Online collaboration, Introverts and Solitude

I’ve been reading with personal interest, ‘Quiet. The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’.  Based on research and stories, Susan Cain explores the differences between introverts and extroverts and how society misunderstands and undervalues the introvert.

She has found that “introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation”.

In a chapter called ‘When collaboration kills creativity’ she explores the rise of ‘groupthink’ where workplaces are organised in a way that elevates teamwork above all else. This is based on the concept of synergy and an assumption that innovation is fundamentally social.

She cites research and examples that illustrate that face to face brainstorming is less effective than working alone when seeking creativity and ideas. The exception to this however is online brainstorming where the larger the group, the better it performs. She believes that “participating in an online working group is a form of solitude all its own”.

She reports that between a third and a half of the population are introverts and suggests that in our culture, (US based) being quiet and introverted is not the way to be. This is despite the fact that many introverted leaders tend to get better results.

Her calls for action include:

“Stop the madness for constant group work”. Introverts need quiet, privacy, autonomy and freedom to work on their own too.

She urges introverts to look inside their own suitcases (see video clip) and open them up (occasionally) for others to see because the world needs introverts and the things that they carry.

Some thoughts and questions that are being processed in my suitcase:

  • How influenced are we in online communities by those who talk the most? Cain suggests that the best talkers don’t necessarily have the best ideas.
  • How many so called ‘lurkers’ in communities are introverts and are reflecting before contributing or just reflecting?
  • Participation in the online environment offers the opportunity for solitude too, which Cain says is a “crucial ingredient often to creativity”
  • What implications does this work have in relation to performance improvement, leadership, workplace collaboration and learning & development?

The book and video clip (thanks to Donald Clark for his tweet) are definitely worth looking at.

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