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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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Urban Air Market’s Danielle Cohen Takes a Risk — and Reaps the Rewards

Danielle Cohen knows a thing or two about persistence.

“I always told my mom I was going to have a motorcycle one day,” she laughs. “My will was strong, and I finally got one.”

It was riding motorcycles, in fact, that led Cohen to her current role as the producer and executive director of Urban Air Market, the largest outdoor design festival in the country, and the only independent fashion marketplace focused on sustainable design.

After graduating from college with a degree in sociology and women’s studies, Cohen moved to Thailand to teach English. After moving back to the U.S., she took a more traditional marketing job at a financial management firm. It was in her early twenties that everything changed.

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“I was in a really bad motorcycle accident,” Cohen explains. “It shook me up enough to feel like: ‘Life is short. Am I really doing what I want to be doing?’ And the answer was no.”

So Cohen took a risk, quit her job, and moved back home to the San Francisco Bay Area. It was there, surrounded by a creative community, that she realized she could take her interest in marketing and channel it into something she really cared about. For Cohen, that meant working with artists and designers, first as an agent, and then in an event planning capacity.

After producing successful art gallery events and runway fashion shows, Cohen knew she wanted her work to benefit people in some way—and so emerged her interest in sustainability and her mission to help creators reduce waste.

At Urban Air Market, Cohen helps connect independent artists and designers with their ideal customers through a shopping experience that both builds community and supports the local economy. Whether it involves their packaging, delivery, upcycling, recycling, or the way they take the environment into consideration, the designers and businesses participating in Urban Air Market have to incorporate sustainable practices in some way.

What started out as a curated marketplace in San Francisco now includes pop-ups in Portland, Austin, and Brooklyn, and for the first time this year, Atlanta and Los Angeles. Next up: Portland on August 28 and Seattle—a new market—on September 10.

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Cohen and her team, based out of WeWork Berkeley, seek out Urban Air Market’s new locations carefully.

“We look for forward-thinking cities with strong creative communities where there are conscious consumers,” Cohen says. As the market continues to grow, taking space at additional WeWork locations across the world just may be a possibility. “Being able to meet other folks and have conversations about what we do—it introduces more people to the idea of attending an Urban Air Market,” Cohen says.

When asked about the tips she’d share with other aspiring entrepreneurs, Cohen acknowledges the benefits of having a more permanent job when starting something new on the side—but she stresses that risk-taking and persistence are key.

“It’s good to make sure you have a cushion, but I think it’s okay to run and leap,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face—just make sure you get up again and keep trying.”

Photos: Alexander Warnow

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A Bold Move Transforms the Career of Noa Eshed

Not long after Noa Eshed graduated from law school, she realized she didn’t care for working in the corporate world. She was far more interested in something else: networking and hosting parties in Tel Aviv.

“Working a 9-to-5 job might work for someone else, but not for me,” says Eshed, a WeWork Sarona member. “After the bar exam, it was clear I wasn’t made for this.”

In 2010, she decided to launch a print magazine at Israel’s leading academic institution, leveraging connections she made in the nightlife scene.

“We branded it pretty well from the start,” Eshed says. “We convinced thought leaders who were celebrities to cooperate with us.”

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Eshed tried to make her print magazine cash flow positive by selling ad space. But by 2011, she quickly realized print ads were drying up and that she needed a new trajectory.

Through her experience promoting parties, Eshed learned how relevant these strategies were to drawing in customers with online marketing. She was able to study the digital marketing space and freelance with brands, managing their business pages on Facebook.

Eshed had a knack for keeping pace with the digital marketing world and helping businesses build relationships and a following before they sold their products to customers.

So by 2014, she and Uri Bishansky co-founded Bold – Digital Architects, a full-service digital marketing consulting agency based in Tel Aviv. They are also the authors of The Smart Marketer’s Guide to Google Adwords, which made it to Amazon’s bestseller list.

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“I’m more of the right-brained creative, and he’s more of the left-brained programmer character,” Eshed says. “When he realized the potential of the online marketing world, he learned everything about Facebook and Google advertising, and I understood social media and content marketing. So combining our skills, we became a full-service agency.”

The goal of their business is to develop tools to optimize marketing in a changing digital world, Eshed says. They’ve worked with one of Israel’s largest cellular networks and have longstanding relationships with clients in finance, travel, education, and fashion.

“Being an entrepreneur is like a roller-coaster,” Eshed says. “A lot of times, it’s difficult. But I never felt like giving up because I’m aware that there are ups and downs. I try to see how I can always learn from failures.”

Photos: Shiran Carmel

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Colette Brandenburg’s Love of Old Musicals Shines Through in LA Follies

When Colette Brandenburg was growing up in Michigan, she remembers spending winters with her grandmother. It was during this season that her mother and father—an elementary school teacher and contractor, respectively—would go hunting, so off to grandmother’s house and The Nutcracker rehearsals the young ballet dancer would go.

Brandenburg’s “very conservative” and “very English” grandmother “was uptight about everything but the movies,” she says. When they weren’t at the theater, they would stay in and watch classics like Gone with the Wind.

“My first love of movies came from that,” says Brandenburg, now 37. “I always loved musicals, but I couldn’t sing. So I didn’t think it was an option for me.”

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Little did she know back then, watching movie musicals with her grandmother, that she’d eventually start a dance troupe of her own called LA Follies.

A dancer her whole life, Brandenburg moved to New York after college. She was disappointed by how little money she and other dancers were making for months of hard work in off-Broadway shows.

