Monday, March 21, 2011

What's So Good About Extroverts?

Through Mike's blog, I discovered this great article on the tyranny of the extroverts. Employers' preference for these annoying, chirpy creatures who couldn't stay silent for two minutes to save their lives has now extended even into the realm of engineering:
The top three priorities of the American Society for Engineering Education are (1) team skills, (2) communication skills, and (3) leadership. The National Science Foundation agrees; engineers need, "communication and interpersonal skills, better teamwork skills, [etc.]"
This is a very screwy world where very talented people in intellectual professions have to be discriminated against because they prefer to have lunch alone and dislike group activities. It doesn't seem to matter to anybody that those who need to be surrounded by people all the time might simply be trying to fill the silence in their heads left by a total absence of thoughts. Those who like to be alone, on the other hand, might need their alone time to think. Possibly even in order to come up with work-related innovations.

All of this fashionable blabber about teamwork fails to recognize that thinking, by its very nature, is always a solitary enterprise. You can talk all you want about collective brainstorming sessions, round-tables, and other useless inventions of the corporate world. The truth, however, remains that thinking is not done collectively:
I shouldn't have to say this, but there is a place in the world for introverts. Show me the ten most innovative minds of the 20th Century and I will show you ten introverts. From Einstein to Wittgenstein, not one of them could carry a conversation if you put handles on it. I wouldn't want to eat dinner with any of them, but I'm grateful they lived and died before the psychopharmaceutical industry had the chance to fix them.
 Introverts of the world unite and end the tyranny of the extroverts! I know that it's hard for us to do since we are not into group activities. Still, I'm sure we are smart enough to find a way.


kinjal said...

Thumbs up for writing this! It's particularly true about America that they seem to place a lot of emphasis on superficial friendliness, aggressive self-marketing, and all those other extrovert traits that have no correlation whatsoever with real ability. Introverts tend to feel discriminated against in this culture.

Clarissa said...

Oh, I'm glad you now sign with this beautiful name. :-)

On the topic: the word I hate the most is "networking." Brrrrh.

el cid said...

Thank you so much for writing this! Enumerable are the hours I've spent (alone, hehehe) thinking about and trying to figure out what is "wrong" with me because I don't enjoy being with people as much as I am told I am supposed to. I get very annoyed by beer commercials and much of society pontificating about what is and is not "fun".

It's nice to have someone to commiserate with :)

Also curious how often others have this problem: I love to read and would like to read even more than I do now, but many times when I sit down to read in the park, a coffee shop, at home, whatever, I just don't want to break the thread that my mind is currently chewing on. As a result, I end up thinking and staring at dogs, children, fountains, lo que sea, and I get less reading done than I would like. Any empathy out there?

Clarissa said...

Oh yes, that's me. I can spend hours in contemplation. But how come we are forced to think something is wrong with us? might it be that actually they are the ones with the problem?

J. said...

Introverts can learn the skills needed--and yes, they are just that, SKILLS--to function alongside extroverts in an extrovert-dominated world. And yet extroverts very seldom attempt to learn the skills of internal energy, contemplation, and focused intensity of thought that come so naturally to introverts.

This is our path to world domination...MWA-ha-ha-ha!

Seriously, though--approaching extroversion as a set of skills like any other, like learning to type or make boeuf bourguignon or grout bathroom tiles, is an approach a lot of introverts can embrace. (Whereas, "why aren't you more like so-and-so" is less embraceable.) If they choose to. Which they may not. Don't let them fool you into thinking it's a "you have it or you don't" kind of thing--it can be learned, and once learned, it's a skill like any other skill and it can make certain areas of life a little easier to negotiate. (It also makes dating easier, especially if one tends to date other introverts!)

Then again, maybe one would prefer to learn to grout bathroom tiles, which I suck at. It might be a more productive skill in the end...and less exhausting.

David said...

I like my alone time. I also like talking to other people. I don't like doing either all the time. Maybe that makes me a bitrovert.

GMP said...

Very interesting post!

Pen said...

It's official--Blogger hates it when I write lengthy comments.

Anyway, I guess the main points were this:

1.) I guess this is kind of discouraging, because it means I may end up harassed by people who are craving attention. On a more positive note, this could easily be translated into a small-group setting, something which is much more comfortable and easier to deal with.

2.) I agree that social skills can be acquired. However, the difference between an extrovert and an introvert lies in the effect social events have on them. Energy and mindset are big factors: some introverts find they crash after a party or some other event. In addition, I know there are some people out there who have to prepare themselves extensively for a social event. If they're not in the right mindset, they can come off as standoffish, cold, or upset. This isn't really a problem with many extroverts, who thrive on social activity.

3.) The entire issue is ironic because of the fact that group activities naturally suppress the individual thought. Some people work best on their own, and need time to process and store information. Think tanks are all well and good, but they're virtually worthless if you don't get the time and silence you need to really think about what's going on.

Rimi said...

I love the word 'bitrovert' :-)

Social skills *can* be learnt, but not by all. I flatter myself that I'm an extremely believable extrovert in company, unlike some introverts I know. But even this 'skill' backfires on me regularly. People I work with enthusiastically include me in after-work or weekend plans, sure I'll be delighted to go 'have fun'. But a couple of hours of being dazzlingly social exhausts my acquired skills, and all I want to do is go home, shut the door, and not come out till next morning (and that relucntantly).

Incidentally, have you read this post: ?

Meaningful Revisions said...

Been reading your blog for awhile - this HBR ideacast follows your point. Introverts have a lot of positive qualities and can add substantially more to org. effectiveness in many situations