What’s the latest thinking about introverts and creativity? What are our strengths, struggles, and blind spots—and how can we offer the world our creative best? I invited internationally recognized artist and personality-type expert, David Goldstein, to answer these questions and more. He just collaborated on a new book, Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive, with a pioneer in the field of practical applications of personality type, Otto Kroeger.
Goldstein and Kroeger introduce their book saying, “We expect to find creativity in R&D, advertising, and the graphics department; today, however, creativity is also needed in sales, customer service, logistics, shipping—in every business function. It’s everyone’s responsibility to contribute, and the easiest way is to support a culture where creativity can thrive.” Let’s look at how you can do that for yourself and those around you.
NA: David, you describe creativity as a form of communication, and share that introverts and extroverts simply express themselves differently. You say that introverts focus their energy inward, “using their imaginations for building virtual inner worlds.” Conversely, you say extroverts focus their energy outward, “making direct actions in their outer world for building real cities.” What are specific examples of how introverts and extroverts express their creativity differently?
DG: Today more than ever before, we are constantly facing unprecedented problems, and to be competitive and thrive in our ever changing environment it’s necessary for us all to act creatively! Contrary to what many people think, there isn’t a single creative type, and we are all creative in our own ways.
One personality-type difference we’ve found is that while extroverts prefer to engage with actual objects—like moving furniture around a room to see what arrangement looks best, introverts prefer to create within their minds, and this can be an advantage. An introverted interior designer explained that she doesn’t need to mock a room’s layout and actually lift a couch or move a rug to know what it will look like since she sees it in her mind. I was just speaking with a writer of historical fiction novels who gathers relevant information from a period and then creates stories without actually experiencing an event. While extroverted creativity is like writing a Super Bowl ad that everyone will see, introverted creativity is more like writing computer code that everyone uses but nobody sees.
Extroverted creativity is the maître d' at the front of a fine restaurant finding solutions to accommodate last-minute diners, while introverted creativity comes from back in the kitchen as the chef substitutes missing ingredients. Of course, they could switch roles if necessary, but this may not be as natural for them.
NA: You say that using the special skills and talents of your personality type to fit snugly into the right opportunities is like slipping your fingers into a well-made glove. What kind of gloves most often fit introverts best—and worst?
DG: As a kid, I remember having missized gloves that kept my hands warm but didn’t feel exactly right; this made it hard to make a good snowball. Using your unique strengths lets you tailor fit your opportunities so you can be engaged in what you do.
When we talk about creativity, we often talk about skill. Our personality types are only our preferences, and not directly related to our skill. It just so happens that when you prefer to do something like throwing a snowball, you tend to get good at it.
You shouldn’t feel limited by your personality. In fact, whatever your type, with awareness of yourself you can thrive in most professions. For example, it seems obvious that extroverted salespeople often enjoy interacting—and with all their practice, they often become strong communicators. On the other hand, introverted salespeople, with practice, tend to develop into careful listeners of their customers’ needs. In fact, if you find yourself as the only introvert among your peers, then you are bringing something unique to the table. And today, your uniqueness is your strength and the source of your competitiveness.
Ideal work environments for introverts provide for some time alone for them to reflect before acting. Technology can help, and although it tends to bombard us with requests, it also allows for remote collaboration on our own time. For example, solving problems over e-mail with co-workers puts less stress on introverts than when they are interrupted at their desks. A culture that gives them time to react enables introverts to contribute from a position of strength; this benefits the entire organization with dividends in calmness and stability.
Managers at some firms have come to falsely believe that an open floor plan is the answer to promote creativity, but too much interaction can be draining for introverts. And when half the people are drained, they certainly don’t attain peak performance. To gain from the depths of an introvert’s inner world, provide time and space to open the channels. The worst organizational culture is one that doesn’t recognize that introverts and extroverts contribute differently.
NA: How can an introvert, in particular, use creativity to discover her calling and ultimately carve out a great career path?
DG: To find your calling, the first step is to find yourself. Like a jigsaw puzzle piece, it helps to identify if you fit best at the edge or the center of the action. Obviously, perception matters in getting ahead and when it comes to creativity. Introverted engagement can, unfortunately, look like daydreaming and lack of attention. To overcome this image problem, introverts must go against their inclinations and get in the habit of regularly sharing and keeping people informed of their accomplishments.
By knowing yourself, you can develop strategies. While extroverts prefer to think out loud and talk through solutions, introverts prefer to use their inner dialog to come to creative solutions. The important thing for introverts is not only to speak up when you think something is important, but also to speak up if you think it’s obvious—since the creative connections you make in your mind may not be obvious to everyone, and they may spark more ideas.
The ultimate challenge to stand out for an introvert is to establish your presence on a chatty conference call where quiet equals invisible. If you can master this, you can shine anywhere—and it only takes two easy steps. First, speak early in a conversation to make your presence known. And second, toward the end, use your deep listening to summarizing everyone’s points and establish a consensus.
NA: Yes, and if we were to add a third step, it would be to follow up on those points via e-mail. This way, you’re staying visible even after the interaction. What about the importance of face time for introverts?
DG: While much collaboration can be done remotely, introverts shouldn’t rely too heavily on it. Cooperation can be improved and misunderstandings avoided by occasional in-person meetings. So don’t pass up these fleeting opportunities to actually shake hands and look your co-workers in the eye.
Goldstein will join us again next week to share his insights about attaining happiness and success in your career by finding the right partners to support your creativity; surprises about how introverts and extroverts relate differently to praise; and how they can collaborate at their best.
Copyright © 2013 Nancy Ancowitz