The most popular talk from TED2012 was Susan Cain’s The Power of Introversion. Watching this naturally shy and retiring writer strut the stage of the world’s most high-stakes public speaking event was a captivating experience. She was clearly nervous, catching her breath and looking out at the audience with wide eyes.
Yet what she said was breathtakingly clear: our culture’s mania for extroverted behaviours means we’re missing out of the untapped power of the introvert.
Unlike extroverts, introverts are most stimulated and do their best thinking when they’re alone. But how often does that happen in an agency environment? Given our industry thrives on creative and original ideas, it pays to let introverts do their thing.
How to identify an introvert.
- When you call them, they let it go to voicemail then instantly text you back.
- If they have to use the phone, they go to a meeting room…
- …then stay there working alone until someone kicks them out.
- They try and wait til the work kitchen is empty to get their Arnotts cream selection.
- They’re reluctant to interrupt others, and hate being interrupted.
- They dislike having to repeat themselves. If you miss it the first time you miss it for good.
- They won’t raise their voice to be heard.
- They make decisions by gathering information then thinking about it alone, not by talking it through.
How can introverts thrive in the often loud, rushed and competitive agency environment? Tips for introverts.
- Advertising and communications: it’s an idea business. You have to be able to get your ideas across to your colleagues. But of course a gladiatorial meeting environment is horrific to you. Why not isolate the decision makers before the meeting and present your ideas to them one at a time? It’s calmer for you, and they can then come noisily to your support in a group situation. It’s worth a shot.
- Ditto when presenting work to clients. Why not email them or have a chat to socialise your big idea before a frightening pitch or review? Not everything has to be a rabbit pulled out of a hat. What you lose in surprise you gain in having time to persuade them quietly on your own terms.
- Being within a 5 minute walk of the office is still being at the office. Take your thinking work to the park or a secret meeting room. You’re only a call away.
- Bose noise-cancelling headphones drown out people who inflict their music choices and phonecalls on the whole office.
- Partner with an favourite extravert and let them be the charismatic Steve Jobs to your Woz (remember, Apple needed them both).
- The Internet is your friend. Online, you’re in control. Tweet and blog to get your unique perspective, work and point across.
And how can agencies get the most out of their thoughtful, considered introverts? Points for managers.
- It’s tempting to eye your introverted staff with frustration: “if you’ve got something to say, spit it out.” But it’s your job as a leader, your responsibility, to get the most out of your staff. Resolve to treat this as a key part of your people management.
- Introverts mostly self-select out of roles where they must have frequent contact with people. If they’re not needed at their desk to answer the phones, it’s no skin off the business’ nose if they do their work in a meeting room or coffee shop alone. Resolve to turn a blind eye.
- You’ll get more out of an introvert if you present them with a problem and then give them time to think. Never expect an answer on the spot; they’ll clam up.
- Don’t allow a meeting to be hijacked by a loud or charismatic voice or group. If someone hasn’t had the chance to speak, quieten the room down and give them the floor. Just because they refuse to yell doesn’t mean the introvert’s thoughts are less important.
- An introvert is not likely to be a mainstay of Friday night drinks or social events, so you may not have had a chance to get to know them. Just because you’re not buddies with them doesn’t mean they’re not promotion material. Watch your biases: they don’t have to be your pal to get the job done.
- There are introverted clients too. They’re the ones who prefer things in writing and like to keep the conversation on the work, not on their weekends. Luckily, you’ve probably promoted a few introverts inside your agency by now. So when it comes to keeping this client happy, they’ll make a great fit!
The key takeaway from Susan Cain’s research was not that introverts are good and extroverts bad, or vice versa. Just that everyone does best when they’re allowed to be themselves. Let introverts be introverts at your agency and you’ll be amazed at what they come up with.
Oh, and that shy woman who was almost too nervous to speak publicly at TED? She got a standing ovation.
- Brainstorming doesn’t really work | Jonah Lehrer, The New Yorker.
- The rise of the new groupthink | Susan Cain, The New York Times.
- Caring for your introvert | Jonathan Rauch, The Atlantic.
- Quiet: the power of introverts | Susan Cain