I recently read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I can’t recommend the book enough. Certainly it spoke to me as an introvert – it’s more typical for me to spend a Saturday night curled up with a good book – but the book also speaks on a deeper level of understanding how introverts and extroverts can differ, yet work together.
One theme I pulled from the book is that you need diversity of thought to run a successful business. Yes, you need big, vocal extroverts that can charm a crowd with their charisma and bravado. But you also need the cautious introvert quietly waving the red flag when you’re making a risky move.
American business tends to laud the extrovert: we love the brashness of mavericks like Richard Branson and Mark Cuban. However, Susan Cain, as quoted in this Time article, feels that the culture of the extrovert played into the financial crisis:
I don’t want to be too simplistic because obviously it was caused by many different factors. But I think one underappreciated role is the fact that Wall Street has such an extroverted culture and bold risk-taking. It doesn’t appeal to the type of person that is more cautious and pays attention to warning signs. What happened is that over the last few years, those types became more and more discredited because it seemed as if their warnings were false. There was one bull market after another. Even those who had doubts didn’t feel empowered to express them.
I can’t help but wonder how many introverts serve on boards – particularly risk committees – today. Yes, the world needs risk takers – but we also need those introverts quietly saying: “Hey, wait just a second. Should we take this risk?”
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