Gini Dietrich

Privacy and Autonomy for Introverts at Work

By: Gini Dietrich | January 24, 2012 | 
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Late last year, Lisa Petrilli published The Introvert’s Guide to Success.

It popped into my brain when I saw, “The Rise of the New Groupthink” in the New York Times last week.

Combine those two pieces of content and you may have actually heard me yell, “Hurrah!”

You see, I’m an introvert. And, until about two years ago, I thought there was something wrong with me (well, there is clearly something wrong with me, but it’s not because I’m an introvert).

I know, I know. When I say that people don’t believe me. 

It’s true, though.

Being an introvert doesn’t mean you are shy or have no social skills. It means you get your energy from being alone while extroverts get their energy from being around people. Lots of people.

The New York Times article talks about the Groupthink phenomenon, which:

Holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

That very idea makes my heart rate rise a little bit. Having no solitude at work? No. Thank you.

Case in point: If you’ve not yet read Steve Jobs, it is a must read. Yes, I know I just recommended you read more fiction, but this reads like a novel. Not only will you learn more about a leader who built one of the (if not the) most successful companies in the world by breaking all of the rules, you learn more about his introverted counterpart, Steve Wozniak.

Rewind to March 1975: Mr. Wozniak believes the world would be a better place if everyone had a user-friendly computer. This seems a distant dream — most computers are still the size of minivans, and many times as pricey. But Mr. Wozniak meets a simpatico band of engineers that call themselves the Homebrew Computer Club. The Homebrewers are excited about a primitive new machine called the Altair 8800. Mr. Wozniak is inspired, and immediately begins work on his own magical version of a computer. Three months later, he unveils his amazing creation for his friend, Steve Jobs. Mr. Wozniak wants to give his invention away free, but Mr. Jobs persuades him to co-found Apple Computer.

The story of Apple’s origin speaks to the power of collaboration. Mr. Wozniak wouldn’t have been catalyzed by the Altair but for the kindred spirits of Homebrew. And he’d never have started Apple without Mr. Jobs.

But it’s also a story of solo spirit. If you look at how Mr. Wozniak got the work done — the sheer hard work of creating something from nothing — he did it alone. Late at night, all by himself.

And yet…we are building collaboration and teamwork inside our organizations fit only for extroverts. The mega-churches are doing it. Schools are doing it. And businesses are doing it.

No matter what personality type you are, people are more productive and learn better when they have privacy and alone time.

As human beings, we all need to love and trust one another, but we crave privacy and autonomy. Organizations should cater both human needs by providing open and casual environments for discussion and brainstorms, but also provide nooks and crannies (if not separate offices or cubicles) where people can disappear to work and think.

As you go about your day-to-day work activities, think about both your introverted and extroverted colleagues. Discover ways for them to collaborate with one another that doesn’t favor one type over the other. And for the introverts like Woz, find ways to give them even more autonomy and privacy.

It’s not an easy task, but doing the hard work now will make everyone happier and more productive in the long-run.

This first appeared in my weekly Crain’s column.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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