I’m really getting sick of the term “introvert”. It sounds like someone with a problem. Like someone who is anti-social. In contrast, “extrovert” sounds outgoing and engaging. Like the CEO or student body president.
Yes, I admit some of us are pretty quiet in classrooms, at dinner parties and during corporate functions. Yes, we do find parties tiring after an hour or two. And yes, we usually let the phone ring through to voicemail (it’s distracting).
But none of this is because we are anti-social. In fact, one-on-one we are pretty chatty. It’s mostly because noise and crowds are over-stimulating and prevent us from doing what we do best, which is deep thinking.
Most introverts I know are basically full-time thinkers. They are thinking about something all the time. And I assert that we do deep thinking better than other people. That will sound arrogant to the extroverts, who will say “Well, we can do deep thinking too”. My answer is “No, you can’t. Not like us.”
The difference, as I see it is, is this:
- Extroverts like to go to conferences, parties and corporate retreats. They enjoy them and get charged up by the interactions. However, introverts get exhausted by the noise and people. We know what the term “people exhaustion” means. So naturally, extroverts are better at people-based activities, like leading big organizations and sales.
- However, introverts get similarly charged up when we can find a quiet place to focus on a problem. Put an extrovert alone in an office for three days and he/she will get tired and lonely. In contrast, we will get charged up and increasingly focused. So naturally, we’re better at thinking-based activities, like research and writing.
So can we lose the term “introvert”?. How did we get labeled by the negative side of our habits anyways? Extroverts aren’t routinely called “annoying over-talkers”. From now on, I’m going with “power thinker”. That’s a better description.
“Extrovert” and “power thinker” are both good terms. They are both positive and aspirational – something one can strive to be in life. The extroverts can aspire to become Jack Welch and Steve Jobs. We power thinkers can look up to Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Certainly, nobody has every dreamed of becoming an introvert.
That’s a bit of ranting and generalizing. Here are some examples from my own life:
- I have a friend Amy who is an uber-extrovert. She is unbelievable. She probably meets 20-30 new people per day. In the office. At meetings. On the street. In Starbucks. I have watched her go into a cocktail meet-and-greet and know everyone in about an hour. And not just hellos and handing business cards. She will get to know them and keep in touch. It’s amazing to watch, like I am observing some other species than myself.
- However, I notice I am similarly extreme in things that she probably views as bizarre. For example, I will often get working on a problem and then forget to eat. Not just a meal, but often for the whole day. And back in graduate school, I would frequently forget to eat for 2-3 days at a time (usually dropping from 140lb to 120lbs during finals). But, far from being tired or exhausted from this, I would become more and more charged up as the days went by. In fact, there was almost a euphoric feeling. So I’m sure Amy probably sees me as quite bizarre as well.
- Another example. I have one particularly brainy friend (hi Ranwa) who seems to balance being analytical with also being a great executive at a large (and famous) internet company. She seems to be an ambivert, able to operate in both ways. I find myself in awe of her ability to do this but I also cringe at the thought of having to be in such a corporate environment myself. The term “team building exercise” literally makes me shudder.
- But again, I think I also have habits that would make such an ambivert cringe. For example, I find myself looking forward to taking 2 week trips for thinking and writing books. I rent a beach house and then write 12-14 hours per day. And I will feel more and more energetic as the week goes on. I also find my thinking gets better and better. I suspect my ambivert friend would hate the idea of doing something like this.
Anyways, I’m going with “power thinker” from now on. It’s positive and a bit cocky (kind of like extrovert).
Looking back at my life, it seems logical to me that some people are just more hard-wired for contemplation. All I’ve ever really wanted to do with my life is sit in a bar and do math problems. But nobody (yet) has been willing to pay me to do this. If you know of someone, please send them my way.
Thanks for reading. – Jeff
I write and speak about “how rising Chinese consumers are disrupting global markets – with a special focus on digital China”.
Photo by Brian Hillegas, Creative commons license link here.