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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Read This Before Hiring That Confident, Outgoing Job Applicant

The Science of Success: In this series, we’ll scan the latest scientific, academic, and professional literature, looking at everything from psychology to physics to bring you new insights on how to be more successful.

I have a bit of news for you. It’s big, and it affects everything from the way we choose our leaders to the way we do business. Best of all, it is predicated on wisdom most of us already picked up in high school. Here goes: really popular people suck.

I’m not just talking about that feeling you get when it’s time to go to prom, and you know that the only kids who will have a grand time while the rest of us shuffle awkwardly in the corner and stare longingly at the dance floor are those who are supremely confident, always outgoing, and perpetually surrounded by hordes of peppy friends. I’m talking about science, which, in its wisdom, has given us the Friendship Paradox.

The idea is simple: when you are very sociable and popular, lots of people consider you a friend. Look at people’s social networks, then—and I mean the real-life ones, not the ones where you can poke and follow folks you’ve never met—and these social butterflies are likely to appear again and again and again, inflating the average of how many friends an ordinary person truly has.

It’s a statistical bias that leads to a real-life one as well. According to research by Professors Adam M. Grant from Wharton, Francesca Gino from Harvard, and David Hofmann from the University of North Carolina, being an extraverted, popular person can actually be a liability for leadership, particularly when leading a team of employees who are also extraverted and proactive. Alpha types, the researchers found, don’t mix well with other alphas; to make a business run smoothly, a good blend of chatterboxes and shrinking violets is key.

And yet, just as was the case in high school, outgoing people seem to seek the spotlight much more frequently than the rest of us. As psychologists Stephan Dilchert and Deniz Ones have found, while only roughly half of the U.S. population can be defined as extraverted, extraverts make up a staggering 96 percent of people in leadership position. Sadly, this doesn’t mean they’re better suited for their jobs. It means that we keep on promoting outgoing people simply because they are outgoing.

Studying 284 incoming MBA students at an Ivy League college, Professors Adam M. Kleinbaum and Daniel C. Feiler, both of Dartmouth, confirmed the existence of the extroversion curve. “Most extroverts tend to have a lot of friends, so their high extroversion score will pull up the scores of friends for a larger number of people,” Kleinbaum recently told the Wall Street Journal. “And the more extroverted you are, the more you are going to have a network that is overpopulated with extroverts.”

The next time you confront that big task, then, or make that crucial hire, stop for a second and make sure you aren’t falling victim to an overabundance of confidence. “Very extroverted people,” Feiler told the Journal, “are less normal than they think. People in the middle are more normal than they think. And the very introverted people have about the right idea about how social they are relative to the general population.” If only we knew it all back in high school.

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For Networking, Don’t Take a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

A simple handshake. The friendly business card exchange. An invitation to connect on a social network. These are everyday occurrences for professional networkers who understand that success in life is all about people. If you’re a networker, your network is your net worth. But, what does it take to build a truly valuable network that is capable of translating into success?

Networking is more complicated than ever. With multiple channels and platforms available for people to choose from, networks have grown impersonal. A valuable professional network isn’t just the sum of all the digital connections between people, because good connections are not the basis for meaningful interactions. What you really need is good contact information.

With a few simple steps, you can be well on your way to establishing a network that will drastically impact your bottom line and professional success:

1. Every contact is an asset. Just because someone you meet isn’t currently relevant to your career goals and aspirations, who’s to say that they might not be somewhere down the road? Add everyone you meet to your address book. The contact might not have the corner office today, but tomorrow is an entirely different story.

Stay in touch and continuously update your address book with new contact information, job titles, social profiles, and other relevant information to stay connected. For the best results, store your contacts in a Cloud Address Book so all contacts can be synchronized and updated across all devices and access points.

2. Utilize technology to fully connect with people. What’s often overlooked is the fact that networkers need to let technology do what technology does best. But don’t get bogged down doing “contact management.” Using apps and platforms that source social profile information (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Google+) alongside publicly available contact information will help paint a clear picture of all connections and the ways in which to stay fully connected.

The company I cofounded, FullContact, does precisely that. FullContact automatically adds relevant contextual social information to contacts so that your interactions are thoughtful. Some networkers also use small business CRM systems, like Zoho for example, to store contact information.

3. Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Network masters understand that a tailored approach to interacting with your network is crucial. The successful way you engage with one contact might be less than ideal for another. Some connections like a concise tweet to stay in touch on Twitter, some enjoy a recommended post on LinkedIn, others prefer a well thought out email, and then there are those who still appreciate picking up the phone and hearing a voice on the other side. No matter how your network likes to stay in touch, mastering their communication preferences makes your connection more valuable. There’s nothing worse than someone who practically spams you week in and week out, when a quick tweet every once in a while would suffice.

4. Take a “give to get” approach. Fostering only one-sided relationships is a surefire way to destroy the value of your network. Instead of thinking about what you can get out of your contacts, think about what you can do for them. For example, I use my address book to keep track of social interests. I sometimes tag specific people when I share an article I think they will like, in addition to sharing it broadly with all my social followers. Once you start to give back to your connections, you’ll see your network flourish.

Creating your “super-network” of hyper-meaningful, interconnected people doesn’t happen overnight. But it’s well worth the extra effort if professional success to you is synonymous with cultivating meaningful relationships with others.

