Why The Business World Needs Both Extroverts And Introverts
Introverts are typically internally focused, their "real world" is inside their head, whereas extroverts live primarily in the external world. These differences have a number of implications for functioning and for business.
There has been a big push surrounding introversion lately. Introverts are coming out of the closet, happy to know why they're different, and determined to be proud of their differences. And that's great. But it often comes with a backlash against extroverts. Both extroverts and introverts are necessary in business, and in the world as a whole. Between these two types of people, there can exist a natural balance that is necessary for good functioning and productivity.
The words introvert and extroverts are labels, and there are always problems with labels. They have the effect of trapping people into behavioral and personal expectations that can be detrimental to their growth and functioning. However, if used correctly, they can also be helpful. For example, these labels don't necessarily refer to strict behavioral rules. Instead, they're about the energy guidelines and focus of the individuals.
Introverts get their energy by being alone, whereas extroverts get their energy by doing things in the external world, either by talking to others or completing tasks. The focus is different for these two personality types as well. Introverts are typically internally focused, their "real world" is inside their head, whereas extroverts live primarily in the external world. These differences have a number of implications for functioning and for business.
So, where do introverts and extroverts function best in business? And how can you make use of their unique skills in your business? Here's a primer.
Fast and slow thinking
There is a fair amount of evidence that introverts and extroverts think differently. Extroverts tend to think out loud and quickly, whereas introverts think more slowly and quietly, in the privacy of their own heads. This is not a hard and fast rule, of course; nothing is with humans, but there is strong evidence to support this view.
This difference may be due to structural differences in the brain as well as to differences in personality and personal preferences. For example, a Harvard study carried out in 2012 found that introverts tended to have a more developed prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with deep thinking and abstract thought. In contrast, the prefrontal cortexes of extroverts were less thick and developed, which indicates a difference in the way they use their minds.
This difference is not meant to say that introverts are better thinkers, just that they are different. And these differences can be of great benefit to businesses. Fast thinkers are always necessary, they solve problems quickly, and suggest new paths with a moment's notice. In contrast, deep thinkers are probably more likely to find potential problems long before they affect the work, or connect two disparate ideas after a long bout of thinking. In short, both types of thinkers are absolutely essential to the effective functioning of a business.
Public and private faces
Extroverts often enjoy being the public faces of their business. They like to socialize and to meet new people. They often enjoy big events and are good at the interactions and skills required to succeed at them. But most introverts don't like any of these things and often find them tiring and overstimulating. They prefer to be alone, or with a small group of friends. This can be a liability for a business that needs a public face.
The difference between introverts and extroverts in this case may be due to differences in the way their brains react to dopamine. Studies show that extroverts exhibit a very strong response in the reward sections of their brain to events they experienced as positive. This basically means that they got much higher rewards from their own brain in response to external stimulation. In contrast, because the brains of introverts react differently to dopamine, they're more likely to become tired and overstimulated by the same external input.
In business, understanding this difference can be of great benefit. Instead of trying to push against this natural proclivity, an introvert who finds the public aspects tiresome could consciously choose to team up with an extrovert. There have been some great examples of how this strategy can pay off, such as the partnership of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. This idea can also work on a smaller scale, and often the partnership of an introvert and an extrovert is the most natural and effective way to get work done well.
Listeners and talkers
This is not to say that extroverts can't listen. That would be as ridiculous as saying that introverts can't talk. But introverts generally spend more of their time listening, which usually makes them better at it.
Listening is a skill that seems to be dying. Too many people listen only to talk, or to work out what they're going to say next. But listening involves far more than this. It requires the ability to empathize, to focus completely on the other person, and to make them feel heard and understood. It is one of the biggest strengths of many introverts, and it can be very beneficial in business.
To do business with someone, you need to be able to listen and to hear them. In a business context, an introvert with great listening skills can help clients feel heard and express what they really want and need. This will help your business form stronger connections with its clients, which can only lead to greater business success.
Work and people focus
If you know an introvert at work, you've probably had the experience of seeing them sitting in a group of people with their headphones on. Usually they would be quietly working away while everyone talks around them. Meanwhile, the extroverts were talking, laughing, and generally making the workplace a fun place to be.
This is fairly typical of a workplace that has both introverts and extroverts, and it is actually fairly common in real life as well. This is not to say that extroverts can't or don't work, of course- they can be some of the hardest workers you'll ever see. But they don't focus exclusively on work, and this can do wonders for the morale of your workers and their enjoyment of work as a whole. And meanwhile the introverts will keep working, like tiny islands of calm and industriousness.
Team and solitary work
Both of these are needed in most businesses. Extroverts enjoy working in teams, while introverts like doing solitary work. Having employees that can complete both types of tasks is ideal in business.
Extroverts often prefer to be in the company of other people. This doesn't mean that they don't like an evening along curled up and watching their favorite show, but it does mean that they usually like more social contact than introverts do. And again, this may be because of differences in the way their brain processes dopamine. A recent study has suggested that extroverts get a greater neural reward, in terms of a rush of feel good hormones, when they spend time with others. In contrast, introverts are more likely to find too many interactions exhausting.
In business, there is always a need for both types of work. Extroverts usually work well in teams and in environments where they can contribute and express their ideas. But when quiet, industrious work is necessary, this type of work is usually best left to an introvert.
Creativity in business
There's been a lot of talk about introverts and creativity. Some sources claim that introverts are naturally more creative than extroverts. This is a claim without basis. Both introverts and extroverts can be and are creative, in the unique ways that come with each individual.
Creativity itself often requires both introverted and extroverted qualities. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, writer of the famous book on creativity Flow, put it: "Creativity allows for paradox, light, shadow, inconsistency, even chaos– and creative people experience both extremes with equal intensity."
That's why, if you want to run a successful creative business, you need to look for people who embrace the multiplicity and the contrasts that often come with being a creative person.
The number one thing you can take away from this
Both extroverts and introverts have skills that are necessary to the world. This simple fact makes the debate over which personality type is better completely irrelevant in business, and in life in general. No matter which personality type you are, you need to learn to harness your natural abilities to improve your work and your life as a whole.