IQ is dead - It’s time for a different type of intelligence

Used to be that IQ was the only measure of intelligence that mattered. You can take the same IQ test at 25 year intervals and your score will not change, because your IQ measures the mental aptitudes that you were born with.

In a rational, Cartesian universe of classifiable creatures and objects, an unchanging metric like IQ made sense. It also made people comfortable because it was quantitative, and therefore seemed more ‘scientific’.

But humans are just too messy and complicated to be judged by a single metric. In recent years we have seen the ascendance of EQ –or ‘emotional quotient’. This metric is qualitative because how can you measure emotional intelligence? Its emergence in the culture arose from a more holistic view of what makes us human. It takes into account the existence of empathy, the ability to step into someone else’s shoes, and that idea opened up whole new pathways to customer insight. It demanded that we become better listeners, with the recognition that some of us are just born to be more attuned to others’ feelings while the rest of us have to work at it.

AQ – or adaptability quotient – is all about having an interest in possibilities, an openness to change, being interested in new and different things in a world of chaos, contradiction and complexity, and how you can navigate through that.

This skill is crucial in a dynamic media environment where emerging channels and traditional channels need to work together. A lot of brands show up but fail to connect with people. They may have done really well in broadcast channels, but the challenge is not just being present as a brand. Today, especially in social channels, it’s more about being culturally connected as a brand. You can’t rely on reach and frequency with one message that you drill into people’s heads through broadcast media. Today, it’s far more nuanced than that.

Adaptability is also required of us because today we are working with more and more partners. Ten years ago you may have had one partner responsible for both brand strategy and execution. Today we work with a broad spectrum of specialists. That requires being open to others’ ideas, which underlines this idea of being adaptive.

Today we also work with data. Lots of data. Our growing obsession with it generates miles of spreadsheets, but what we need more than data is understanding what to do with it. How do we use the data to create that connection and find that empathetic bridge that we need to find? Everybody buys the same data sets. Trying to find competitive differentiation by looking at the same data is a mug’s game. It’s one’s qualitative understanding of those numbers that puts the magic into the work.

Along with adaptability and data, purpose has emerged as a top priority for brands. This is being driven by a response to the various existential crises that younger cohorts have inherited from boomers and has resulted in the biggest generational rejection of parental values since the 60s. Purpose is table stakes for any brand that wants to connect with millennials and gen-z’ers.

The challenge for business is to balance environmental and social purpose against more commercial objectives. While a strong sense of purpose is fundamental in the long term, building a brand around that is not going to deliver against short term financial demands. You need to find the right balance.

Taking a position on a matter of importance to the world must align with the core positioning of your brand. Taking that position allows you to find those tensions in the culture that matter both to your brand and to your audience. It keeps you relevant, authentic and true to your core values. That’s just another expression of empathy, a way to build brands as multifaceted as human beings.

These are not just externally facing priorities; they are internal exigencies too. While the pandemic made us much more aware of mental health issues, it also put a lot of stuff that was already happening into sharper focus. There’s been a move towards being more empathetic and collaborative, not just with consumers but also with your colleagues. Gone are the days when strategists go into a dark room, have a eureka moment and craft the perfect brief, while the creatives retreat into their own corner to create magic with it. We need to be working more collaboratively. You get in a room and do it together. Everyone brings a different perspective, expertise and role to the table. Being respectful and embracing the inevitable friction that comes with that means that in the end you get to a better place anyway.


And that doesn’t just take EQ. It takes AQ too.

Key take-aways

There’s a new ‘Q’ in town.

You’ve heard of IQ. You’ve heard of EQ. But have you heard of AQ? It stands for ‘adaptability quotient’, and it’s the ability to be open to change and adapt to the world of chaos, contradiction and complexity in which we now find ourselves, a skill of benefit to both clients and creative agencies.

Is the fun gone from advertising?

While the increasingly data-driven nature of marketing and its growing obsession with empirical data generates miles of spreadsheets, we may be losing sight of the forest for the trees. What we need more than data is understanding what to do with it.

Purpose is strategic, not tactical.

With such a massive emphasis on the importance of purpose these days, we see a lot of awards going to purpose-driven creative. And while that may provide critical support for long term brand building, it might not drive any results in this quarter’s sales figures. How do we reconcile brand building with the short-term commercial objectives of our clients?

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Growth and change are painful. EQ and AQ are hard but necessary skills to develop when it comes to who you work with, how you work with them, who you are trying to connect with, how you connect with them and how you can pivot in the face of complexity and contradiction.