The secret power of introverts

If you ask central casting to send over a CEO, you’ll likely get an energetic actor with a voice that carries. He’ll be comfortable standing in the center of the room, surrounded by people, because he’ll be drawing energy from the crowd. In short, they’ll send an extrovert.

We tend to imagine leaders as extroverts, but this stereotype isn’t necessarily true. I’m a leader who’s an introvert, and you might be too. If you are one, you’re in good company. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Abraham Lincoln, Steve Wozniak, Steven Spielberg, and Larry Page all considered themselves introverts.

It shouldn’t be surprising that introverts have qualities every business needs. In fact, research shows that four out of 10 top corporate executives are introverts.

Misconceptions about introversion are rooted in our culture. When we think of effective leaders, our mind’s eye tends to gravitate toward images of leaders delivering awe-inspiring speeches to rally the troops and then charging into battle on white stallions, screaming for others to follow. But by limiting our view of leadership to these extrovert tropes, we run the risk of missing the power that introverts can bring to the table.

The pressure to live like an extrovert

In her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” author Susan Cain explains that in America, our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts.

As a culture, we tend to value people on traits that are commonly associated with extroverts, such as an outgoing nature, openness, and inherent sociability. Placing these characteristics on a pedestal can put pressure on introverts to conform to these ideals if they want to be successful.

“Many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to pass as extroverts,” writes Cain. “The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.”

Acceptance of introverts must begin with introverts themselves, says Cain. Introverts must be the first to recognize their unique value and learn to maximize their strengths.

The hidden value of introverts 

Introverts have many traits that are useful in a leadership capacity.

  • Introverts develop deeper relationships. While extroverts tend to have a wide group of acquaintances, introverts run in smaller circles. As a result, they get to know people on a deeper level and form richer relationships. Introverted leaders tend to listen to employees’ desires and needs and take the time to support them.
  • Introverts tend to think, then act. They make decisions based on data rather than shooting from the hip, thus reducing the level of risk in any decision.
  • Introverts seek to understand before speaking. Terrible decisions have been made in business by teams that rely too heavily on the loudest voice in the room or the first suggested course of action. Often, the person who seems to be sitting on the sidelines may have unique insight that could change the course of the company.
  • Introverts are cool under pressure. I rarely lose my cool, and this has served me well in the military and in business. Introverts try to understand an issue before they move to resolve it. This is a huge strength in organizations that scramble around with a “sky is falling” approach to everything. To introverts, that is exhausting!
  • Introverts are able to focus. They don’t try to manage 100 things at once, which we all know isn’t effective. The ability to focus is a huge benefit for complex tasks that require close attention.

The curse of charisma

One of the most common misconceptions about introverts is that they are all painfully shy. While some introverts can be shy, some can become very open and outgoing in social situations. (The difference for an introvert, however, is that these encounters can be draining.)

In business, we tend to think charisma (a trait often associated with extroverts) equals effectiveness, but it can have its drawbacks. For example, charismatic leaders will often stick with a bad idea because they have already committed to it publicly, oftentimes leading organizations down a rabbit hole they could have avoided.

Conversely, introverted leaders focus more on getting the job done and less on letting everyone else know they’re planning on getting it done. They find it easier to pull the plug on a bad idea because they don’t fear public opinion.

It’s about balance

In my previous experiences, the most successful companies have diversity in their senior leadership teams. They have both extroverts and introverts. Leadership teams that recognize their differences and capitalize on them simply outperform those that don’t.

If you’re an extrovert, I encourage you to let data and careful reflection inform your decisions, instead of just your gut. Of course, there are times when leaders must make quick decisions to capitalize on an opportunity or respond to an emergency, but there are more times when slowing things down to give an issue proper analysis is critical. Recognize that not everything requires immediate action.

I would encourage introverts to be aware that our preferred tendencies could reduce the value of our contributions. If we don’t speak up, then our reflections are pointless. If extroverts tend to be guilty of “shoot, ready, aim,” introverts run the risk of missing the opportunity to shoot because they’re taking too much time aiming.

If you’re a leader, you can take advantage of both personality types by giving team members plenty of time to process information. You can encourage more voices in the room — not just the loudest ones. And if you can get comfortable in the quiet, you’ll find a balance that will benefit your entire company.

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Learning on the Go with the Latest Generations of Apps

Education has reached the mobile device, and in a big way. Learning on the go has begun to establish itself in a world where everyone is busy and no one has time to do anything.

