Much has been written about the extent to which the workplace is organized around extroverts. They tend to be more aggressive and speak up in meetings. They’re more likely to make the pitch or presentation. And as a result, they’re often favored by management and peers.
In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain makes the case that our collective extrovert bias hurts not just introverts – but the wider economy. Savvy executives know that the extrovert bias also hurts organizations and teams.
Unlocking the potential of introverts is an organizational challenge that, according to Cain, took root in the shift from an “agricultural society into the world of big business.” That’s when “it really became the case that to stand out and succeed in a company, with people that you had never met before, the quality of being very magnetic, very charismatic in a job interview suddenly became very important.”
It’s a phenomenon that was exacerbated by the leadership factories of the 20th century. A subset of aspiring managers were tagged as “high potential” and sent away to elite business schools like Harvard, Wharton, and MIT to improve their leadership skills and executive presence. Introverts were relegated to the back bench.
Central to Cain’s concern is the concept of “New Groupthink” – which assumes “creative moments and productivity” stem from the sort of “chance encounters” among “circulating” extroverts within modern organizations. It’s a value system that crowds out the time and space necessary for “deep thought,” “focus” and work spaces where individuals can’t be interrupted. “Solitude,” according to Cain, is an “equally a crucial ingredient of creativity.” Organizations need both solitude “and the chance encounters.”
Unlocking the collective genius for all employees is, of course, a challenge that is accelerating in today’s fast-moving corporate environment. Businesses are reorganized every 12-18 months. Managers jockey for new roles and positions. Strategies are adopted and implemented at breakneck pace. And in an ironic twist, increasingly diverse organizations (with grandiose public commitments to inclusion) often perpetuate a paradigm for strategy development that is anything but. And it’s not just introverts whose opinions are overlooked. Should we be surprised that over 70% of strategies fail?
In Augmented Management Intelligence: Can Robots Bring Humanity Back into the Workplace I explain how the convergence of mobile computing, AI, and predictive analytics has fueled the development of a new category of “Organizational Learning Systems” that equip executives with the tools to deploy, track, and manage the implementation of strategy by drawing out insights from an increasingly diverse workforce–with different communications styles.
An Organizational Learning System connects people together in purpose built groups to solve problems, capture and share knowledge, generate ideas, learn from each other—and from experts. It blends the best of eLearning, enterprise collaboration, social, and mobile tools. It draws upon AI and machine learning to generate early warnings and deep analytics that enable leaders to understand how strategies are received — and make adjustments as they implement them.
Because when employees engage in a structured conversation online, they’re all equal – introverts, extroverts, regardless of age, rank, language or geographic region. And digitizing processes like ‘idea tournaments” reduces the risk of the New Groupthink by allowing team members to guard solitude — and engage on their own terms. Its why companies like Walmart, J&J, and Boston Scientific are now using the an organizational learning system to give voice to — and create pathways for — tens of thousands of employees worldwide.
Would you rather have a game-plan that was developed only by the top 10 people in the company or one in which the top 10 then pressure-tested it with 1,000’s of employees weighing the pros and cons of each initiative — thinking about strengths and weaknesses of the firm, and summarizing the key potential barriers that could thwart success? Strategies only get better when pressure-tested by the “wisdom-of-the-crowd.” True leaders invite every brain into the game, and give everyone a voice.