Collective intelligence also needs “invisibles”

The list of introverted but gifted individuals is long and includes such notable individuals as Barack Obama, Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet. And yet, because self-promotion and the constant quest for visibility are considered crucial leadership strengths, this characteristic is viewed as a liability in most companies. According to Susan Cain, the extravert ideal deprives firms of the full talent of their more reserved employees, who make up nearly half the workforce. Excerpt from the latest issue of Business Digest:

Business Digest introvert

1. When introversion results in invisibility
Introverts are not necessarily shy or lacking in confidence. They have characteristics that can be valuable assets to a company:
• Introverts recharge their batteries through being alone rather than needing contact with others.
• They enjoy calm environments.
• They like to concentrate on a task over a long period.
• They listen before giving their opinion.
• They look to do their work well rather than seeking recognition.
These different traits hinder the visibility of introverts in a firm. As they rarely put themselves forward, they tend to prefer positions where a job well done is rarely recognized (such as research, support functions, posts that require little interaction with customers, and so on).

2. The key role of “invisibles”

Invisibles exert a “quiet influence” on other employees. Ill at ease with power games, formal authority and command and control, their ability to unite people comes from their faculty for taking a step back and putting their ego to one side, even if it means having a low profile. It is also an attitude that addresses a societal demand: a team that is full of confidence and feels that it is listened to will participate in decisions and take more initiatives.

3. How to make the most of invisibles
Fostering the vitality of introverts involves respecting their personalities rather than trying to impose an extrovert ideal on them. The idea is to allow everyone to be him or herself rather than wear masks. Ideally, line managers who, on account of their position, can help introverts get to know themselves better and leverage their strengths will take on that role.

Speed Division sets the example
“Silicon Valley companies have one key advantage: they promote diversity,” says Catelyne Peker, VP of HR at Speed Division. “This issue isn’t simply a question of ethics: it’s about performance. If you do not recognize introverts, you deprive yourself of an essential portion of the talent that is available to your company on the market.”

Based on Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain (Crown, January 2013) and Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion by David Zweig (Portfolio, June 2014), “How introverts can network without changing their personalities” by Lisa Evans (Fast Company, April 2015), “Networking tips for introverts” by Sharon Florentine (, March 2015), “An introvert’s guide to networking” by Lisa Petrilli (Harvard Business Review, January 2012), “Introverti? 3 stratégies pour muscler votre réseau” (Place des réseaux, March 2012), and the interview with Catelyne Peker, VP HR at Speed Division, United States, July 2015.

Watch the video:

The power of introverts

As Susan Cain explains in this new TED conference, introverts bring to the world extraordinary talents and skills, and should thus be recognized and encouraged.