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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, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

119 comments
SpinSucks
SpinSucks

@giulianalonigro Does "crazy busy community servant" mean you volunteer a ton and can't say no? Just wondering, cause I do that. :)

michandwalker
michandwalker

Great post Gini! My employer just moved to a new building and adopted 'Free Addressing', also known as absolutley no pricacy. There are some quiet places I can go to if needed, so it all works out.

jcufaude
jcufaude

No, it doesn't mean you get your energy from being alone. It means you get more energy from the opportunity to be reflecting and listen to your inner voice, something that doesn't have to require privacy and exclusion.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

I'm gonna have to read that NYT piece, thanks for sharing it. Yes I consider myself an introvert; I'm also shy and probably lacking in social skills - in person, wine helps; online, I make up for that with some fast typing :-). I think I work well with others, but I absolutely need my privacy and autonomy. Think it's one of those 'if you shine line on it, you'll change it' - I feel too much pressure being watched, someone 2nd guessing or judging my workflows and creative process.

And quiet alone time, for both work and play, is a must. I'm one of those people very comfortable taking my iPad to a lunch by myself, being at home and not having talked to anyone on the phone for a couple of days. Like you said, I need that to recharge, get a handle on the crazy in my head. FWIW.

candacemgraves
candacemgraves

Awesome! There is such a thing as an introvert in the PR world. Gives me hope :)

Mediameeter
Mediameeter

@ginidietrich We see being introverted as weakness--vs. alternate wiring. A phone is not a hammer, yet both are useful to drive points

JenPalumbo
JenPalumbo

@ginidietrich I loved this post. I enjoy working with people, but there are some times I just need to be left alone to think for myself!

Neicolec
Neicolec

I think a balance is good. Sometimes I find it really valuable working in teams or meeting to spark ideas from discussion. However, most of the ideas I come up with on my own and, definitely, I'm more productive digging in alone to build things.

I am constantly feeling guilty about my introversion, partially because all three of my boys inherited my husband and my's introversion. So, I often feel badly that they aren't terribly active socially. They each have a couple of close friends, and that's all. At the same time, they, like us, are perfectly happy with that.

I think our society puts a premium on extroverts and paints a picture of what we are supposed to be like and how we are supposed to live: have tons of online and offline friends, go out with others at least every Friday and Saturday night, chat and socialize, get invited to lots of parties and events and attend them. Facebook has actually made this worse as FB addicts paint an image on it of always being out with friends partying or going to cool events. For those of us who think, "Actually, I'd rather stay in with the family tonight than go to the neighbor's party..." there's a sense that there is something wrong with us.

I also find the introvert effect online. I'm not as good at "connecting" with people online because if I don't think I have something valuable or useful to say, I tend not to tweet or reply. Introvert trait. Sometimes, I wish I valued and enjoyed mindless chatter...ok, not really.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

This is what is wrong with Facebook! And Twitter. And all social networks. We need clearly the ability to mix public and private in an easily managed manner. Right now everything is clumsy. It is why we still use so much email and SMS texts vs moving that all to one platform.

OK I just gave the secret out who wants to invest in my new start up the IntroExtro network?

And yes for once Gini I agree with your post. I have worked at cube farms. I have had clients that had cube farms. And you can see when you enter those that are always standing outside the cubes and those that refuse to come out. We need better balance for workplace design and tools for collaboration.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Jill T That's so funny! I sit on a board and, every month I get nervous when it's my turn to talk. And I speak. A ton. But the good thing about what we're both doing is getting out of our shells and not letting our personalities hold us back.

Latest blog post: Five Reasons QR Codes Suck

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@3HatsComm And there is absolutely nothing wrong with you! I find wine helps me in social situations, too. Just one glass is enough. I once joked with my doctor that she should prescribe wine so I wasn't so stressed about talking on the phone.

Latest blog post: Five Reasons QR Codes Suck

belllindsay
belllindsay

@HowieG "...who wants to invest in my new start up the IntroExtro network?" I'm in!! Canadian $$ strong right now! :)

MargieClayman
MargieClayman

@ginidietrich sssssshhhh. I have a new idea. I'm going to wish for snow and see if it dumps on you. So...SNOW! Snow ye demons!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@mschechter Yeah, that doesn't surprise me one bit...considering the circumstance under which I met you

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