Approximately between 30% and 50% of mankind is introvert. That means: your friend, your co-worker, your spouse, some of your kids.
For me it was easy to pick this subject because I’m an introvert myself. I wrote a majority of this article on a small island in Norway. Almost no people, so almost no distractions. It was wonderful to see words appear on the screen out of nowhere.
In my high school and college period most assignments had to be done in a group. I absolutely hated that kind of assignments. I wasn’t good at explaining an idea or an efficient, better way of solving a problem, in front of a lot of people. There were often too many classmates. Which is very exhausting for an introvert. I liked the assignments I could do on my own.
I might be a bit naive, but I thought this would be better when I start working. I worked in a diversity of different companies in different sectors. I can now say that the work floor, business and companies are designed for extrovert people. Like the education system is.
My current job is working at the front desk of an hotel. Which is a bit strange, because usually I don’t like small talk. I have almost worked there for 3 years. And in these 3 years I have trained myself to get better at small talk. Although it’s not as good as an extrovert person. I’m glad I have experienced this.
Before my current job, I worked at a small company. They had an open office, nowhere to work alone. It was not working well for me. Mainly because I could not retreat somewhere and do something alone. My work was getting worse and worse. I explained this to my manager a few times, but he did not have a proper solution for my problem. So after a few months I quit.
First of all what is an introvert?
In 1921 the influential psychologist Carl Jung published a book, Psychological Types, popularising the terms introvert and extrovert as the central building blocks of personality. Introverts are attracted to the inner world of thoughts and feelings, Jung said, extroverts to the outer life of people and activities.
An introvert is a person who is energised by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people. Introverts are more concerned with the world inside the mind. They like to reflect, explore their thoughts and feelings.
They often avoid social situations because being around people drains their energy. Even if they have good social skills After being around people for a while, like at a party, they need time to recharge.
When introverts want to be alone, that is not, per se, a sign of depression. It means that they either need to regain their energy from being around people or that they want the time to be with their own thoughts.
It does not mean that an introvert never have conversations with other people. Most of the time those conversations are about ideas and concepts. Not about what they consider the things that don’t matters.
Are you an introvert?
If you are still not sure where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, you can test it here. Answer each question “yes” or “no,” choosing the answer that applies to you more often than not.
- I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities.
- I often prefer to express myself in writing.
- I enjoy solitude.
- I seem to care less about wealth, fame, and status.
- I dislike small talk, but I enjoy talking in depth about topics that matter to me.
- People tell me that I’m a good listener.
- I’m not a big risk-taker.
- I enjoy work that allows me to “dive in” with few interruptions.
- I like to celebrate birthdays on a small scale, with only one or two close friends or family members.
- I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it’s finished.
- I do my best work on my own.
- I tend to think before I speak.
- If you had to choose, I’d prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled.
- I don’t enjoy multitasking.
- I can concentrate easily
The more you answered “yes,” the more introverted you probably are.
Modern western society
“Society is itself an education in the extrovert values, and rarely has there been a society that has preached them so hard.”
Susan Cain expressed in her book Quiet that the modern world advocates:
“the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.”
Emma Watson, an English actress also identifies herself as an introvert. She said in an interview with Rookie Magazine:
“extroverts in our society are bigged up so much. If you’re anything other than an extrovert you’re made to think there’s something wrong with you, because I don’t want to go out and do what all my friends want to do.”
The western modern society where we live in, is built for extroversion, especially institutionally. From the open plan design of offices to the grouped tables in school, we are present in environments that are more facilitative for extroverts.
- Students are given bonus points for their quick problem-solving skills in schools.
- Lawyers are praised for their verbal domination and assertiveness in courtrooms.
- Sales people who are great at using superlatives are hailed. Without intent consideration on what they’re selling.
In most western education systems they use competency-based learning. Because of this the extrovert student is stimulated. For example working in groups on an assignment is standard. Which is convenient for extrovert students.
Our education system is designed for extrovert people. From day one kids sit in pods of 4-6 kids facing each other and working together on assignments. That’s great for extroverts but the opposite for introverts. No place to retreat and learn something on your own. Having your own thoughts instead of the groups thoughts.
The extrovert student doesn’t learn to work on their own this way.
Paul English said in an interview:
“I had lots of side interests, but I wasn’t very interested in studying in high school. My grades were pretty much all D’s, and I didn’t apply to college. The only reason I went to college was that my parents found out I could go to state school for free because of my SAT scores. I had a day job and I went to school at night. But I had a different job every 12 to 18 months because I’d get bored and I’d want to learn something new.”
In most companies you will find open offices, no place to retreat and figure something out on your own.
Jason Fried, cofounder of the web application company Basecamp, formerly known as 37signals. He asked his employees where they liked to work, when they needed to get something done. He found that they went anywhere but offices. Because the offices where too noisy and full of interruption. That’s why at 37signals it’s not required to show up at work or meetings.
His advice is “cancel your next meeting and don’t reschedule it”. He also suggests to introduce “No-Talk Thursday”. One day in the week, that employees are not allowed to speak to each other. To be with their own thoughts and generate their own ideas.
At Pixar Animation Studios, the campus is built around a large atrium. Housing cafeteria, bars and even bathrooms. The idea is to encourage casual interaction. At the same time, employees are encouraged to make their own work areas. And to decorate them as they wish. This is only one example, you can see the same trend in other companies, like Twitter, Square, Spotify and many more.
