The Spectrum of Introversion to Extroversion

"Introvert" has become a dirty word, grounded firmly in images of odd, bespectacled and perhaps even odorous caricatures of engineers and comic-book-readers.

Most leadership guides, hiring manuals and educational practices are grounded in the idea of supporting collaboration and motivating employees by having extroverts lead. The history of how this came to be is detailed in the revealing title by Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. 

In the book, she dispels a couple of myths about the power of groupthink, the concept that everything is better with live, 'out-loud' collaboration. Instead, she tells us that: 

  • Open plan offices, near-constant group work and even live group brainstorming are far less effective than we thought and are at times even counter-productive—a theory borne out by extensive research
  • Collective wisdom and asynchronous collaboration—tools which allow introverts to process more deeply—are actually how we arrived at the brilliant outcomes of Linux, the personal computer and many other milestone innovations

The fundamental structures of the way we work, make decisions and manage are long overdue for a re-balancing which allows people to traverse a spectrum of introversion to extroversion and collaborate in ways which allow for more rich interaction. The most fruitful types of innovation, those which encompass a full spectrum of innovation from business model to distribution channel to end-user experience, and not just the obvious (and valuable) element of client-facing products, require deep thought and complex planning.