Silent Geniuses: Why we need more respect for the creativity of introverts

  • Silent Geniuses Why we need more respect for the creativity of introverts

Share this post with anyone who you know who wishes that they had the courage to speak up and let people know about their ideas.

Imagine what you think a “creative person” looks like, and what they behave like.

Chances are, you probably have a picture of someone coming up with lots of ideas.

Maybe someone very energetic and talented, in the middle of a performance in front of thousands of people.

Or you might even just think of the person in your business who is always the first person to come up with a seemingly great idea in a brainstorming session.

You might see a trend developing here, and you would be doing the same thing that the vast majority of people do…

… most people think that more extroverted, outgoing people are the most creative ones.

And this is usually also very clear to see when teams and companies are trying to generate new ideas. Typically, a group will begin a brainstorming session recommending that everyone should feel free to share whatever ideas they can think of. And what ends up happening is that a small number of people end up dominating the discussions and suggesting a lot of ideas. And usually the people who shout out their ideas the fastest and the loudest also tend to be the most extreme extroverts (and often highly narcissistic as well).

Often, a small number of highly narcissistic and extroverted people will dominate brainstorming sessions

Often, a small number of highly narcissistic and extroverted people will dominate brainstorming sessions

But there is a huge problem with this.

It leads to the idea that since these extroverted people come up with ideas the fastest, that they are the ones who should be asked for their ideas since they are “good at it”.

And this often means that the quieter, more introverted people are often overlooked, assumed to not be as creative, or just be dominated by their louder colleagues so that their ideas are never heard.

The truth is, even the quietest people often have ideas that are as good as, or often better, than the loudest people. You just need to find a way to let them share the ideas.

They are the silenced geniuses, who just want to

It is time to understand why this happens, and what we can do about it.

Extroversion vs Introversion when it comes to creativity

Extroversion is all about how much energy you get or use up by interacting with the outside world and people in it and is one of the Big Five Personality Traits which psychologists use to study differences in groups of people.

Generally, extroverts get more energy in social situations and tend to be more outwardly energetic, whereas introverts tend to seem quiet, low-key, deliberate, and less involved in the social world. In fact, there have been several experiments that people who are more introverted are even affected more by external stimulation, and will produce more saliva when lemon juice is put in their mouth as they are more sensitive to it.

But in reality, everyone is on a spectrum between introvert and extrovert, which will change slightly depending on who you are with and what you are doing.

I have previously talked about why the most famous test for determining your extroversion level (the Myers-Briggs) is actually useless when it comes to innovation. But unfortunately, the MBTI test has become so widespread and popular that people end up assigning themselves to one of the 16 “types”, which indicate that you are overall more of an extrovert or an introvert.

And this is where the problems of perception begin.

As I found out in a recent discussion with Dr Jack Goncalo (premium content), his research indicates that people will perceive an idea to be more creative if the person who gives it to them fits the bill of a “stereotypical creative person” (e.g. not religious, from the coastal US cities, crazy hair, narcissistic etc). This is even though when the ideas themselves were assessed, they were of no higher quality than any others, and were often independently judged to be less creative.

So immediately, people who are a bit more reserved are at a disadvantage, as people are unconsciously biased to believe that their ideas are less creative than those from a more extroverted person.

There is also the social stigma that has developed against introverts over the past few decades.

More and more often, especially in more Westernised countries, if you prefer to do your work individually then you are seen as “not a team player” or a social outsider. They are also often overlooked for leadership positions.

This has become even more prevalent as office layouts are moving more towards being open plan, where people are expected to constantly collaborate and there is less space to get your head down and focus on your own work, which has also been shown to work against creativity, as I found out in my discussion with Leigh Stringer on how architecture affects creativity (premium content).

Open plan offices may seem cool, but they can hurt creativity

Open plan offices may seem cool, but they can hurt creativity

This results in most people who are naturally introverted or quieter in feeling like they need to change themselves in order to fit in and do a good job.

I am here to teach you that you can get even more value out of these people if you understand how to get the best out of them from the start.

It can make a huge difference to the quality of innovative ideas your organisation can get.

Finally, there is the problem with self-belief.

If you grow up in a society where it appears that extraverts are the creative people and that you don’t fit that mould, you are much more likely to begin believing that you are not creative.

And this can result in people stopping themselves from expressing their creativity, or sharing their ideas. In a brainstorming session, this might result in an introverted person not wanting to share their idea when an obviously extroverted person is throwing ideas all over the place.

But on a more personal level, it can also result in these people thinking they don’t have the capability to be creative. They develop a self-belief that they can’t do it, an inner critic, which stops them from ever trying. Denise Jacobs (premium content) and I discussed why this happens, and what people can do to overcome it.

Taking back ownership of your own quiet creativity

But here is the fact: Introverts have just as much capacity to be creative as anyone else.

And in many ways, they may have a natural advantage.

We now know that the creative process in everyone happens in four stages:

  1. Preparation
  2. Incubation
  3. Inspiration
  4. Verification

And in fact, we have research to prove that incubation happens over time subconsciously, overnight.

In practice, extroverts are likely to use idea-generation sessions like brainstorming as a sort of “thinking out loud exercise”, saying whatever idea comes into their minds. The issue with this is that it doesn’t allow the brain much time to form truly original new connections between ideas, which means the likelihood of coming up with a truly differentiated, original idea is much lower.

Conversely, if introverts are given the opportunity to think through a challenge in their own way before being thrust into a group situation, they may take the time to form new solutions which can only come with giving the challenge the amount of time it requires. And often, this will happen subconsciously without the person even thinking about it.

(I go into more detail about how you can structure a brainstorming session to encourage this behaviour below.)

Perhaps the most famous proponent of encouraging introverts to take back ownership of their working styles is Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and founder of the Quiet Revolution.

Here is her inspirational TED Talk on how introverts can feel pressure from society, and how they should instead embrace their introverted nature and the benefits it can bring.

 

Why most companies don’t get the most out of introverts in brainstorming sessions (and how to do them right!)

So finally, what can we do to help get the most out of brainstorming sessions, especially now that we understand the additional benefits that introverts can bring?

Well, there are a couple of changes which you can do right away:

  1. The most important one is to start preparing people for what they should be thinking about before the session even begins. Let them know the challenge, but don’t ask them to start generating ideas yet. In fact, according to research by Dr Roni Reiter Palmon (premium content), the first thing they should do is to try to think as much about defining the problem as possible. What are the goals? What are the constraints? How can we think of the challenge from a new perspective?
  2. When the session begins, and this is probably the most important change you can make, ask people to write down their ideas individually before bringing them together in a group.This is a technique called Brainwriting, instead of Brainstorming, and is outlined in the video below about people taking over meetings. This has been shown to lead to a much larger number of total ideas, as well as the ideas being of a higher quality. It also allows the more introverted people to contribute just as many ideas as those people who would usually just shout them out.
  3. Structure the session in a different way to get the most out of everyone. Bryan Mattimore (premium content) who has run more than 1,000+ ideation workshops, describes a great technique which allows everyone to walk around the room and contribute to ideas. He has said this technique was especially helpful to introverts who would feel more comfortable discussing ideas in smaller groups.

So go out there and look at who in your team might be able to contribute more, if you just let them.

Who knows, your next great idea might just come from a quiet genius.

Did you know that scientific evidence shows your creativity decreases over time

What to read next:

What is innovation
The following two tabs change content below.
Chief Editor of Ideatovalue.com and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as the world's #5 Innovation blogger in 2016, I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love.
By | 2017-06-16T18:06:05+00:00 June 16th, 2017|Creativity|2 Comments