I have long argued that the term “introvert” sucks – and it should be replaced with “power thinker“, which is both more accurate and more positive.
My follow-up point is that if you are more of a thinker in life (and less of an “over-talker”, which is my term for extroverts) then you need a way to get your thinking out of your head and into the world. How do you have an impact and make money as an introvert? As a “power thinker”?
My own playbook for this is just three points.
Point 1: Focus on 1-2 Questions That Will Make a Big Difference
Here’s the problem with being a thinker. We tend to have very satisfying relationships with ourselves. We really enjoy spending time in our heads. Taking apart ideas. It’s really fun. But you can spend a lot of time doing stuff that nobody else really cares about. And that they won’t pay for.
So if your strength is thinking, then you want to focus that ability on 1-2 really important questions. And that others care about, whether that be markets, companies or other. You don’t want to move around from idea to idea. And you don’t want to focus on stuff only you find compelling. You want to pick 1-2 really important questions and then go deeper into them than everyone else. And you keep at it until you’re the best person on that valuable question.
This could be called the Albert Einstein rule. When asked to explain his success in life, Einstein said “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
I personally prefer the advice of Carlyle co-founder David Rubenstein. He basically said you should never study anything that doesn’t make you money.
Either way, the point is the same. Focus on 1-2 questions and make sure they are the right questions. Make sure they are the ones that will make all the difference in your business and life.
They also need to be difficult enough that everyone else can’t do them. I only focus on questions that will make me money – and are things I think I can do better than others. For example, I don’t do real estate. It’s interesting but everyone seems pretty good at it.
For my business / life, I eventually settled on the question: How does digital technology create and destroy competitive advantage?
And I spend most of my time trying to answer it in quirky markets and complicated situations. I want to know which company is going to do well before it is clear to others. Plus a competitive advantage also often makes it easier to do a solid valuation. At this point, I have written 6 books on this particular question, which only took like 6 years of research.
Point 2: Track the 2-3 Outcomes that Matter Most
There’s a famous book by venture capitalist John Doerr called Measure What Matters. The argument is your life and business are almost entirely about what you actually measure over time.
So if I spend 80% of my time thinking about the above one question, how do I translate that into a valuable outcome? For me, the two outcomes I track are:
- Successful client engagements. You can easily tell whether a CEO or VP is happy with your work. And they tell other CEOs, who then call.
- Talks and keynote speeches. If I am making progress against an important question, I find that speaking invitations tend to follow. This is also a good way to meet people who are interested in the same question. Keynote are actually a really good test of the value of your thinking. You have to get on a stage in front of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people and tell them something of value in about 20-30 minutes. It’s even better when it’s a conference of CEOs or investors. Trying to tell 500 hedge fund managers something valuable that they don’t know is a really high bar to clear. Those are my favorites.
I don’t actually track book sales. Or podcast downloads. The goal is not to have a huge number of followers (been there, done that). The goal is to have a really big impact on really smart people. That’s going to be a smaller audience, by definition.
Point 3: Use Tools that Efficiently Convert Your Thinking into Outcomes
I am looking for the shortest distance between my thinking (Point 1) and the outcomes I want (Point 2). And as a professional thinker, I want minimal execution between those two. Not too many meetings. No operations. No building of anything. I want to spend 80% of my time thinking – and then the two outcomes to follow almost immediately from this.
Warren Buffett is arguably the world’s most effective and efficient introvert. His 23 person company in Omaha is worth over +$400B. All he does is read and think. And then picks up the phone and buys some stocks every now and then. And the private companies he buys are so high quality that they never need his involvement. He said to me once that his strategy for life was to think and then let other people do the work.
There are lots of companies in finance, Hollywood and technology that are effective at this sort of direct translation between thinking to outcome. Software, in particular, seems to directly translate thinking into profitable companies and widely-used technology. Hollywood used to be good at this. JK Rowling writes a book in her kitchen and then the whole world reads it. But content is collapsing as a profitable activity. Pairing content with consulting (my approach) is a pretty good mechanism.
The other tool I use is daily habits. I follow a routine that keeps most of my day focused on thinking. I read and write for 6-8 hours and I make sure there are no phones, no internet, no meetings, etc. In fact, I now put my phone in another room because I find myself thinking about checking it.
In general, I’m a big believer in doing the same activities day after day. It’s a good way to get cumulative results over time. And you get more efficient and effective when you do the same things over and over. I like daily habits that are cumulative and add up over time. Knowledge, like interest, compounds.
Finally, I consider writing and teaching as tools in my playbook. I do one podcast and two articles per week. I like the phrase “if you didn’t write it you don’t know it.” I use the writing process to figure out business questions I don’t understand. This is why ChatGPT worries me so much. If lots of people use ChatGPT and stop writing themselves, will they also stop thinking? Are cognitive abilities going to decline like driving abilities have declined with autonomous driving?
Anyways, that is my introvert playbook.
- Focus on 1-2 questions that will make a difference.
- Track the outcomes.
- Build tools to achieve them that are cumulative over time if you just stick at it.
The below photo is pretty much my typical day (that one in Thailand). Some of you might recognize that cafe at the Jim Thomson house.
Thanks for reading. Jeff
I write, speak and consult about how to win (and not lose) in digital strategy and transformation.
I am the founder of TechMoat Consulting, a boutique consulting firm that helps retailers, brands, and technology companies exploit digital change to grow faster, innovate better and build digital moats. Get in touch here.
My book series Moats and Marathons is one-of-a-kind framework for building and measuring competitive advantages in digital businesses.
Note: This content (articles, podcasts, website info) is not investment advice. The information and opinions from me and any guests may be incorrect. The numbers and information may be wrong. The views expressed may no longer be relevant or accurate. Investing is risky. Do your own research.