For years I have scored off the chart as an introvert. I’ve taken the official MBTI three times at three very different points in my life and I am always a definitive “I.” However, I still find myself energized by my colleagues, and when I am grappling with ideas, talking with trusted colleagues allows me to sort out my thoughts to arrive at a better outcome.
I find this interesting. The fact that I can collaborate to produce better work as opposed to going into my “cave” to work on my own. I find it interesting, particularly on the heels of the book Quiet, whereby the world finally took note of the needs of introverts, a book which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I also know that being introverted is far more complex than simply being around people (or not), and I certainly need my time alone to reflect or simply just “be.” But I also need people.
As with most things that become mainstream, assumptions are made, and after Quiet, many have begun to critique the idea of collaboration, noting that it doesn’t honor the needs of the introvert. I take issue with this assumption.
Many people, introverts and extroverts, find it easier to work alone, because collaboration is difficult. It requires listening, cooperation, letting go of ideas, marrying thoughts, and more. This is not an easy skill, and yet, when we come together, we produce better work. Therefore, allowing introverts to work alone because of their personality, need, preference, style or etc. is actually to limit them from learning an important skill that can lead to greater gains in talent, achievement and success.
The issue with collaboration is not with the nature of collaboration, but with how we have often conceptualized it. In Quiet, Cain notes the issues with groupthink and provides a better alternative: individual brainstorming that later contributes to group collaboration. Similar to my need to talk through complex ideas with colleagues after I have thought of things alone, it seems when and how we collaborate is the issue, not whether or not we should collaborate.
I do believe in delving deep, silent reflection, meditation and “quiet,” but I absolutely do not believe there is an either/or. As we begin to honor the needs of introverts in our schools, I hope we will honor their need to build collaborative skills because though we can all benefit from a less harried, less frenetic, slower paced world, we cannot benefit without one another.