You’re Not Alone In Wanting A Little Quiet. Is Group Think Killing Creativity?

The advantages of introverted thinking have hit the media lately, with a new book on the subject and a 5 page spread in Time Magazine called “The Upside Of Being An Introvert And Why Extroverts Are Overrated.”

The author, Brian Walsh, points out that the business world today is designed for extroverts. Open plan offices, large meetings and brainstorming are all energising stimulus for extroverts but a distracting frustration for introverted thinkers. He says “Much of this is done in the name of collaboration, but enforced teamwork can stifle creativity…there is rarely a correlation between the quality of an idea and the volume at which it is presented.”

Susan Cain’s new book, “Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking” reinforces this. She said in an interview “Most schools and workplaces now organize workers and students into groups, believing that creativity and productivity comes from a gregarious place. This is nonsense, of course. From Darwin to Picasso to Dr. Seuss, our greatest thinkers have often worked in solitude.”

Cain goes on to claim “Decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and group performance gets worse as group size increases.” The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” wrote the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

Is it time to think differently?
Myers Briggs helped define Introverted and Extroverted thinking and it’s all about your energy level and how you process your ideas.

Extroverted thinkers recharge their battery in stimulating situations. They feel buzzy and energised around people, exchanging ideas and information. They love verbal volley and think out loud, forming their ideas as they speak. They often interrupt and don’t consider that rude, just part of keeping the conversation lively. They will comfortably interrupt someone who is explaining great idea, because a new thought has popped into their mind. From there the conversation moves on and the great idea is lost.

Introverted thinkers are more sensitive to stimulation. They enjoy it for a while but then, like a room that is too hot or noisy, they need a break and a bit of space. Introverted thinkers recharge their personal batteries with ideas, impressions and contemplation, exploring their thoughts. They’re uncomfortable throwing out half formed ideas and don’t want to give incomplete answers.

They may sit through the brainstorm without saying a word, mentally testing their idea, rounding it out, making sure it’s solid. They are often good listeners, who allow people to speak uninterrupted, so they may not find the opportunity to push their idea forward.

Shy and Introverted are different things
It’s important to point out that introverted thinking is not the same as shyness. Being shy is learned behaviour and often starts very young. It’s a feeling of anxiousness in some social situations. Shy people can be inhibited by their fear and may struggle to interact with others.

Introverted thinkers don’t fear social situations. They may really enjoy them but will find them draining and need to balance social time with time alone or they risk feeling exhausted and unfulfilled. At times, it’s just too much effort to break through the chatter and make themselves heard.

And it’s not just about creativity…
The Time’s article went so far as to suggest that some of the blame for the economic crisis and some serious political mistakes could be chalked up to extroverted thinking.

Extroverts are more likely to jump in and take action = Do, think, do
Introverts prefer to think though all the possibilities first = Think, do, think

Many experts agree that extroverted thinkers are more comfortable with risk and may seek the adrenalin rush of novel situations. This can get you into trouble if it’s not balanced with people who think things through. Jumping in and trying something is ok, if you don’t take the whole ship down with you.

3 ways to get the best from introverted colleagues
Take advantage of the introverts in your team. They will often think about things with a greater depth and focus than comes out of group thinking.

This can add balance, insight and a good safety net to teams that move quickly with a lot of projects.

1. When you want something from them don’t expect to discuss it in that moment – explain your dilemma and tell them you’ll check back later. Giving them a bit of time to think means YOU get a well-constructed and considered plan in return.

2. When you ask an introvert a question and they pause to reflect, you don’t need to fill those few seconds with a multiple choice list of options. Take a breath, learn to allow a bit of quiet in a conversation. The reward will be a measured response with a rational behind it.

3. When you invite them to a brainstorm, give them the subject in advance. They’ll do their thinking in the quiet moments before they arrive and be more willing to participate. When they do offer ideas, they’ll be well formed including ways to connect to other parts of the business.

Both introverts and extroverts can be excellent leaders, they just take different approaches to managing their teams. Now let’s take a quiet moment to think about that…

Want to find out who’s an introvert or an extrovert in your team? Check out my Myers Briggs workshops or call if you’d like something bespoke.

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