honing and strengthening your resilience, hope, and mental flexibility, you feed your willingness to keep going. You develop better strategies to get what you want, and you become super gritty. That is what allows you to be gritty and to push through hard things.
As we captain our boats in this storm and the next, we must feed our brains healthy materials. Practice healthy exercises to bring a level of mental fitness capable of thriving in complex and volatile times. Whilst ‘mindfulness’ and meditation are important ingredients; they do not make for a complete meal. We need challenge, learning, reflection, gratitude and much more. To get you thinking here are some questions to get you started…
7 questions to help improve your adaptability quotient, and avoid burnout, breakdown and boredom during change:
- What has stayed the same?
- What has changed?
(These will help ground you in the face of change. It will feed the two requirements of ‘certainty’ and ‘uncertainty’).
- What 10 things are you grateful for?
- What is your vision of yourself in 1 years’ time?
- What 3 things would have to be true in the next 90 days to increase your chances of hitting and achieving that vision?
(Then you need a vision, a goal, to help filter and direct your present).
- Which two items from question one and two will help serve and advance me towards my vision?
- What brand new experience/experiment can I do within the next seven days, would give me new data or capabilities?
(Bonus points if you have never done it before).
When we reflect each day on hard things, or any experience for that matter, deciding what to remember and how to remember it, and when to use this knowledge is critical. Choosing what to take forward and what to let go, will help shape both your today and your tomorrow. A future you should oversee.
Those with high AQ’s can see light when it is dark, they positively influence those around them to lift them up, to inspire and support them to a better future. It is why I care so much about leaving no-one beyond. I call upon you all, upon the exponential leaders, the pioneers, the game changers. The ones who see the world differently. Be brave, ambitious, and experimental. While some might see disruption and risk, I know we are the ones who see hope.