Friday, August 16, 2013

The power and value of introversion

It was a little bit of a revelation and a bit of relief when I discovered I was an introvert. A shy child who was bullied, when I went to university I threw off those shackles, ran public lecture courses, work as a lecturer and do work as a public speaker and lay preacher. But I wondered at the fact that being in the spotlight was tiring.

I'd done a Myers-Briggs personality test and come out F (feeling) and E (extroverted). Lots of people told me I was a T (thinker). Doing an online version soon revealed to me how strong TJ I was, a thinker and a planner. But I still thought I was an extrovert.

Being introverted makes a lot of sense. Less shy than as a kid I get speak in public when I have a role, but need time on my own soon after and struggle with praise (and criticism). My happiest work days are on my own thinking even though I like lecturing and helping others learn and discover new things. Open plan is a big distraction.

Susan Cain's book is starting to raise issues in my mind about open plan offices, group work, the value of introverts in teams like a weather forecast office, etc. In a world that worships the cult of extroversion, it seems it doesn't do all that it promises and that introverts can get left behind. A few observations from Cain's book Quiet (p84ff).
  1. Open plan offices make people sick, unmotivated, raise their blood pressure and unproductive. People need time to think on their own
  2. Multitasking is a myth. It's constant task swapping and reduced efficiency
  3. Group brainstorming raises fewer innovative ideas that brainstorming on your own. Collaboration via Wikis and coming together AFTER doing initial work on your own will produce more ideas
  4. Group brainstorming affects how we think, not simply by peer pressure but by suppressing activity in the pre-frontal cortex. Groupthink is a danger
None of this speaks against teamwork, social interaction, cooperation and sharing ideas. It just puts it all into a stark light. Give people space to think, introverts in particular.

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