“New York’s market is really saturated for dancers,” she says. On the other hand, “I’ve always been more interested in composition and creation than being in other people’s work.”

A choreography job landed her in Los Angeles, where she got an artist residency at a city college. While working a shift at the Otheroom bar in Venice, she met a member of the National Theatre of Scotland who was performing in Black Watch.

“It was moving, provocative, frightening,” Brandenburg says of the performance. “And it was the first time that I had seen dance used in a theater setting, where it actually moved the story forward and wasn’t ornamental.”

To fully immerse herself in physical theater, the choreographer recommended Brandenburg go to London. There, she got an MFA in choreography and started her own company called The Federation.

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“It was a loose company,” she says, “but it gave me a taste of what it was like to run a company.”

After graduation, Brandenburg returned to Los Angeles. Unable to find a thriving theater scene parallel to what she had encountered across the pond, she became a lecturer at Cal State University, Los Angeles and was part of the WaterWorld crew at Universal Studios doing pyrotechnics and working on roughly 30 Terminator shows a day. Even then, she was taking mental notes for a great, looming project.

“One thing that is interesting is that they train for mistakes,” says Brandenburg. “There are, I think, something like 17 variations of the show. Often, something is wrong—maybe a performer missed one trick, or something didn’t fire right, or there’s some sort of mechanical issue—so the performers know all these different variations of the show and have to implement them when things don’t work. It’s like failure is built into the show.”

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But dance was her first love, and it frustrated her to see so many good dancers unable to find well-paid jobs in L.A. So in 2012, Brandenburg co-founded a dance company called LA Follies with producer Bonnie McMahan, who she met while working on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

“I didn’t really think I was going to start a business,” says Brandenburg. “I thought I was just going to create something to support my choreography.”

Shortly after the company was founded, Shannon Zimmerman stepped in as co-founder. While Brandenburg takes control of ballet choreography, Zimmer leads all the tap dancing. For hip hop, contemporary jazz, fire, and synchronized swimming, they bring on additional experts.

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A cymbal player in her high school marching band, it’s no surprise that Brandenburg loves seeing large groups of people move in formation.

“I feel like now musicals are focused on vocals, but the old ones, the dancers were just—it was crazy what they would do,” says the WeWork Santa Monica member. “MGM and these big, huge film companies had an in-house dance company.”

Inspired by everything from Annie to Funny Girl to Busby Berkeley’s hypnotizing choreography on the silver screen, LA Follies will make any event pop by reintroducing and reinventing an old Hollywood charm and wonder.

The Follies perform at holiday and birthday parties alike, their past clients including Yahoo, Google, LinkedIn, and Kris Jenner, to name a few. At an event for Bud Light, the Follies brought hip hop dancers, contortionists, and belly dancers to the mix.

“We have immersive elements,” says Brandenburg. “We try to make it so the guests have something really well-executed, but it’s not just: here’s a dance, eat your dinner, and clap.”

Photos: Kat Wickstrom, Julie Klima

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At Mansome, Sarah Hamid Rethinks Shopping for the Well-Groomed Man

Speaking from her office just over a month before the launch of her new business, Sarah Hamid sounds incredibly calm.

“I am not stressed because we have our roadmap,” says the member of Berlin’s WeWork Sony Center. “We are aware that nothing will work exactly as expected, so we are mentally prepared. That said, it is still very scary and exciting at the same time.”

Her business is called Mansome, and it’s exactly what men who want to look and feel their best have wanted for a long time. It doesn’t involve choosing from among the store brands in a chain pharmacy or sniffing tubes of facial scrub in a fancy boutique. It’s a monthly delivery of high-quality men’s grooming products.

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“Men don’t want to spend too much time searching for grooming products,” says Hamid. “But when you talk with them, they say that they’re totally willing to try something new.”

Hamid says the challenge is that men aren’t always comfortable shopping for themselves.

“Men aren’t educated about personal grooming in the same way that women are,” says Hamid. “I mean, my mother bought me my first makeup. Most men don’t have a similar experience.”

That’s why Mansome sends men exactly the kinds of products that they want. The packaging of each product is always eye-catching and sophisticated—Hamid is a great curator. She says the whole experience should feel “unique and innovative.”

“We don’t pick products just because they look manly,” says Hamid. “You can get men to try a product with a super-cool design, but if they don’t like the product itself, they won’t trust you the next time you recommend something.”

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Born in France, Hamid started her business career in London. She spent most of her time in the high-stakes field of finance. But even in this fast-paced environment, Hamid felt like she needed a different kind of challenge.

“I always wanted my own company,” she says, “but I didn’t know quite what it would be.”

When she was offered a job at a startup in Berlin, she jumped at the chance. She says she learned a lot from the experience, but the job wasn’t the right fit. That’s when she started thinking more seriously about launching her own company.

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Her first idea was a platform to book last-minute appointments at the barbershop, but that didn’t work out. Then she remembered the men in finance she had once worked with for 12 to 14 hours a day, and how she used to give them tips about their personal grooming routines. The result was Mansome.

Since last year, she’s been working on the idea at her office in WeWork.

“It is inspiring to see so many young people taking risks and starting their own companies,” says Hamid. “They make the decision to take a chance rather than pick a job in their comfort zone.”

Looking ahead, Hamid says she knows exactly where she wants to be within a couple of years. She wants a company that has grown organically, building on its success rather than pushing to expand too fast. She wants to go beyond grooming products to just about everything in a man’s life.

Put another way, she wants Mansome to be the first thing people think of for anything having to do with a “gentlemen’s lifestyle.”

Photos: Marjolein Van der Klaauw

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