There’s one kind of employee who is vastly under-appreciated in most modern offices

March 24, 2017

Extroverts are the darlings of the modern office. Conventional wisdom holds that to succeed in the 21st century workplace, you need to be bold, outgoing, and highly energetic—and that your contributions are only worth as much as your ability to chat frequently, and excitedly, about them.

But I think conventional wisdom has gotten things wrong. There’s no doubt that extroverts can make excellent employees. But introverts have their own unique strengths. Consider the four qualities identified by leaders from companies including Apple, Microsoft, and SAP as essential for strong employees: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.

Critical thinking

In an information economy, critical thinking ability is a highly valued skill. The best workers need to be able to solve novel problems, weigh evidence, and construct persuasive arguments. In his insightful book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport refers to the fullest use of these abilities as “deep work,” and argues that it is crucial to success in our hyper-competitive global economy. Deep work, at its core, is the ability to stay with a problem long past when it gets hard.

This commitment and long-term focus lines up very well with the introverted personality. Laura Helgoe, in her book Introvert Power,argues that introverts are naturally drawn to the solitude and persistence required for deep work and have experienced its power throughout their lives. And the biggest impediments to deep work are a frenzy of interruptions in the name of constant connection—something introverts are known to avoid.

Creativity

Creativity involves the ability to see the world in new ways—to uncover hidden patterns, discern new solutions, and create new products that transform the way we live. Neither extroverts nor introverts have a lock on creativity, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the noted psychologist. But each personality type has different creative strengths.

Extroverts are great at driving conversations and contributing to brainstorming sessions. Introverts, meanwhile, tend to listen closely to others and carefully observe as events unfold. This means that they can often perceive problems with greater clarity, depth, and objectivity. In a fascinating article in the Academy of Management Journal, researchers discovered that creative thinking is at its height just after people have paid attention to the negative aspects of their work. People who can clearly articulate problems, consider their root causes, and even feel nervous about their consequences tend to be the most creative—and that’s introverts to a T.

Collaboration

It’s no secret that introverts hate open-floor plans, designed by companies with the hope of creating more possibilities for “serendipitous connection.” But just because introverts prefer some measure of privacy doesn’t mean that they’re ineffective in teams. In fact, they can be quite strong in working collaboratively.

This commitment and long-term focus lines up very well with the introverted personality. Laura Helgoe, in her book Introvert Power,argues that introverts are naturally drawn to the solitude and persistence required for deep work and have experienced its power throughout their lives. And the biggest impediments to deep work are a frenzy of interruptions in the name of constant connection—something introverts are known to avoid.

Creativity

Creativity involves the ability to see the world in new ways—to uncover hidden patterns, discern new solutions, and create new products that transform the way we live. Neither extroverts nor introverts have a lock on creativity, according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the noted psychologist. But each personality type has different creative strengths.

Extroverts are great at driving conversations and contributing to brainstorming sessions. Introverts, meanwhile, tend to listen closely to others and carefully observe as events unfold. This means that they can often perceive problems with greater clarity, depth, and objectivity. In a fascinating article in the Academy of Management Journal, researchers discovered that creative thinking is at its height just after people have paid attention to the negative aspects of their work. People who can clearly articulate problems, consider their root causes, and even feel nervous about their consequences tend to be the most creative—and that’s introverts to a T.

Collaboration

It’s no secret that introverts hate open-floor plans, designed by companies with the hope of creating more possibilities for “serendipitous connection.” But just because introverts prefer some measure of privacy doesn’t mean that they’re ineffective in teams. In fact, they can be quite strong in working collaboratively.

By: Amanda Crowell

Chicago City Hall
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