I’ve been reading ‘Quiet’, Susan Cain’s provoking book about introversion and (to a lesser extent) extraversion. As someone with a definite preference for introversion myself, I think she’s done a great thing in opening up the discussion about the differences.
Broadly speaking, an extravert is someone who prefers to spend his or her time and energy in the outer world of new people, experiences, plans, actions and possibilities; an introvert prefers to spend his or her time and energy in the inner world of people they’re close to, familiar experiences, deep interests and inner vision.
There’s lots of interesting stuff in the book about the neurological and behavioural differences between people, and at points I felt that lovely surge of confidence that it’s OK to be the way I am, even though most of our popular culture seems to imply that extraversion is in some way ‘better’ or expected of us. So that was great. My concern is that I’m sure all of us really prefer to work with a mixture of the outer and inner world – there’s no such thing as a ‘pure’ introvert or extravert. So it’s not either/or, for any of us – it’s both/and.
So the question becomes not the static one of ‘Which are you, extravert or introvert?’; but the much more dynamic ‘How do you use your extraversion and introversion?’ How do you live in the outer world and the inner world? How do you learn to move comfortably between the two worlds? Whichever one you prefer, how do you live in the other one effectively when you have to?
These are the questions I work with all the time using the Myers Briggs model, so in a way they’re familiar. But for all of us – me included – they provide new challenges every day. How do I balance the routine needs of the business (introverted activity like writing a blog and doing the accounts) with new developments and external demands (extraverted activities like networking and delivering)?
The great thing is, we have both outer and inner energy; the secret is finding out how to work comfortably with both kinds…