Creative Bliss for Introverts, Part 2

Share your sandbox strategically.

Posted Jul 18, 2013

In the first part of this interview, David Goldstein, author of Creative You with Otto Kroeger, offered insights about how introverts and extroverts express themselves differently, ideal work environments for introverts, and the counterintuitive logic about why introverts should speak up at meetings—even if they think their contributions are obvious. Goldstein is back to tell you how you can ace your career by finding the right collaborators to support your creativity. He will also share surprises about how introverts and extroverts relate differently to praise, and the relationship between introverts, creativity, and time.

NA: You use the metaphor of a combination lock to depict finding happiness and success in your career. What do you mean by that?

DG: The combination lock we mention is about collaborating. Although ideas are sparked within a single mind, today with everything being so complex and specialized, the right combination of partners can take your creative achievements to new heights. A combination lock or a password with only one digit isn’t strong, but as you add digits you add strength.

When I offer workshops, I ask participants during group exercises to list the areas in which they have special experience. Then, after pairing people together, we get stronger combinations to be innovative. When Otto and I started working together many years ago, the strength of our project came through combining his background in psychology with mine in creativity.

NA: Would you recommend a strategy for determining what an introvert should create herself versus when it’s time to collaborate on a project, or even obtain something “off the shelf”?

DG: If you’re bringing a fork and knife to the table and your dining partners only have spoons, then don’t ask their help in cutting your food. If you are a great negotiator, don’t leave this to another teammate. And if you typically generate plenty of new ideas, be sure to get involved in the front end of the creative process. Know and stick to your core strengths and let go of everything else that others could do more efficiently.

The one exception is speaking. I encourage introverts to develop their communication skills through practice. However, to spread your ideas to the widest audience, there are times when it’s best to hand the microphone to our silver-tongued teammates. Do you have a friend or co-worker who tells your stories better than you do? Having extroverts as collaborators can help amplify your message.

NA: How can introverts and extroverts collaborate successfully using their creativity? What are their respective blind spots as well as their pitfalls in working together creatively?

DG: Leaders are interested in encouraging collaboration, but that isn’t always easy since creative pursuits are often a bit chaotic and directionless. When problems arise, we call them “creative differences,” and many rock bands as well as startup and joint ventures attribute this to their breakup. However, once we understand our creative differences, they can become our greatest strengths. In fact, venture capitalists say the most important quality they look for in businesses isn’t the ideas, but the teams. Look for partners that don’t duplicate your skills, but complement them.

Introverts usually prefer to create alone and behind the scenes; however, there is great benefit in their teaming up with extroverted promoters who tend to help route new thoughts into the open that would otherwise go unsaid. Pairings between introverts and extroverts often work well since neither type competes for the limelight. In comparison, pairs of extroverts must make an effort to listen to each other, and pairs of introverts must share to work effectively. Successful collaboration starts with trust, and requires give and take. The more we understand who our partners are, the better our teamwork.

Writing a book is often thought of as a solo creative pursuit; however, Otto and I wrote ours as a team. When one of us had an “aha” moment, Otto, as an extrovert, would react by gathering the troops to bounce around ideas and test the concept. As an introvert, my first reaction was to take time to think about the possibilities, make observations, and run off alone to the library for some research. Both approaches added value that was multiplied when we reconvened. While I’ve done much of the behind-the-scenes work, Otto’s larger-than-life reputation has helped spread the reach of our ideas.

NA: You say extroverts "enjoy praise, depend on feedback, and become energized by group interactions." How about introverts? What helps—and hinders—our creativity?

DG: It surprises many that praise, when handled the wrong way, can actually backfire. Consider the student who is awarded valedictorian for best grades, the athlete who took a chance and scored the winning goal, the employee of the year who is recognized for improving market share, the machinist who went beyond his duties to develop a new product that saved the plant. All are rewarded with some things that half the population doesn’t want: public recognition and the call to make a speech. The prospect of unwanted attention is enough incentive for some introverts to avoid sharing their original ideas and achievements; they want to stay out of the spotlight. Instead, private praise and respect for contributing in their own way can motivate introverts.

NA: You say, “Be your own critic—without being too critical.” How do introverts and extroverts differ in their criticisms of their own creative work? You cite the example of the painter Paul Gauguin. What happened when a critic asked to see his drawings, and how did Gauguin’s reaction relate to his personality type?

DG: While constructive criticism has value, criticism can also discourage us away from our passions. Be aware that all critics speak through the lens of their own personality type.

For example, extroverted critics tend to ask introverts to be more “authentic” by sharing about themselves. Ironically, this doesn’t make them more authentic because it’s not the way they tend to be. Being private, introverts tend to create without exposing too much. Talking about his preliminary work, Gauguin said, “My drawings? Never! They are my letters, my secrets. You wish to know who I am; my work is not enough for you? I only reveal what I want to reveal.” Introverts don’t need to be drawn out. Instead, with trust they let us in and show us their world.

NA: What is the relationship between creativity and time for introverts?

DG: Time is certainly a factor. Some creativity tests are biased against introverts, and worst of all can discourage them from thinking of themselves as creative. In one, participants are asked to generate as many ideas as possible in a given time to find uses for a household object like a brick. This may measure some kind of quickness but certainly not overall creativity. Introverts particularly like to reflect, and their most original ideas often come as a result of contemplating long after the test is finished. Likewise, some of their best ideas don’t necessarily come through brainstorming, but during the drive home.

We become engaged and passionate about an activity when we act within our personality preferences. When this happens we may experience flow—the timeless euphoria frequently associated with creativity. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi writes much on this.

Goldstein will join us again next week for the third and last part of this interview to explore the power of play for introverts and extroverts. He’ll also offer special insights for introverts on how to fire on all cylinders in their careers and tackle the challenges of marketing their own creations.

Copyright © 2013 Nancy Ancowitz