Introverts are creative too!!
Charles Darwin. Albert Einstein. Steve Wozniak. Isaac Newton. J.K. Rowling. Christina Aguilera. All were creative and successful in their own fields….all proud introverts. An introvert is someone comfortable being in their own company and doing things on their own, whereas an extravert thrives off the energy of others around them.
A few years ago, Susan Cain, in her excellent book: “Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”, championed the role of the introvert in the creative process. She also de-bunked the concept of ‘New Groupthink’, the theory that people are always more creatively productive when working together either face to face or in a virtual setting. In her view, the process of group brainstorming led to ‘social loafing’, where some individuals sat back and let the others work and ’evaluation apprehension’, the fear of appearing stupid in front of one’s colleagues. By contrast, she proved through research that creativity often flourished through the act of deliberately practising creativity on one’s own. Solitude often led to better concentration and stronger motivation to succeed.
I don’t intend to argue whether extraverts are more or less creative than introverts, but I would like to suggest a few practical ways in which the power of introverts can be leveraged in the workplace:
- On the assumption that introverts can be as creatively productive as extraverts but might require a different environment within which to flourish, then find out who is who, and establish which conditions for creativity are required by both to thrive.
- Don’t rely on a workshop alone to develop ideas. Provide a period of time for ideation pre and post the workshop that will allow the introverts the luxury of some quiet ‘me-time’ to develop some fresh thinking (shower time, ‘alone in Starbucks’ time, ‘walking the dog’ time).
- When you design a brainstorm session, make sure that you allow enough individual time for the introverts to do their own thinking. Allow plenty of time for them to escape the main conference room, find a little cubby hole and chew the cud alone.
- All the evidence suggests that large groups of 6-8 people are not as creatively productive as smaller working groups of 2, 3 or 4. Smaller group sizes are much less painful for introverts and actually much more generative for anybody, whether extravert or introvert.
- Within the creative process, for example, taking an initial idea and sculpting it in to something more concrete, it is often a one man job rather than a task for the committee. An introverted sculptor just needs a quiet room and some quality, uninterrupted time to turn the nugget in to a golden necklace.
- Remember it might be the case that the extravert possesses the verbal abilities to present their ideas more forcibly and eloquently than the quietly spoken introvert. But it might also be the case that the introvert has thought up the more original and insightful ideas. If you are leading the session, make sure that the introverts get as much air time as the extraverts.
So, if the ratio of introverts to extroverts is 50:50, and if one believes that the former can be at least as creatively productive as the latter, then do everything possible to ensure that the working environment for the introvert is as attractive as it is for the extravert.