Photo credit: Heisenberg Media/Flickr

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The Pleasure of Faking It

My favorite thing to do in China is to stroll around its local markets and buy fake designer goods. By now, I have accumulated a collection of fakes so big that I could retire on it, if the stuff was real. I own a wallet shaped like a miniature Birkin bag, and a Louis Vuitton carry-all made of buttery leather instead of the coated canvas used for the original: my favorite is a dress that looks like the lovechild of Christian Dior and Alexander Wang’s collections from Fall 2014.

It’s not that I don’t want to spend money on the real stuff. Fashion houses churn out new collections every season, and I buy into most of them. Sometimes it’s because I admire the ideas in a new collection, sometimes because the latest season offers an upgrade of what has come before (though aren’t we always just buying more versions of the same clothing anyway?), but admittedly, I often buy things because the label on the back explains in an authoritative voice that the piece in question is artful, thus expensive, and expensive because it’s artfully designed.

However, many fashion houses nowadays are more concerned about designing the image that comes with the name, rather than the individual pieces themselves. Designers, with Hedi Slimane’s vintage look for Saint Laurent being the most prominent example, have become stylists that curate the look of a person their consumer would want to be, rather than the makers of a piece of clothing their consumer would want to own. As a result, I’ve become increasingly attracted to the fake goods I find in China, maybe because they remind me that good design can be found in unexpected places.

The Chinese counterfeit market is like the underbelly of the fashion system. On the surface, its progeny seem to follow the fashion DNA of that particular season, but the things it produces are actually more like genetically-altered mutants. I don’t buy a fake bag in the hopes of passing it for a real one. Instead, I keep going back to those markets because there is a chance that I can find a fake that is more delightful than the real thing.

Naturally, the biggest problem is that you’re not buying the real thing. Also, sometimes one pant leg is a bit longer than the other, and of course, there’s the pesky issue of copyright. Most counterfeit goods aim to reproduce an existing product, like a handbag, as accurately as possible, and the problem with aiming to be like the original is that it’s an inherently doomed mission, because it will never be the original. But the right kind of mistake can make the replica look like a limited edition into which the original designer has spilled all his creative juices.

I don’t believe in the myth of the designer as the genius, and I suspect that the occasional success of Chinese replicas happens exactly because there is no designer behind these objects. Instead, small suppliers buy from big suppliers that buy from mega-factories that simply take what’s useful from that season’s collections and apply it in a trial-and-error way to see what people want to buy. I once asked my favorite shop-keeper in Shenzhen why she had such a big stock, to which she replied, “in China, there will always be enough people to sell things to.” The incredible scale and turnover speed of the fake market creates a climate of fearlessness that produces lot of mistakes, but also allows for more interesting mistakes. Take my lovechild dress: it’s something I wish the designers would have made, combining the bell-shaped silhouette of Dior’s dresses with Wang’s hyper-utilitarian miniature pockets dotted around. It’s something the designers would only have made in their worst nightmares—and an example of how copying can inadvertently produce something better, or at least entirely different, than the original.

It’s comforting to know that good stuff can come out of making a lot of bad stuff. I would like to be so free in my creative process as to feel uninhibited by copyrights or fantasies of artistic integrity. It’s a fact that good design doesn’t have to come from thinking very hard in an attic. Instead, it can come from doing the same thing over and over again, until it becomes something new.

Photo credit: This Particular Greg/Flickr

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When His Watch Stopped Ticking, This Entrepreneur Designed His Own

Jimmy Pinto wasn’t even thinking about starting his own business when his second watch in six months stopped ticking.

I basically came up with the idea for the company because another one of my watches broke on me,” says Pinto, founder of Broome & Mercer. “I said ‘Screw this, I’m going to create my own timepiece.’”

The name came from where he was when the idea hit him: a restaurant at the corner of Broome Street and Mercer Street in the middle of New York City’s bustling SoHo neighborhood.

But it was more than an address: it was a manifesto of SoHo sensibility, guiding him to create watches that, like the neighborhood, effortlessly blend a cool bohemian sensibility with the upscale sheen of luxury retail. He decided to focus on a design that was more timeless than trendy.

“That’s what I was trying to accomplish,” Pinto says. “I wanted to create a timepiece that was like SoHo, representing both the downtown and uptown scenes.”

That was back at the end of 2013, which Pinto admits “seems like a long time ago.” At the time he was doing marketing for a lighting firm, and wasn’t looking to give up his day job. But the idea for Broome & Mercer seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. So he left and “never looked back.”

WatchThe next few months flew by, with Pinto designing prototypes for his watches. He kept pushing for an extremely thin profile, while the manufacturers insisting that the dimensions weren’t possible. He eventually compromised, but by less than two millimeters.

“This was definitely something that I’d want to wear,” he says. It’s a really minimalist design. So many things today are overdesigned. I thought the simpler it is, the better.

But if the design is inspired by downtown New York, the craftsmanship is all Boston, where each watch is made by hand. That’s where the unique straps are manufactured as well. Each item sells for well under $300, and is designed in the elegantly unadorned style that recalls a mid-20th century industrial sensibility.

In December 2014, the company opened its first pop-up store. Six months later, Pinto continues to operate solo out of his office in WeWork Soho. It’s just a few blocks from where he got his idea for the company.

Pinto says he enjoyed designing the watches and being his own boss, but it’s finding ways to get out the word about his company that he likes the most.

“I really love marketing,” Pinto says. “I have a background in marketing, but I didn’t use it that much in my last job. I have tons of ideas, and can’t wait to try them out.”

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