The power of introverts in innovation

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The majority of people are primarily either extroverted or introverted. Unfortunately for introverts, the modern world has developed to champion and play to the natural strengths of extroverts.

This is often linked to mankind’s move from a slow, agricultural life, to a fast-paced, urbanised existence where first impressions count and being heard in the crowd is hard. This imbalance is garnering an increasing amount of attention from academics and business leaders seeking to level the playing field and unleash the abilities of more introverted individuals.

Business - an extrovert’s world

By overlooking introverts and their preferred ways of working, businesses are failing to utilise the full potential of their workforce. As stated by Briggs & Myers, founders of the universally used personality test, introverts "focus on their inner world of ideas and experiences. They direct their energy and attention inward and receive energy from reflecting on their thoughts, memories and feelings".

Contrary to popular beliefs, introverts aren’t necessarily shy; they simply need less stimulation from their physical surroundings. In contrast, extroverts are energised by the “outer world”, by interacting with others and tend to be outgoing, vocal and think-out-loud.

In a world of open-plan offices, brainstorms and hot-desking, businesses must consider flexible management techniques that allow introverts to thrive. For example, affording them time alone or in small groups, allowing them to tap into their inner world. Studies also point to ensuring a clear work structure is in place, with defined goals, as crucial to maximising the potential of introverts.

Cloud liberation

Advances in technology are making it easier than ever to provide a better environment for introverts, without in turn inhibiting extroverts. Cloud computing has enabled mass access to different platforms, creating an environment where people can communicate, collaborate, and innovate around the globe.

Introverts find these digital methods of working more productive, as a more comfortable channel to express their creativity. Indeed, the internet is increasingly heralded as a liberator of introverts.

The people who regularly get their suggestions or perspectives heard in a 20-person strong brainstorm session aren’t necessarily the most innovative, or even likely to have the best idea. They are, though, likely to be extroverted. Digital platforms are allowing users to innovate individually before bringing resulting ideas together for team collaboration, playing to the working preferences of introverts.

Digital innovation platforms

Companies are slowly adjusting to new ways of fostering innovation, to more effectively harness the collective power of their greatest asset – their employees. Social platforms like Facebook and Twitter are being replicated in B2B programmes, creating new freedoms in the workplace – especially for introverts, who are often more engaged via social media than they would be in other situations.

Services like Yammer provide an online space for small businesses to encourage communication and idea creation. For larger organisations and enterprises, scalable innovation management platforms are available to drive innovation projects and provide an environment for all employees (introvert or extrovert) – as well as wider crowds of people -- to contribute and express themselves.

Introverts – apply here!

For anyone thinking twice about hiring an introvert, it shouldn’t be forgotten that many of history’s greatest figures and leaders were known to be introverted in character – Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Michael Jordon and JK Rowling to name but a few.

By introducing more flexible working practices and harnessing modern technology, organisations can drive innovation and workforce efficiency to new levels, harness powerful ideas regardless of personality type, and level the playing field for innovative thinking. More importantly, they can facilitate happier, more engaging work environments for their staff, many of whom have been introverts working in an extrovert’s world.

Matt Chapman is VP & head of innovation services at Mindjet

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