Tag Archives: Susan Cain

Brainstorming, Agile; does it work for introverts?

On a visit to my brother’s school (he was a principal at the time), I noticed a whiteboard in his office with various notes on the school’s vision written on it. “Brainstorming session?” I asked. He nodded with a smile on his face.

Brainstorming

I thought to myself that I wouldn’t want to have been in that room when a group of people who were throwing ideas against the wall to see which ones stick. Furthermore, there were probably others who felt the same. Brainstorming is good, right?

One of my valued connections recently alerted me to an article, Is Agile Stifiling Introverts? The article decries the concept of a system that values brainstorming sessions as part of open work environments. While extraverts may prosper in an Agile environment, introverts may find it disconcerting.

Agile is often credited with company success, but opponents have concluded that its productivity is in question. The article states: “For years Agile has been encouraging teams to work together collaboratively in open spaces and encouraging developers to pair program, but lately these types of practices have been coming under fire.”

Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, explains that introverts excel in closed environments as opposed to open ones. A self-professed introvert, she supports the belief that a closed environment brings out creativity in introverts, not open environments like those depicted in the movie about Facebook, Social Network.

As an introvert I consider brainstorming sessions a waste of time if there is no semblance of order and structure. I grow weary of meetings that resemble a social gathering. However, a well-run meeting that covers all the topics in a quick manner can be extremely effective.

What has proved to be effective with introverts is paring them up with someone to solve problems, rather than chaotic brainstorming sessions, even if one works with someone who is not in total agreement. “Working alone is good for creativity – but being paired with someone who thinks differently from you can lead to more creativity yet,” states the aforementioned article.

Why introverts appreciate closed work environments with offices and cubicle supports a number of beliefs about I’s, such as they learn and gather more through independent research. They don’t want the distractions of colleagues walking into their workspace uninvited. A closed environment also gives them time to recharge their batteries if they’ve been interacting with groups or speaking in front of an audience.

Does this mean introverts are anti-social? No, but they’re not like their counterparts who seek out the company of others. Although it’s true some introverts, such as the stereotypical programmers, need almost complete privacy; many introverts can join the fracas and engage in office conversation. But, again, their preference is to be alone when it’s time to get down to work.

Cain is quoted in the article about the importance of solitude for introverts: “Solitude, as Cain says, is a key to creativity….Steve Wozniak claimed he never would have become such an expert if he left the house. Of course, collaboration is good (witness Woz and Steve Jobs), but there is a transcendent power of solitude.”

Pay attention in interviews

Job seekers can gain a lot from understanding their introversion or extraversions preference. At interviews they should make careful note of the work environment and ask questions pertaining to collaboration (brainstorming).

If introverts get the sense that it’s an Agile-type environment, it may not be the organization for them. Extraverts, on the other hand, would be happy to know that they’ll be among the social, freewheeling types.


Leaving my brother’s school, I asked him if he gained results from brainstorming. He smiled, saying that he finds it a great way to gather ideas, as well as letting people get to know each other better. Hmm, my ears were hearing “social gathering,” which to me doesn’t equal productivity.

Photo: Flickr, Michael Carli

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8 awesome traits of the introvert

I wrote this post more than a year ago but have since added another strong trait of the introvert. 

When I ask my Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) workshop attendees if they think I’m an introvert or extravert, they usually guess wrong. “But you’re so lively and loud,” they say.

What do they expect from me, Dawn of the Living Dead?

Many people don’t see the eight awesome traits introverts demonstrate. Here they are:

1. The ability to speak in public is the first of eight awesome traits the introverts demonstrate. Those of my attendees who guess wrong about my preference believe that to be an effective speaker, one must be an extravert.

They see my outward personality as an extraverted trait. I don’t blame them for guessing wrong, because society has been under the impression that showmanship belongs exclusively to the extraverts.

2. You want a sincere conversation? You’ll get it with introverts. Our thing is not more is better, as in the number of people with whom we speak. No, we prefer talking with fewer people and engaging in deeper conversation. You’ll know we’ll give you our undivided attention. It’s helpful if we’re interested in the topic.

3. We think before we speak. Dominating a meeting is not our style; we favor something akin to Parliamentary Procedure. That doesn’t mean we don’t have intelligent things to say; we just don’t like to compete with the extraverts who learn by talking.

The problem with our method of communicating is we might not get the opportunity to get our brilliant thoughts out in the open.

4. We rule when it comes to research. We learn best by researching topics on our own and, as such, prefer the computer over dialog. Extraverts learn best by throwing around ideas among their colleagues and friends. We find staff meetings unproductive unless there’s an agenda and some sense of order. Brainstorming is usually a waste of time to us.

5. We hear you the first time. We’re considered great listeners. But we don’t appreciate being talked at. We’re perceptive so you don’t need to stress your point with 10 minutes of nonstop talking. You don’t like caviar, you say. And you had a bad experience eating it when you were a child. Got it.

6. We love to write. Writing is our preferred mode of communication, but this doesn’t mean we’re incapable of talking. We just don’t have the capacity to talk from sunrise to sunset. Writing allows us to formulate our thoughts and express them eloquently. There’s no denying, however, that our workplace favors those who talk; so there are times when we put down the pen and let our voice be heard.

7. We’re just as creative as the next person. Our creative juices flow from solitude, not open spaces where people throw Nerf footballs, eat cookies, and attend wrap sessions until 10:00 pm. If you see us working intently in our offices or cubicles, we’re usually enjoying “moments,” so don’t break our concentration. Nothing personal; we’ll join you at the pool table when our work is completed.

8. We can stand being alone. We don’t need constant attention from others; rather we enjoy the time to think and reflect on life in general. Some might consider this as standoffish, but those are people who require a great deal of stimuli and don’t understand the beauty of Quiet (watch Susan Cain’s YouTube video). We develop long-lasting friendships with fewer people, as deeper is better than broader. Don’t pity us if you have 20 friends and we have only five. We’re good with that.


My MBTI workshop attendees are not far off the mark when they guess I’m an extravert; I do have the ability to put on the Robin Williams act, or revert to a serious Bill Belichick persona. I put 100% into teaching the finer points of the job search, and as a result my exit from the room is quick and toward the stairway to where I can retreat to my computer.