This is the second part of a two-part post. Here’s part one where I tried to lay out some foundation about engineering, introverts, and extroverts.
Consider today’s world of (software) engineering, or the business world in general: it’s all about so called frequent interactions. Meetings, workshops, brainstormings. And more meetings.
In meetings, bold, loud ideas and contributions often win, they are perceived as more convincing. It’s well known that most people are being influenced and convinced via emotions, not reason. Plus groupthink. It’s extrovert territory.
For us introverts, it’s a nightmare. The stark focus on interactions is exhausting. Often, we’re not bold and loud, pressing our position, as we like to put things into perspective first, prefer to deeply understand the subject matter by weighing our and others’ arguments and proposals, and then suggest solutions or actions. Alas, by then, we’ve been overrun by the extroverts. I want to underline again that this is not an introvert vs. extrovert fight, we are what we are and live our personalities, but it’s how these dynamics play out in today’s business world.
It’s a business world which seems to have developed a disdain for writing and for well-crafted documents. I am still convinced that you don’t really know something if you cannot describe it in writing (including diagrams and graphical models). Thinking is writing is thinking. A well-sounding argument often falls apart when you start to write it down and are forced to think it through in the process. At least this happens to me all the time. Stuff that sounds good in my head often does not on paper.
Of course I understand the principles and advantages of quick actions, failing fast, and improving accordingly. But does this process have to be so one-sided based on “frequent interactions”? Among the plethora of meetings, there are the ones everyone knows, and even admits, are BS. Often, they are held via telephone conferences (“telcos”), where most of the attendants will mute their mike and just work on their e-mails. Or check Twitter. But I have also attended “serious” engineering-level meetings where design decisions where taken in a plenum of eight or ten people, often based on ad-hoc discussions that popped up, without any serious documentation (gasp!) backing up the facts. Excel tables seem to have become a (or even the) major engineering tool – excel tables worked-on, or even created, right in the meeting. I have seen originally ad-hoc developed, and then here and there tweaked, Excel tables survive forever as the foundation of planning and decisions, including conceptual or factual deficiencies. And all typos and awful formatting. Oh well.
Unfortunately, the active, relentless lifestyle is usually seen as the successful one these days, not only in engineering. Being “social” and outgoing is prized above all else. Market yourself! Networking! Twitter! Facebook! A noisy culture that never shuts the fuck up. Open floor office spaces everywhere. Even education gets increasingly set up for extroverts – “flipped classrooms”, “collaborative learning”!
Or look at the multitude of seminars and self-help books, all promoting the extrovert approach, and by implication, doing down and discounting a more introvert life as non desirable, as less valuable, even shameful. Or a pathology.
Consequently, I think we introverts are often cornered, having to defend ourselves, and we’re working at sub-optimal productivity and motivation levels. But being alone is not being lonely. I love being alone at times and have room and time for my inner world, being able to focus on a specific problem, or thought. But I also love a discussion with friends about an interesting topic, over a dinner and a glass of wine. Both are energising. But chit-chatting in a bar, fighting against music and the noise level in general, simply sucks all energy out of my soul. And I use the term “bar” here both literally as well as a metaphor for daily life.
30% to 50% of the population are more on the introvert side of the scale. No wonder many of us feel overwhelmed. Our society, businesses, and educational institutions would profit by finding a better mix of set-ups that cater for all of us. Maybe modelled after the old-fashioned way of engineering, where thorough solitary thinking was the prerequisite for, and in balance with, meetings and social interactions.