I have a friend who is as extroverted as the day is long. This guy once was my boss and still is a valued business associate, and he always brings excitement into a room without even trying. Not long ago he took his precocious 10-year-old son to a Tony Robbins conference and could not stop raving about it afterward. Tony Robbins is something of a messiah for extroverts, teaching salespeople how to be a livelier, more engaging, more successful version of themselves, kind of like adding a couple of 12-volt batteries to the Energizer Bunny and flash-reprogramming it with a gregariousness-enhancing algorithm.That's all swell, but where do events like this leave us introverts, who instinctively run in the opposite direction when presented with environments that are noisy, full of schmoozing, and perhaps even intimidating to quiet, contemplative folk? Are introverts just defective? Fearful? Doomed to work as low-paid file clerks in drab windowless rooms with long rows of beige filing cabinets and flickering fluorescent tubes overhead?
Susan Cain: Tony Robbins for Introverts
If there is a polar opposite to Tony Robbins, it is Susan Cain. With the publication of her book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" earlier this year, Cain has become the introvert's Tony Robbins. Her message is important because it has the potential to change how society relates to and uses the talents of the one-third to one-half of us who are introverts.
Take a few minutes to watch her TED talk on YouTube. You'll get her ideas in a nutshell. It's here: http://youtu.be/c0KYU2j0TM4. Go ahead; I'll wait.
Cain says onethird to onehalf of Americans are introverts. "If you're not an introvert yourself," she writes, "you are surely raising, managing, married to, or coupled with one." My friend Carole Mahoney (hmm, why does that name sound familiar?) tells me she is an extrovert and her closest business partner is an introvert, and this is not an uncommon pairing. In business, an extrovert and an introvert can team up to make tremendous use of one another's strengths. I experienced this myself with the friend mentioned in the opening of this post.
Some key differences between ntroverts and extroverts are:
- Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling; extroverts to the external life of people and activities.
- Introverts focus on the meaning they make of events around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves.
- Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don't socialize enough.
(If you want to see where you fall on the introversion/extroversion spectrum, here is one of several personality tests online based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment.)
Unfortunately for introverts, most institutions of contemporary life are designed for people who enjoy group projects and plenty of exposure to others. Classroom desks are arranged in pods; brainstorming meetings are commonplace; open office plans are ubiquitous. But Cain cites studies showing that open-plan offices reduce productivity impair memory, cause high staff turnover, and make people sick, hostile unmotivated, and insecure (and this applies to everyone, not just introverts).
Can introverts succeed in business, particularly inbound marketing? Both of HubSpot's founders profess to hate using the telephone, and Dharmesh Shah is a self-described introvert. But what about those of us in lower-profile businesses?
The answer is yes, but we do have to work harder than extroverts at communicating. While it's easy for introverts to fantasize that the Internet eliminates the need for face-to-face meetings, the fact is that most of us find it necessary to stand "belly to belly" with clients or prospective customers at least some of the time.
Of my long-term clients at Direct Injection Marketing, there is only one whom I have never met face to face, even though we live in the same town. Another is based in California and I haven't seen him for years. But the rest I try to visit on a regular basis. And most of my new customers have been acquired through good old-fashioned personal visits and phone contact.
Here's the takeaway: Introverts have always had to make a special effort to be more like extroverts, especially in modern America. What would be great to see is a general awareness that we introverts are not somehow defective, antisocial or fearful. We simply need a little space and quiet to do our best work.