“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me—they’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. If you’re that rare engineer who’s an inventor and also an artist, I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: work alone. You’re going to be able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not in a committee. Not in a team.”
How come ground-breaking innovations often originate from startups. Whereas the big corporations have the brightest minds? As Paul English, co-founder and CTO of Kayak, said in an interview with Adam Bryant: “no innovation happens with 10 people in a room.” Simply, dedicated thinking is superior to brainstorming.
Creativity is based on three components:
- Expertise, in a word, knowledge-technical, procedural, and intellectual.
- Creative thinking skills determine flexibility and how people approach problems.
- Motivation, not all motivation is equal. An inner passion for solving the problem to be solved to much more creative solutions than does the external rewards, such as money.
A leader can influence creativity for better or worse.
Management function offers often skip introverts. Which is really strange because it is proven that introvert leaders let their employees work out their own creative ideas and solutions.
In a research done by Adam Grant in 2010. He conducted a t-shirt folding test with college students. Each group had 1 leader and 4 followers. The groups with proactive followers have done better under an introverted leader, folding on average 28% more t-shirts.
Because the introverted leader listened to their followers they found a way to fold t-shirts faster. While the extroverted leader gave the instructions and didn’t listen to new ideas of their followers.
Jennifer Kahnweiler interviewed hundreds of leaders and many of them were introvert. She has found that introverts who are good leaders do the following 4 things:
1. Prepare: They spend time thinking through their goals and preparing for questions, which gives them an edge.
2. Present: They don’t multi task, instead giving people their full attention.
3. Push: They’re conscious about stretching and growing. They also help their introverted employees push themselves.
4. Practise: For instance, if public speaking is a challenge, practice is what’ll help you move into mastery.
History also shows that introverts are excellent leaders. Take for example William McKnight, CEO of 3M (1949 to 1966).
He said: “’Listen to anyone with an original idea, no matter how absurd it may sound at first. If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need.”
Right after he became CEO of 3M, he allowed engineers to spend 15% of their time on projects of their own in order to spark creativity and innovation. This practise is adopted by Google and many more.
Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Facebook. A close co-worker said about him: “He is shy and introverted and he often does not seem very warm to people who don’t know him.”
Larry Page is the CEO of Google. Who is often described as shy, private, and reserved. His mission: to make the company nimbler, more innovative, and more appealing to creative engineers with breakthrough ideas.
John Lilly is former CEO of Mozilla: “I started noticing my interactions in the hallway. I’m an engineer by background and a bit of an introvert naturally. When I walk between meetings, I think about things. A lot of times I’ll be looking down at my phone or looking down at the floor while I think things through.”
In conclusion if you have proactive employees it’s better to give them an introvert manager. Because the manager will listen to them, and help push them forward.
Most great historical people often retreated in the dessert or wilderness to be alone with their thoughts. When they finish wandering around they often spread their thoughts.
“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
- Without Bill Gates, we did not have Microsoft.
- Without Steve Wozniak, we did not have Apple.
- Without Larry Page, we did not have Google.
- Without Mark Zuckerberg, we did not have Facebook.
- Without Einstein, we did not have the theory of relativity.
- Without Newton, we did not have the three laws of motion which remains a cornerstone of modern physics.
- Without Leonardo da Vinci, we did not have the Mona Lisa and much more.
- Without Rembrandt, we did not have The Night Watch and a lot more.
- Without Tolkien, we did not have the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.
- Without J.K. Rowling, we did not have Harry Potter.
- Without Steven Spielberg, we did not have Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and many more.
- Without Peter Jackson, we did not have The Lord of the Rings.
I could make this list much longer. But I think I have proven my point. The world wouldn’t be as evolved as this without these great people.
In my conclusion I want to plea for a better balance between introvert and extrovert managers.
Yes, introverts are less likely to stand up for a management position. But if you are a good leader, you will recognise that you need introverts.
Introverts are much better with pro-active employees. That is an huge advantage in the creative process. Because an introvert manager is more likely to approve an idea of a pro-active employee. And with an extrovert manager it is more likely he will push his own ideas.
Points of action:
- Create a better balance between introvert and extrovert managers/employees.
- Create the best working place for each of your employees. Introverts want a place where they can work on their own.
- Learn your employees the difference between introverts and extroverts.
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
- Rethinking Classroom Participation: Listening to Silent Voices
- Introvert Power
- How to kill creativity by Teresa M. Amabile published in 1998 Harvard Business Review
- The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses by Adam Grant published in 2010 Harvard Business Review
- Seen but not heard: the introverts in our classrooms by Genevieve White published in 2012 The Guardian
- Why introverts shouldn’t be forced to talk in class by Valerie Strauss published in 2013 The Washington Post
- Supervising Introverts: 5 Tips for Managers by Pat Didomenico published in 2012 Business Management Daily
- The Secret Power Of Introverts by Jenna Goudreau published in 2012 Forbes
- Paul English of Kayak, on Nurturing New Ideas by Adam Bryant published in 2013 The New York Times
- Understanding introverts in modern society by Michael Kwayisi published in 2013 michaelkwayisi.com
- I Want It to Be Worth It: An Interview With Emma Watson by Tavi Gevinson published in 2013 Rookie Magazine