Creative Bliss for Introverts, Part 3
What does play look like without dancing on the table?
Posted Jul 25, 2013
NA: What role does play have in thriving at work? How do introverts play differently from extroverts? How can they play well together?
DG: Children are natural at play—it’s how we learn, yet many adults seem to have forgotten how. Play allows us to let our guard down, opens our mind to possibilities, frees us to experiment, and take risks. It lets us try and fail without consequences, and failing is a natural part of creating.
Some of the most creative companies have cultures of play at work, and this helps to attract talent and breed ideas. We all learn by doing, and play allows us to try out prototypes and act out services in the real world. But all play does not look the same.
As our culture begins to see the importance of play, if you’re an introvert, have you found yourself happily entertained and then surprised by other people’s concern that you don’t look like you’re having enough fun because you aren’t dancing on the table like they are? Otto jokes about the introverted teenager who is inadvertently rewarded by sending her up to her room and punished by sending her to the prom. Play doesn’t have to be loud or part of a team contact sport. Introverted fun can be playing a computer game, tinkering in the garage, planting a garden, or just alone in thought. Like collaborating, there is a natural give and take between extroverts and introverts who play well together when they grant each other the freedom to be themselves.
NA: You quoted Georgia O’Keefe as saying, “I found that I can say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say in any other way.” And you offer that Edvard Munch was thought to “paint in his head.” How are these artists’ experiences common to introverts and creativity?
DG: There are plenty of lessons on creativity available to us by looking toward the arts. By examining their writings, I’ve studied O’Keefe and Munch, among others. Both, as introverts, were inspired by their inner worlds. And you can learn from them that what you wish to communicate isn’t always about what’s immediately in front of you—and much that is in your mind can’t be directly verbalized.
Problems come when you haven’t developed a way to express the ideas in your mind and translate them into something in the real world. Many say they can’t paint, or cook, or sing, and wrongly think they aren’t creative. O’Keefe and Munch weren’t born with skill to paint—but with practice, they developed techniques that allowed them to express their ideas.
There is a marked distinction between our ideas and the skill required to express them. We all have some ideas, and we are all capable of developing techniques to execute our ideas—whether in painting, making a speech, or writing a business plan. It’s especially important for introverts to take the time to develop some skills, possibly in the arts, writing, or through a hobby, to open a channel to express the richness of their thoughts. For example, Norman Rockwell, an introvert, was a natural storyteller who preferred to express himself with a brush.
DG: For any of us, it’s unnecessary to wait for our plans to be perfect before implementing them. For introverts to get out of their heads, consider that it’s always better to do something than not to do something, since all experiences in the long run are learning experiences.
Try engaging with people, building something, or simply writing your ideas onto paper to bring them out. For some people, igniting incense reminds them to smell, turning on music awakens them to listen, eating a snack invokes them to taste. Another way to bring an idea into reality is to demonstrate it to others. The act of teaching forces us to construct forms that others can understand.
A reminder for introverts: situations change quickly and good ideas have shelf lives. So if you have an idea and you can’t or don’t want to implement it today, then share it with someone who could make an impact with it.
DG: I laugh when you ask this, Nancy, because whenever discussing the unconscious mind with Otto, he puts on a thick accent and does his impression of Carl Jung. The unconscious mind is difficult to study, but we can still make worthwhile observations about it. The boundary between our inner and outer worlds, while murky, plays an important role in creating.
Ideas originate in our mind (the preferred realm for introverts), and we must take action in the outer world (the preferred ground for extroverts) to convert ideas into tangible creations that can be shared, like paintings, poems, pottery, or product design. Introverts tend to spend more time mulling over ideas and less time physically creating—while the opposite is true for extroverts, who spend less time contemplating and more time actually creating.
To bring our concepts to life in the real word, we have to cross the consciousness bridge at some point. Extroverts cross upstream at their first opportunity, so they can spend more time in the external world. Introverts, on the other hand, cross downstream, after first spending more time in their inner world.
NA: You say, "So many of us are underemployed and have a tremendous capability to do more—a capacity that can be tapped by learning to use our strengths and by following our passions." How can you do this as an introvert? What are some concrete steps?
DG: It’s a little sad for me to see so many people who aren’t firing on all cylinders. When you spend too much time acting in your non-preference, you aren’t acting as your best. A recent study found that 71 percent of us are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in our work.
Some concrete steps for introverts to function at their best are to allow time and private space to contemplate and process ideas. Balance your natural tendencies by bringing in more people at times and making sure to speak up with your thoughts. And take the time to develop skills in some form of nonverbal communication since some of what you wish to say is beyond words.
NA: What challenges are specific to introverts who want to market what they’ve created?
DG: It’s a noisy world and it's difficult to be heard. I’ve noticed that the billboards around the streets of New York are continuously growing sharper elbows, and you must do the same to stand out. Beyond the right mix of product and promotion, whatever you are marketing, the main point for introverts is that you can’t be humble about your offerings.
A higher hurdle comes through marketing something you personally created. When I first started painting, the thought of standing next to my artwork at a show was frightening. Then I walked around exhibits and galleries and found that my work was as good as some of what I was seeing. I thought if others could do it, so could I. Don’t be concerned with pleasing everyone, and concentrate on your niche. Marketing what you’ve created requires having confidence in your uniqueness, and that’s what our book is all about showing you.
NA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
DG: Yes. There are many books on creativity and in most of them, the authors show you their ways of being creative. However, in our book we don’t show you our way—instead, we help you find your own way. Otto, who has the experience of writing several bestselling books, explained that our job isn’t to have all the answers, but to get people talking.
NA: That’s a useful reminder for introverts and extroverts alike—and in different ways!
Copyright © 2013 Nancy Ancowitz