Innovation for Introverts
We here at Portigal are diverse practitioners, particularly when it comes to the polarizing spectrum of introversion and extroversion. Many a delicious dinner have been sprinkled with questions about how our preferences impact our practice. Steve, who identifies as more of an introvert, was interviewed by Gerry Gaffney for his User Experience podcast late last year and discussed the context of interviewing as a place where this gets manifested and managed. This topic is not new, but some recent articles remind me how important it is for innovation efforts that we acknowledge the valuable differences between those who draw energy from within and those (like me) who draw energy from the people around them.
The Rise of the New Groupthink [NYtimes] – Collaboration is the new black and, not surprisingly, it is not without its discontents. The author cites a range of studies (and Steve Wozniak as an exemplar) for why uninterrupted alone time is necessary and brainstorming in groups is not as effective as solo ideation. It doesn’t take loads of creativity to cherry-pick studies and successful individuals that support your case, in fact I think that’s called confirmation bias. Most disappointing is the characterization of collaboration as Groupthink which implies assembled individuals are stifled creatively and unable to reach their maximum creative frequency of Flow. Rather than supporting the case that collaboration isn’t worthwhile, I see a need for better communication, alignment, and understanding of diversity by the individuals that make up the group. A gifted facilitator, dedicated to stewarding collaborative creative processes and balancing different ideation styles, may offer a valuable remedy for this divergent diagnosis.
One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone – and solitude is a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck observed, introversion fosters creativity by “concentrating the mind on the tasks in hand, and preventing the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work.” In other words, a person sitting quietly under a tree in the backyard, while everyone else is clinking glasses on the patio, is more likely to have an apple land on his head. (Newton was one of the world’s great introverts: William Wordsworth described him as “A mind for ever/ Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.”)
Woz on Creativity: Work Alone [brainpickings] – My favorite source of cognitive candy offered a lovely, gentle rebuttal to the above article. It suggests, as do I, that creativity benefits from collaboration because fantastic things happen when ideas bang against each other. Neuroscientists tell us that new ideas are born of cognitive dissonance (when the brain struggles to hold two seemingly contrary concepts in the mind at the same time). This process has various monickers (forced connections, ideas having sex). In my experience it is guaranteed to produce innovative thinking and often works best when those two dissimilar ideas come from different people.
This, of course, should be ingested with caution – when taken out of context, it could easily become a distorted extreme. As Steven Johnson argues in Where Good Ideas Come From, innovation happens when ideas collide with one another, which can’t happen in isolation – an environment conducive to such collisions is essential for combinatorial creativity.
Federal Buzz: Does the government need more extroverts? [The Washington Post] – If you don’t have time for an in-depth study of the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) then this article offers a quick little lesson in some key distinctions between introverts and extroverts, as well as why there can be confusion and cases of mistaken identities. The article is a response to the argument that the government must hire more extroverts if it has any hope of fostering innovation. Plenty of voices chime in to dispel myths of introversion vs. extroversion and illuminate the challenges of employee retention within a work culture that neither nurtures nor rewards innovative contributions.
Several [introverts] also professed to being mistaken for extroverts because any personality type can exhibit the qualities of a good leader. Explained Kenneth Wells, an employee with the Navy, “I have been in positions where I had to act like an extrovert and make decisions quickly and decisively. Just remember that person who you think is an extrovert may be an introvert. All he or she wants is to get the job done, and then spend a little alone time to recharge and work on the next assignment.”
Stockholm’s School Without Classrooms [Architizer] – The Swedish Free School Organization Vittra is innovating the learning landscape with a new school designed to inspire creativity and community. The interior architecture is reminiscent of design studios (which are criticized in the above Groupthink article for lacking personal spaces). I, for one, drool at the thought of my son getting to attend a school designed to promote openness and interaction. Of course, my son is an extrovert like me so he would likely flourish in a school without walls. How is this kind of open environment experienced by a more introverted child? How do the teachers nurture and honor diverse creative kids in this context? I acknowledge my own confirmation bias here in suggesting that the teacher-as-facilitator seems like a viable anecdote for ensuring the students learn to stretch and shine, both alone and together.
The principles of the Vittra School revolve around the breakdown of physical and metaphorical class divisions as a fundamental step to promoting intellectual curiosity, self-confidence, and communally responsible behavior. Therefore, in Vittra’s custom-built Stockholm location, spaces are only loosely defined by permeable borders and large, abstract landmarks. As the architects explained, “instead of classical divisions with chairs and tables, a giant iceberg for example serves as cinema, platform, and room for relaxation, and sets the frame for many different types of learning,” while “flexible laboratories make it possible to work hands-on with themes and projects.”