“We believe smartphones bring education to people’s hands and pockets instead of requiring them to find a specific time and place to learn,” says Gina Gotthilf, head of communications for mobile language-learning app Duolingo. “Now, people who are too busy to dedicate long periods of time to take a class regularly, or who can’t afford it, can learn by dedicating short spurts of time when it is most convenient to them.”

According to Gotthilf, over 72 million users spend time learning languages on Duolingo through mobile devices—a number that represents 85% of the program’s traffic.

“Learning can take place during your commute, at a doctor’s office, or at home—moments that could otherwise be dedicated to mindless games to pass the time,” Gotthilf says.

The free app offers lessons in Spanish, French, German, and many other languages. On, the company touts its apps as ways to “make your breaks and commutes more productive.”

When using Duolingo, students will not only tap their screens to choose the correct answers, but repeat words after the program to ensure correct pronunciation. If the student mispronounces a word, the program will ask that student to try again. And again. And again.

Apple’s iTunes U offers courses in a broader variety of subjects, calling itself “the world’s largest online catalog of free educational content from top schools and prominent organizations.” The app offers upwards of 750,000 learning materials, and content downloads had exceeded 1.3 billion by the middle of 2014.

Coursera, whose website promotes online education, offers free courses through partnerships with educational institutions. Coursera’s partners include such prestigious universities as Yale, Stanford, and Emory.

When choosing classes, students can look at the course length—some are as short as four weeks, others are as long as 10—as well as when they are offered and what teachers will be lending their knowledge. While some Coursera classes start on specific dates, others allow you to “go at your own pace.”

In a general sense, education based in the virtual world has become standard. Stony Brook University’s online education options are traveling in the direction of mobile compatibility, said Associate Provost for Online Education Wendy Tang.

“The idea [behind online education] is to improve [students’] learning experience; and being able to do it on a mobile device . . . is becoming important,” Tang says.

While not all SBU courses are available on a mobile device—an option that is often dependent upon a device’s memory and model—most of them are, Tang says.

Online education is another method of university outreach, says Tang.

“We’re not trying to replace meaningful face-to-face interaction with online,” she explains. “For me, that doesn’t make sense. We are trying to use online to . . . reach a population that otherwise would not be on campus.”

Many students in the university’s online electrical engineering program, for example, are working professionals. And for students who are also learning on campus, Tang says, the online component can be used for class preparation.

In classes whose rosters include 100 or more students, Tang feels it is difficult for faculty to know each student.

“You can hide in a large, face-to-face…classroom instruction structure; but you cannot hide online,” says Tang. “Online, if they’re not actively responding…they can be identified very easily from a statistical and data point of view.”

The virtual world is open, but it has its own obstacles. Chemical engineering students cannot safely mix chemicals at home, and nursing students cannot graduate having only drawn blood from a dummy.

“You don’t want a nurse to practice on a dummy and try it on you for the first time,” Tang says.

The clinical component, which requires students to visit a training site, brings the class into the physical world.



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Taking the Guesswork Out of Investing with Estimize

When Leigh Drogen was working as a quantitative trader, he realized that there had to be a better way to predict which stocks would be profitable. The estimates from bank analysts, he knew, weren’t always accurate.

So Drogen decided that he wanted to provide traders and investors, whether they did it as a hobby or a full-time job, with more accurate data so they could make better decisions.

In 2012 he launched Estimize, a community that today includes 100,000 users per quarter. According to its website, the company’s data from 6,885 financial analysts “has proven more accurate than comparable sell side data sets over 69 percent of the time.” Its data is frequently referenced in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN Money.

“The whole point of Estimize is that if you collect all of this estimate data from a much wider population of individuals who are not just at banks, a couple of things should happen,” says Drogen. “First of all, you should get a wider dispersion of estimates and a more accurate consensus based on the wisdom of crowds. When you collect the data in this manner, you get a data set that better represents the truer expectations of the market.”

At the moment the website is free, but Estimize will soon be rolling out a premium platform.

“We’re building all sorts of premium analytics, and screening and filtering derivative data,” says Drogen. “This will provide a lot of insight into the data that’s contributed to the platform.”

For now, anyone can continue to utilize the free platform and contribute their knowledge about the financial world. It doesn’t matter whether a person is a first-year student studying finance or a seasoned trader with decades of experience. What really counts is the accuracy of their predictions.

“You can validate the quality of the data not through identity of the person but through statistics,” said Drogen. “We run algorithms to see who knows what they’re talking about. We see user behavior, including how long they spent on the pages and how many times they changed their estimates, and through all of this data we build behavioral models and decide, ‘Do we trust this analyst?’ It gets rid of the need for identity.”

