According to Wikipedia, the modern perception is that introverts tend to be more reserved and less outspoken in groups. They often take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing and using computers. An introvert is likely to enjoy time spent alone and find less reward in time spent with large groups of people, though he or she may enjoy interactions with close friends.
It is important to notice that introversion is not seen as being identical to shy or to being a social outcast. Introverts simply prefer solitary activities to social ones.
I am an introvert and I am not alone. Many of us work in the innovation space.
Although, we should be careful in stereotyping by personality, I think it is worth looking into the intersection of introverts and innovation as we enter the social era. In terms of innovation, this means that more and more of the innovation efforts will happen in communities either in the b2c form of crowdsourcing or in the b2b form of innovation networks, alliances and challenges. These communities will also be physical as well as virtual.
What does this mean for introverts? At first, this sounds like a mismatch because introverts prefer solitarity rather than communities. However, I also think that introverts posses some qualities and capabilities that will be highly valued as we are about to get even more connected than ever on our innovation efforts.
In this post, I would like to share my overall views on introverts and innovation. Here we go:
Reflection is an important, but forgotten capability. It is often said that introverts get more energy through reflection and that it dwindles during interaction. Well, we need more reflection. There is too much action in this fast paced world and when it comes to ideas and innovation, the best results seem to come when you take a break and reflect on the problems you are trying to solve.
Unfortunately, the corporate structures and external forces in general just don’t give us this time. Hopefully, this will change and then we can start getting different and often outcomes by reflection done by not only introverts, but by everyone in the company.
Organizational structures need to make room for introverts. With the exception of a few pockets such as R&D and accounting most functions within a company seem to be driven with an extrovert-like attitude. But not all people are social. Many are introverts and don’t necessarily want to socialize and focus on external matters. What about them?
I think companies need to take a broader approach on diversity and this includes introverts. Organizations must start recognizing the constraints and the capabilities of introverts and build processes and approaches that better fit their ways of working in order to tap their full potential. The key word here is balance. Even though we are moving towards a more connected world in which more focus on the customer and the market is a good thing, we need to make room for people who act and think differently.
The innovation process is a good example. The traditional R&D function (usually introverted) is under significant pressure to open up and we are now seeing that you can get more attention by being a strong communicator rather than being a skilled (often introverted) innovator.
I advice innovators to develop their communication skills, but we must not forget that strong communicators do not necessarily come up with the best ideas or solutions or ask the right questions. Innovation leaders need to make sure everyone is heard during the process and sometimes they must sacrifice speed for better input. This is particular important as we are moving towards a more holistic kind of innovation (business model innovation) in which we must listen to all functions and even embrace external input.
Introverts must learn to turn on the switch. As stated earlier, I am an introvert myself. To be honest, I dread the socializing at large events and I do what I can to limit my meetings. Well, on the latter, I think it is fair to say that far too many meetings either take too long or should never have taken place at all. The matters could have been dealt with in more effective ways than a meeting. Introvert or not.
But when I need to interact with others in the physical world, I have trained myself to turn on a switch that allows me to be a good networker (ask questions, focus on the other person) and deliver good talks. I would actually argue that introverts are capable of becoming better networkers than most other people because we are more likely to define a purpose and execute on this before we interact like this.
We need to develop the softer skills. Yes, it is kind of a cliché that soft skills such as networking, communication and “people skills” are really the hard skills, but this does not change the fact that too many companies fail to educate their employees on this. More importantly; they don’t give the employees the time needed to develop these skills. Those who want to succeed in the social era need to change this.
Social media works well for introverts. You can “hide” and still have a strong voice in your community or industry. This is one reason that I spent so much time with social media. It is a great way to communicate and since there is so much input (some call this information overload), it gives you plenty of opportunities to reflect on what is happening and thus build further on your own thoughts and ideas. Social media makes it easier for introverts to become more social. It is a win for everyone.
Introverts can challenge the crowd. Since most introverts shy away from the crowd, they often see the crowd in a different perspective. We need all perspectives when we work with innovation and good innovation leader make an effort to recognize this and thus pay extra attention to listen to the more “quiet” introverts.
I don’t think introverts and innovation is a mis-match, but we need to make some adjustments (organizations as well as individuals) in order to unlock the full potential.