On Wednesday, I found myself back at the office of my former employer offering some training to the new person filling my old role. While we were discussing the hierarchy of data and SQL queries, the CEO of the company came in and asked for some help with a report.
She explained what she was looking for, and before assuring her we could do it, I took a minute to consider whether it was even possible. While I was thinking, she pointed at me, and said to the new employee, “That’s it. That’s the face I was telling you about.” Then she mimicked me by shifting her eyes up to the ceiling and scrunching up her face like she was chewing a bagel. “Can you do that?” she asked.
It’s not the first time I’ve been teased at my old job about “the Charity look.” Usually, when my colleagues would talk about that far away, scrunched up look I would get, they ended the conversation by saying, “You just don’t think like everyone else.”
They meant it as a compliment. At least that’s what they would always tell me. They would say things like, you’re just smarter than the rest of us. Which I knew wasn’t true. They would ascribe it as giftedness, which was only true inasmuch as we all have unique traits and qualities. Mostly, I just couldn’t imagine why my thought processes seemed so very different than everyone else’s.
As it turns out, I was likely just an introvert in a crowd of extroverts.
In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain explores the personalities and character traits of introverts, both famous and ordinary.
In the chapter, “Why Did Wall Street Crash and Warren Buffett Prosper?” Cain talks about the differences between how introverts and extroverts think.
First, she dispels a myth: “introverts are not smarter than extroverts.” I knew that already. Cains also says that in many social situations, extroverts do better than introverts, things like timed performances, tasks with social pressure, or multitasking. I could have told her that. But when it comes to careful thinking, seeing problems through to the end, evaluating for errors, introverts have the advantage.
“Introverts seem to think more carefully than extroverts. . . . Extroverts are more likely to take a quick-and-dirty approach to problem-solving, trading accuracy for speed, making increasing numbers of mistakes as they go, and abandoning ship altogether when the problem seems too difficult or frustrating,” Cain writes. “Introverts think before they act, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately.”
That phrase “quick-and-dirty” brings up a classic example of the work I did, work that our extroverted leadership requested and valued. For years, the CEO and CFO predicted future revenue with a quick-and-dirty calculation, using gross revenue percentages and treating all clients the same. They actually called it the “Quick and Dirty Report.”
Over and over, when that calculation would turn out to be wrong, they turned to me for answers. Run some numbers to figure out where we are off. After troubleshooting the quick-and-dirty analysis multiple times, I finally proposed a massive recalculation of our projections, using different data for each client and continually updating the percentages on a monthly basis. Now, the predictions are much closer to reality and are right more than wrong.
The quick-and-dirty method provided a ballpark figure. My detailed analysis landed in the shortstop’s glove.
And that look on my face when someone poses a problem? Cain discusses an experiment where introverts and extroverts were given complex mazes to solve. The researcher “found not only that the introverts tended to solve more mazes correctly, but also that they spent a much greater percentage of their allotted time inspecting the maze before entering it.” That’s all the “Charity” face signifies, in fact: some simple analysis before I suggest a strategy.
I haven’t finished Quiet, yet. Each time I open it up, I find myself staring into a mirror. All the quirks, flaws, and strengths of being me are finally explained in detail by someone I’ve never met. It’s both liberating and terrifying. It also helps me understand that the differences between introverts and extroverts can be a blessing, if we work at understanding each other and appreciate each other’s strengths.
So, it’s not that I don’t think like anyone else. I just don’t think like an extrovert. Put me in a room full of introverts and ask us an analytical question, though, and we’ll all be looking up at the ceiling chewing bagels.
And then a few days later, you’ll have your answer.
‘It’s not that I’m so smart,’ said Einstein, who was a consummate introvert. ‘It’s that I stay with problems longer.’
WORD COUNT: 798
AUTHOR: Susan Cain
TITLE: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
WHERE TO GET IT: Follow the link above to order it from Amazon.
Photo by Lara Cores, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.
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