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.
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