Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Myth of Collaboration for Introverts

There's a trend I'm starting to hear about more often that says something like this:

'Introverts don't thrive in group environments, and so when brainstorming you should give them time to themselves to think over a problem'

The logic behind this is that introverts have a hard time speaking up in a group, and so if you brainstorm with your team their voices might get lost in the fray. And further, introverts are slow thinkers who need time to think through a problem, where extroverts are fast thinkers who don't.

Here's the problem I have with this: calling introverts slow thinkers assumes that they think the wrong way, and that extroverts think the right way.

But let's re-frame slow thinking. When we talk about slow thinking what I think we really mean is deliberate and reflective thinking. And when we talk about fast thinking what we really mean is spontaneous, less reflective thinking.

And so an extroverts ability to thrive in a group environment doesn't necessarily say a lot about their ability to make good decisions, and potentially more about their ability to interact with other people in a fast paced environment. While the slow thinker is trying to think concertedly about the problem, the fast thinker is trying to formulate an acceptable response.

We see this type of thing play out pretty frequently in the business world. For instance, managers aren't always the best decision makers, but instead often those who can socially manage a team. And so management requires social skill, and not necessarily technical expertise (just like many other situations that involve communication in the workplace).

To me this implies that a better way to brainstorm would be to give everyone time to themselves to reflect. To encourage slow, deliberate, and reflective thinking among all of your employees, rather than putting them in environments where social hierarchy and norms hold as much sway as the best ideas.

In other words, rather than assuming extroverted environments are the default and right way to solve problems, turn that idea on it's head and look at where those environments fail, and can be improved. Instead of only opening avenues for introverts to be themselves, also look at ways in which the thinking style of introverts is beneficial for everyone.