Look around you—how many of your colleagues are introverts? Would you classify yourself as an introvert? As a species, we love to classify people and put them into boxes.
“Extroverts” are thought to love social interactions, thriving on communication and often charming others with their charisma and exuberance. “Introverts” are thought to recharge on alone time, preferring a quiet night into an evening on the town. Introverts are usually classified as shy, anti-social, and meek—often with negative connotations. This kind of classification does introverts a disservice, portraying them as difficult to work with, and ignoring the contributions introverts make every day to the companies they work for. The business world caters to extroverts, and often keeps introverted employees from reaching their full potential. Introverts make great leaders and are often excellent communicators, yet they are rarely given roles with these requirements.
Businesses who would like to cultivate innovation and growth within their organizations should seek to utilize the talents of all their employees—and should consider how best to let introverts contribute to these goals. One positive quality that is often associated with introverts is creativity—many people believe that introverts are more creative and innovative than their extroverted peers. But is this really true?
While it’s true that introverts are often very creative, this doesn’t mean that they are automatically more innovative than extroverts. Carving out alone time is something most introverts prioritize, which does lend itself to creative breakthroughs and new ideas, but that’s not necessary for innovative thought. It’s important to realize that innovation is individual, and you should not make assumptions or put your employees into predetermined categories when it comes to innovative thought.
The best way to find out who is most innovative? Ask for ideas—from everyone. Not everyone on your team will come up with a revolutionary new process or system, but you should give both introverts and extroverts a chance to contribute to your organization’s innovation initiatives.
Having trouble encouraging your introverted team members to speak up? Change your approach! Instead of asking people to speak during a meeting (which can be intimidating), allow for some private brainstorming time, and ask how each person would prefer to communicate their ideas. If you work in an open-plan office, this might mean giving your team members use of meeting rooms for some time each week where they can exercise their creativity uninterrupted.
It’s important to get feedback from your team and create systems for brainstorming, submitting, and vetting ideas that work for the team as a whole. Just as younger generations learn and work differently than the ones that came before them, different people thrive under different circumstances and using a dynamic approach to engage your team as individuals will yield overall better results in your innovation efforts.
Since people are so individual, it doesn’t make sense to use just one approach to innovation brainstorming. In order to give all your employees a chance to impress with innovative ideas and cutting-edge concepts, you’ll need to be flexible and offer multiple opportunities. Don’t make all your meetings based on everyone throwing out ideas verbally—try other exercises sometimes. Have everyone submit their ideas on paper and have a process for vetting those ideas. Try virtual collaboration, and allow some flexibility in your employees’ working hours if you can—this will allow everyone to work when they’re feeling most energized and creative.
Remember, when you’re trying to encourage innovation, you can’t remain stagnant in your thinking, in your business model, or even the way you conduct your meetings. Stay flexible, and do your best to accommodate different thinking styles so everyone can contribute to your company’s success—whether they identify as introverts or extroverts.
By Ryan Ayers