Updated: Mar 30
It is easy to think of yourself as either an Introvert or an Extrovert. Even without formal testing, most people have an intuition as to their personality type. They are naturally more “outgoing” (extrovert type) or more “quiet” (introvert type). For me, I am a card-carrying introvert. Though, to some degree, I have "faked it" to have some level of success in a world that seems to favor extroverts. Susan Cain wrote Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, this is like the Introvert's bible. The book does a good job validating the introvert.
At some level though, this confuses the difference between:
the verbs (introversion and extroversion), which are together necessary parts of our creative process, and,
the nouns (introvert and extrovert), which are separate personality preference descriptors.
See the graphic for my comparative perspective. The truth is, while our personalities may favor one or the other, we do both all the time. In fact, at the moment I write this article, I am extroverting about my personality that favors introverting! Also, I have noticed my introvert-leaning personality has morphed over the years. I took the Meyers-Briggs (1) test twice, once in my mid-20s and again in my late 30s.
In my mid-20s, I tested as a "hard" introvert. At the time, I was a quantitative analyst and could enjoy spending my entire day analyzing (i.e., introverting) behavioral and credit data.
In my late 30s, I tested as "on the bubble" between an introvert and an extrovert. At that time, I was an executive leading a Bank's Mortgage division. My personality evolved as an adaptation to my environment.
I will say, I do think my "core" personality is still that of an introvert, even after I consciously committed to adapting (2) to a more extroverted role. Think of our core personality as a state to which we may naturally return, especially under stress. To anticipate potential stress, I did develop some helpful tricks. A good example is when I attend industry conferences. Conferences like this tend to create an extroversion-intensive environment. (i.e., lots of blah, blah, blah... :) (3) As such, there is a high likelihood I will spend most of my day communicating. While I enjoy what I'm discussing, it is mentally draining. This may sound like an introvert's nightmare, but, I could handle it with some preparation. My trick is to schedule downtime late in the afternoon. I would plan to spend an hour in my light-dimmed hotel room just resting my brain. After which, I am recharged for the evening's activities...which is probably more communicating!
An alternative way to understand extrovert and introvert differences is based on curiosity. Generally, all people possess some naturally level of curiosity. I have noticed all people have curiosity. It is that which motivates our curiosity is what makes us unique. A helpful way to consider our personality differences is through the curiosity motivation lens.
An introvert tends to be curious about things in their external world. They are energized and motivated by learning about and understanding those things from the external world.
An extrovert tends to be curious about sharing with the external world. They are energized and motivated by learning and understanding about how to communicate with the external world.
As an example, my wife, Patti, is certainly an extrovert. I kid her she is an extrovert with a capital “E.” She is also an amazing teacher. Her teaching skills are centered around her motivation to communicate with children. Her greatest affirmation comes from breaking through to a child and helping them find learning success. Please notice, I didn’t say she was as motivated about learning the content. For her, the introversion-oriented content is a necessarily tool for teaching the child. It is the successful extroversion-oriented teaching communication that motivates her. If it were me, I’d probably get more excited about the content and learning someTHING new. Perhaps, this is why it can be unusual to find a person that is both a great teacher and a great researcher.
As a concluding thought, it is important to keep in mind that creativity springs from both our natural introversion and extroversion mental processes. Understanding how each process impacts your personal energy or motivates your curiosity is important to get the most out of your creativity! There are tests to help you understand the way your personality leans and tricks you may implement to help get the most of your personal energy, curiosity, and creativity. Finally, your personality is adaptable to different environments as needed to drive your success! Be aware, stress may trigger a return to your base personality.
(1) If you have not taken the Meyers-Briggs or MBTI, I recommend it. It is especially useful to do with your work team or with your spouse. This helps identify personality alignments or compliments. In the context of work, it is helpful to understand when assembling a complementary team. While skill sets are usually more obvious, personality complementarity can be nuanced and more difficult to fit together. Ray Dalio has a nice treatment of this concept in his book Principles. Also, another good test is called a conative test. This describes how one takes action. It is related to, but with some important differences from, personality testing. I took the Kolbe A assessment and found it helpful. The Economist wrote an article called The link between personality and success. It suggests people should work to moderate their personality, not going too far out in either extreme. An ambivert is someone who is more in the middle between an introvert and an extrovert. Personality does evolve as we age. I’ve heard it compared to erosion. While younger, we may have sharp peaks like the Rocky Mountains, over time, our personality “rounds” and akin to the Appalachian Mountains. Perhaps this relates to our adaptability.
(2) For a more complete discussion of adaptation and adapting to drive personal success, please see the article Let's Get Lucky!
(3) To be fair, industry conferences tend to be important sales events. This includes industry vendors selling to industry participants, industry participants in one part of the value chain selling to industry participants in another part of the value chain, or networking of people to sell themselves for their next job. While important, these events do tend to concentrate a high level of extroversion into a few days. It is net exhausting for us introvert leaning folks....while net exhilarating for the extrovert leaning folks.