Psychologists claim that between a third and a half of people in the US are introverts. It is difficult to determine a precise number because people fall at all places along the introversion-to-extroversion scale. It is also possible for individuals to morph (at least temporarily) from one personality form into the other as situations demand, so simple, brief observations can also be misleading. Nevertheless, psychologists believe that the tendency towards either of the two personality types is genetically wired because they can measure differences in physiological response to certain stimuli even in infancy. Paradoxically, the infants who respond most strongly to external stimuli are the ones who are most likely to shrink from excessive external stimulation in later life.
Cain provides some dominant characteristics of the two types. In terms of comfort levels for external stimulation:
In terms of how the two might comport themselves in a work environment:
"Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions, and are comfortable multitasking and risk-taking."
And in terms of social styles:
"[Extroverts] tend to be assertive, dominant, and in great need of company. Extroverts think out loud and on their feet; they prefer talking to listening, rarely find themselves at a loss for words, and occasionally blurt out things they never meant to say. They’re comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude."
What is of interest here are work environments and employee productivity. Given a mixture of these two personality types, are current business practices augmenting or inhibiting productivity?
Cain tells us that standard intelligence tests indicate little difference between extroverts and introverts. However, when it comes to academic achievement and the ability to solve complex problems differences emerge.
Extroverts are better than introverts
However, there are fundamental differences in how the two types approach complex problems.
Cain sums up the introvert approach with a quote from Albert Einstein.
When researchers study the characteristics of people that would be defined as "creative" by society, they arrive at a prototype.
Cain draws a conclusion from the studies of creative people.
Given this background, one might expect that businesses have learned to provide their employees flexible environments where privacy is available for those who choose to concentrate on difficult problems. Instead businesses seem to be moving in the opposite direction.
"The New Groupthink elevates teamwork above all else. It insists that creativity and intellectual achievement come from a gregarious place."
What Cain refers to as the New Groupthink seems to have arisen from a misinterpretation of experiences derived from the internet where collaborative projects have produced spectacular results.
What is overlooked in evaluating this internet-based collaboration is that the contributions are coming mostly from independent individuals (probably introverts) working alone in isolated environments. A given individual can evaluate the efforts of others and think long and hard before arriving at his particular contribution and making it public. That is a special form of collaboration that has nothing to do with a physical "crowd."
The New Groupthink believes this internet-based success can be recreated with real crowds (teams), not virtual ones.
And how has this been working out? Psychologists have studied productivity in open and private configurations, and others have tabulated data from company performance.
That certainly describes great places to work.
Introversion and extroversion, or at least high- and low-sensitivity individuals, seem to be common in other species besides humans. This suggests that the mixture of types might have been selected because of higher survivability of the species. In other words the species is more secure and more sustainable when it has a variety of responses to outside stimulants. Nature has decided that not everyone should be an introvert or an extrovert. Why can’t our businesses and schools arrive at the same conclusion?