in Self awareness and improvement

Working out loud & the rise of the introverts

Introvert unleashed!

Introvert unleashed!

The idea of working out loud – using social platforms to make your work observable and to narrate your work in progress – is becoming more popular. Yet even some who see the value of working out loud will say it’s not right for them.

“I don’t like to toot my own horn.”

“I’m more comfortable quietly doing a good job.”

“It’s fine for extraverts, but what about everybody else?”

Well, working out loud is good for introverts, too – maybe especially so. Here’s why.

The power of introverts

Over 3 million people have viewed Susan Cain’s TED Talk on “The power of introverts.”

In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But…introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

And in her book, “Quiet”, she makes a convincing argument that the “rise of the Extrovert Ideal” undervalues a whole class of people who think and work in a more subdued way.

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society–from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

At work, we can’t afford to exclude or undervalue one-third of our staff. Working out loud can be a more comfortable way for introverts to contribute and for others to recognize and build on those contributions.

A safe place

For much of the 20th century, getting attention at work meant you had to speak up. Whether it was in a meeting of a few people or a few hundred, you had to find ways to make your views known. To do that, you had to sound smart in public and be more social or more aggressive. You had to be the “Extrovert Ideal” described in Susan Cain’s book.

But working out loud emphasizes on-line contributions, typically using social collaboration platforms. Introverts who work out loud talk about using a collaboration platform as an advantage for them.

“It’s easier to participate in on-line platforms than in live situations.”

“I’m more confident online than I am in real life.”

“It doesn’t take the same type of emotional energy to connect with people.”

A friend of mine, who describes herself as a “confirmed introvert”, went even further:

“It’s a HUGE help. Without a tool like this, no one would know who I am or what I work on. I’d be hidden at my desk because I’m not outgoing enough to get out there and do things the typical extrovert way. It gives me safe and controlled environment to present myself and my work.”

It’s not about you

If online platforms are more comfortable environments for introverts, there is still discomfort around the best content to contribute. Many people don’t like the idea of self-promotion, so talking about themselves and their achievements doesn’t feel right.

And that’s a good thing.

Because working out loud is about your work, not about you. It’s about framing what you’re doing as a gift, something that might help others. What are you working on? Who are you working with? What are you learning? What are you finding interesting? What help do you need? You’re looking to answer those questions in ways others might find useful.

Think of it as “leading with generosity.” When your contributions are a sincere effort to help, rather than to get attention, you don’t need self-promotion. Others will talk about you and your work on your behalf.

The rise of the introverts

Susan Cain is right. We need the introverts. We need to value people more for their ideas than for how smart they sound in public. More for their contributions than for their social skills.

And that’s becoming easier. At work, the current generation of tools and practices make it possible for everyone to work out loud, giving everyone – introverts and extroverts alike – the power to shape their reputation and control their career.

  • Jon Bidwell

    Spot on John. Fits with the direct observations I’ve seen in the network we’re installing in my firm and several years of innovation work.

    But would take the taxonomy down a level based on experience. Thinking of introversion as the genus ..say “introvertus” I’ve observed at least three species that access to social business tools will surface in an organization. First is “ideaus”–the person that has had one or more great business concepts sitting in their bottom right desk drawer, but never could summon the courage to bring their IP to the light of day–or were often discouraged by less creative managers. Second is “tinkerus”, those are the ones that sit in the meetings listening and synthesizing…often not great at conception– but wickedly good at turning an idea over and over, seeing the weaknesses and figuring out how to solve them. Third, is “implementus”.. the process-minded that can get you from A to B to C and thence to market. Extroverts often don’t gravitate to the jobs that build or use these skills. They are great leaders that can paint the broader picture, articulate the vision, sell the idea to executive management…but their place is specific and finite.

    We’ve run dozens of innovation challenges in our firm–and every time the key to success is finding a team that includes these personalities and giving them the platform where their “help” is seen as just that “help”, not limelight or self promotion.

    • That’s really helpful. And good blog fodder for a future post. 🙂 Looking forward to talking about it with you. Thanks very much.

    • Sam G

      Thanks for that Jon, that definitely helps get us one step closer to being even more tactical with John’s post.

    • Really fascinating thoughts Jon (and John–your thoughts echo mine). I think the key is to make sure that a job is a right ‘fit’ with individual skills, and your introvert taxonomy is intriguing. I’ll tinkerus on that one. 😉

  • John. Another great post.

    It’s helpful (for me at least) to think of posting as not being about me but more about sharing.

