On introversion

I am so happy about the recent publicity on introversion.

I’m an introvert, and am aware of how to get the best out of myself. I’m not shy – that’s a common misunderstanding – but I prefer the inner world and gain energy from it. Too much time in busy groups and workshops is draining for me.

Thanks to Susan Cain’s great work, introverts are being more accurately represented and celebrated.

Introverts can be sales people

I produce the best analysis and solutions by putting my headphones on, being alone, and having the time to think deeply. I don’t provide the same kind of contributions when I’m in a group, because then I find myself facilitating the group process rather than going inward. In a group, I’ll lead and draw-out others’ thoughts, but not generate my own ideas to the same degree as privately.

In fact, being an introvert, a listener and systems thinker makes me well suited to selling complex solutions because my diagnosis and proposal is thorough. If I was shy, it would be a problem, but I’m not. I’m assertive. Introversion does not mean submissive – that’s a false association.

It’s important to understand that sales people can be introverts. You will be working with introverts, but they may not have declared themselves so because there has been a kind of shame around it for years. So, how to get the best from us? This fellow blogger has a few tips on working with them, such as providing an agenda so we can think about things in advance.

Michael Hyatt, Chairman of a of a large book publisher, is an introvert and said this recently:

Most people assume that I am an extrovert, because I am a CEO of a large company and do a lot of public speaking. But things are not always what they seem. Many leaders I know are introverts. They can “turn it on” when they need to, but are much more comfortable away from the crowds and the lights.

When hiring, you will interview introverts and thus you want to give them an fair chance to be hired. However, interviewing often has a bias towards extroversion, such as thinking up creative solutions on the spot with an audience. A poor interviewer can misinterpret being thoughtful for being shy or lacking assertiveness. This article discusses that problem. I also wrote about interviewing sales people.

Susan Cain

The TED video by Susan Cain is really excellent and will help extroverts to understand us introverts. She’s written a book on introversion – which I’ve ordered – based on six years of research.

Susan also wrote this superb article in the NYT which blasts brainstorming and the bias to group activities.

Her research highlights a few great points which are mentioned in that article:

  • Privacy makes us productive. What distinguished programmers at  top-performing companies wasn’t greater experience or better pay. It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed.
  • Conversely, brainstorming sessions are one of the worst possible ways to stimulate creativity. Decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity.

There has been a lot of press, and Susan’s put a recent list together on her site.

For technical discussions, this quote from Linus (from Wired) also succinctly captures a good reason for written communication, rather than physical meetings:

I actually think it’s very annoying to talk technology face-to-face. You can’t write down the code.

The inner world

On a related note, reading novels – as opposed to business books – is good for your emotional intelligence. Research reported by HBR outlines the benefits to social skills.

Andrew McAfee also wrote on how solitude lets you enter flow, that highly productive state.

Right now – for example – I wrote this post whilst listening to progressive on di.fm.