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

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In a World of Selfies, Discover Alluring Photography on Skotch

Facebook and Instagram are full of selfies, photos of people’s pets, and highly shared memes. For photography connoisseurs, there is not much value in these static, mostly homogeneous newsfeeds.

Josh Abrams and Chase Sorgel, who worked at PayPal together, craved more out of their feeds. They wanted to create a space where photographers, like themselves, could view beautiful, original images and curate their own content. So they came up with an app, Skotch, which entered its beta launch the first week of May, 2015.

Before coming up with the idea of Skotch, Abrams says he and his co-founder “went through all the photo apps and catalogued what we liked and didn’t like about them. We found what we think is a pretty big hole in photo sharing.”

Unlike the current apps out there, Skotch offers a way for users to view the photos they really want. It allows them to see photos, and swipe right if they like them, and left if they don’t. The users’ votes, which stay anonymous, increase or decrease the photos’ scores. When users swipe right, the photos go into their personal collections so they can see them again if they’d like. However, the app is built so that users will never see the same photo twice unless they want to look at it in their collections.

Tech Crunch Skotch Chase Field“It’s for people who really appreciate photography, as well as hobbyist photographers, which is a lot of people now,” says Abrams.

Photos on Skotch are captioned, but cannot be hashtagged. If a user wants to upload a photo, it must be original and contain metadata that can reveal where and when the photo was shot, who was behind the lens, and on which device it was taken. The app itself also contains a free camera for iPhone users.

On sites like Facebook and Instagram, the content that people see is limited to their own networks. Abrams says that he wanted Skotch to be different when it came to photo sharing.

“I’ve traveled a lot, and I love seeing photos from Japan,” Abrams says. “It’s hard for me to log on to Instagram and do that, though, because nobody in Japan is in my network. One of the things people like about our app is that it’s not network first. It’s photo first.”

The two co-founders hope their app reminds people of scotch itself. They want people to collect and treasure their favorite photos the way they might collect the alcohol. In other words, they’re trying to create a more refined way of experiencing photography.

“Right now, we are completely focused on making something that people love,” Abrams says. “That’s goal number one.”

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Designing a Toothbrush That’s Sleeker and Smarter

When the first dentist Simon Enever went to in the United States suggested he purchase a cheap electric toothbrush rather than a more expensive model, he decided to look into his options more carefully. As he began shopping around, he wasn’t pleased with the selection he found on the shelves.

“As a designer, I saw an area [in the market] that was ugly and kind of old-fashioned looking, so it felt right to do something about it,” says Enever, an industrial designer from Bristol, England.

So Enever and Bill May, a product designer he worked closely with at the Hearst Corporation, began working evenings and weekends to redesign the toothbrush. Together, they became co-founders of Quip.

After consultations with multiple dentists, they quickly realized that many consumers don’t even have the brushing fundamentals down—brushing for two whole minutes, twice a day, and changing brushes every three months.

“We noticed that big brands were focusing more on selling you their products and not about daily habits,” says Enever, who’s worked on projects for Panasonic, Lenovo, and Herman Miller at other design agencies. “It made sense for us to come together because we both had design sensibilities and we wanted change the mindset of oral care.”

TechCrunch Quip 3It took them about a year-and-a-half to produce an actual workable toothbrush. Quip’s lightweight and beautifully designed toothbrush has an internal smart electric motor that allows the bristles to vibrate for two minutes (every 30 seconds the toothbrush pulses, reminding you to switch to a different quadrant of your mouth). The best part is that you don’t need to charge your toothbrush, since you can easily insert a AAA battery.

They tested their first iteration on Indiegogo, and they were pleased about the positive reactions from organizations that wanted to be involved with a company focused on promoting oral care. New York University’s College of Dentistry has officially endorsed the product.

When it comes to pricing, Enever looked to brands like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club, which are selling simple bathroom products to millennials. Starting at $20 for a manual brush ($40 for an electric one), the subscription pricing includes a case and a tube of toothpaste. You’ll get replacement packs that include a new bristle head and toothpaste for an additional $10 every three months.

As of now, the Quip team isn’t looking to focus its efforts on converting Philips or Sonicare users. They’re enthusiastic about tapping the market of manual toothbrush users and showing them the benefits of simple electronic devices.

“If we can make you more attached to your toothbrush,” says Enever, “then we’re doing the biggest job of all.”

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

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