    Posting about something you have been the driving force behind can easily feel like tooting your own horn instead of sharing the wealth. But with some careful rephrasing it should be possible to share and discuss ideas and obtain useful feedback.

    The good news is that people will still see your name associated with it, providing some useful “career insurance” along the way.

    And using a tool that provides some measure of anonymity can be very empowering. As a young man the explosion of the CB radio in the 70’s was a real boon for me. I felt very awkward face to face but had no problems talking over the air and gaining quite a following in the process. When I finally met the people I had been talking with my acne and cheap clothes didn’t seem to matter anymore – they were more interested in me as a person.

    Do you mind if I reblog?

    • You’re right that there is an element of craft in how you make your contributions – how to re-think and re-frame things as gifts. I’m optimistic that sharing more techniques and more examples will help people get better at that craft.

      As for re-blogging, it’s a high compliment. Thank you.

    • p.s. CB radio? What was your handle? Funny that I was too afraid to talk over a CB radio. (Even the phone was scary when I was young.) took a lot of practice to channel that fear into something constructive.

      • I had several handles, and personas, none of which I would like to own up to these days 🙂

  • Reblogged this on Houldsworth's Random Ramblings.

  • Pingback: My name is Bryon and I'm an Introvert | The Road to the Future()

  • Nice Post, thanks for Sharing..
    Recall John, many great innovations come from individuals working in quiet solitude. Larger collaboration fabrics are great, but I have been rethinking that the opportunity of collaboration is the real value of driving innovational energies within companies. I am seeing with clients that are attempting to force or drive collaboration as the end game of Social Business Transformation. Those mistaken drivers lead to inverse actions by introverts. They actually withdraw. In fact even extrovert’s efforts, which come off NOT as natural, instead seem fake or contrived. I am talking about the “opportunity to collaboration”, akin to saying “I’d Rather have it and maybe use it, than need it and never use it”

  • Pingback: This Week: The Real Social Business Obstacle + Web CMS Trends for 2013 | CMS News Today()

  • Pingback: This Week: The Real Social Business Obstacle + Web CMS Trends for 2013 - Entrepreneur News | Australian Society of Entrepreneurs()

  • Reblogged this on connectivité and commented:
    Some really interesting thoughts and comments about narration of work as it applies to the introvert in the workplace. Worth the read!

  • Pingback: In The Mind Of An Introvert | An Evil Nymph's Blog()

  • Susan Cain’s talk is so inspiring that I’m re-watching it again and again! That’s a great and interesting post on introverts… and their power 😉

  • Pingback: Working out loud: Getting started | johnstepper()

  • The StoryTelling BeanCounter

    I too consider myself an introvert. So somewhat relieved and rather intrigued by the idea of WOL to engage with other like minded people to creatively share and learn in a collaborative and co-operative environment. Think it’s time to make the WOL concept a reality in my life.

  • Jonathan Neufeld

    I am an introvert and I dislike self-promotion and dislike brainstorming in teams. Self-promotion is frustrating because my thoughts are always incomplete and fuzzy and I am comfortable with that whereas others are almost always completely intolerant of incomplete information. This is how I think: I do not need to know the intricate details, all I need to understand is the connections between them. Others, by and large, do not think this way and find this form of thought simply unacceptable. There is no value in broadcast self-promotion of my work here at all and self-promotion for the sake of self-promotion is how Narcissus fell cursed.

    Brainstorming in teams puts me to sleep, the progression is linear and flows as with the consistency of molasses or more appropriately ʻAʻā. Rather than go around sputtering “just trust me already!” I have found considerable success working with ONE other person who takes the time to understand my progress, my work, my story, and is able to eloquently convey that to others with enthusiasm.

    I don’t think it’s constructive or necessary to expect every individual to self-promote publicly and indiscriminately. What I’m saying is the move to increase visibility and open-up a network of opportunities to help others does not necessarily mandate all introverts to Toastmasters. But, I would accept that it would encourage introverts to find an effective promoter to partner with. This I believe in whole-heartedly with all the a posteori knowledge I have to justify it with.

    One more thing: You included the quote (excerpt) “who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams.” and in the following paragraph close with “Working out loud can be a more comfortable way for introverts to contribute and for others to recognize and build on those contributions.” I’m sorry but this is a non sequitur. The writing is on the wall here: increased public interaction is draining, and in the worst cases toxic, for introverts. This is why introverts seek out one person to carry out conversation with all night long at house parties and then go home.