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Why Introverts Make Great Entrepreneurs

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The psychiatrist Carl Jung posited that there exist two polar personality types and that we all fall somewhere on the spectrum. On one end is extroversion, and on the other is introversion. According to his study, extroversion can be identified by the individual’s active engagement with the external world. Extroverts enjoy and are stimulated by the company of others, and possess a high energy level. They are generally enthusiastic, action-oriented, and are likely to respond in the affirmative when it involves opportunities for excitement. In groups, they like to talk, assert themselves, and draw attention to themselves.

Contrastingly, introverts often lack the buoyancy and energy levels of extroverts. Instead, they tend to be quiet, low-key, deliberate, and disengaged from the social world. Their lack of social involvement should not, however, be interpreted as shyness or depression; the introvert simply needs less stimulation than an extrovert, and prefers to be alone. The independence and reserve of the introvert is sometimes mistaken as unfriendliness or arrogance. However, introverts can be highly agreeable people, in which case they will not seek others out, but will be quite pleasant when approached.

 

 

Though we have developed a nuanced understanding of the attributes of these personality types as well as the challenges and qualities that a life of entrepreneurship raises and necessitates, our definition of “entrepreneur” has been rather simplistic and often exclusive. According to that general understanding, entrepreneurs should be sociable and commanding. They should be verbally adept and capable of inspiring their employees, clients, and investors with their radiant personality. It is really no wonder that the advice that most introverted entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs receive is to be more extroverted. This is not only unnecessary and false, but “be someone else” is never good advice.

If you need convincing, take the large number of highly successful entrepreneurs and CEOs who are either self-professed introverts or otherwise possess so many introverted qualities that they are widely known to be introverts. Some of these introverts are names you will recognize: Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft; Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple; Larry Page, co-founder of Google; Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook; Marissa Mayer, current president and CEO of Yahoo; and Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.

This is not to say that being an introvert makes you superior, because as humans we all have quirks and idiosyncrasies. Nor does this mean that we must manipulate ourselves or change the essence of who we are. On the contrary, being self-aware and accepting yourself will allow you to achieve far more than pretending to be someone you are not. Instead of pressuring yourself to behave like an extrovert, try to maximize your potential as an introvert. There are some facets of launching a startup that will be uncomfortable for you, such as networking and speaking engagements. However, if you play up the qualities that make you an introvert, you might be able to establish these activities as your strengths, and they may in fact set you apart in business.

Here are some of the qualities that introverts possess, and some ways that you may be able to use them to your advantage:

Comfortable Being Alone

Introverts are not only comfortable with being alone, but often enjoy and crave solitude. Being alone affords them a moment to process, analyze, and recharge. Conversely, extroverts seek their stimulation and enjoyment externally, and so their method of thinking through problems involves being around others. For instance, while extroverts may be out networking, promoting, or celebrating success, introverts will have their “butt on the seat” according to Laurie Helgoe, author of “Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life is Your Hidden Strength.

How can this benefit you?

Helgoe posits that, “An introvert on his or her own is going to enjoy digging in and doing research—and be able to sustain him or herself in that lonely place of forging your own way.” This is incredibly valuable, as it will affect the quality of decision-making—less hasty, wild, or impulsive. It also means that the first few years of lonely and long work hours will not be bothersome or disheartening.

Although networking events are a challenge for introverts, because it usually requires crowded spaces and small talk, networking is a necessity for new and emerging companies. To get around this issue, try scheduling more one-on-one meetings. Introverts are not uncomfortable around others, rather, they prefer the company of a small group of people they know well to a large group of strangers. They prefer to have meaningful conversation over frivolous chatter. Use your preference for the quality of exchanges over quantity by scheduling person-to-person or smaller group meetings. This will prevent the introvert from feeling overwhelmed, while also distinguish them as attentive and considerate.

Ability to Focus

Introverts have the predisposition for balanced and critical thinking, and have the capacity to do so for long periods of time. In 2009, Maya Tamir—director of the Emotion and Self-Regulation Laboratory at Boston College and Hebrew University in Jerusalem—conducted a study to observe the ways in which introverts and extroverts approached an effortful task.” She found that extroverts seek a “happy state” while completing the task, while introverts preferred to maintain a “neutral emotional state.” According to her findings, she states, The introverts’ happy space is a quieter space with less interruptions, they won’t have that overstimulation.” During one classic experiment, people were shown pictures of flowers and of happy faces. Extroverts were more responsive to the happy faces, while introverts responded equally to both.

How can this benefit you?

These results demonstrate that introverts are less easily distracted by what may be deemed agreeable to them. For example, they are less likely to be carried away by the number of social media followers they have, or a new app that they find appealing. According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” introverts succeed in entrepreneurship because they create and lead companies from a very focused place.”

 

 

Why Introverts Make Great Entrepreneurs

Uninterested in Leadership for Personal Glory or Validation

Extroverts can get sidetracked by seeking validation, such as awards or media attention for an undertaking. This may become a fixation, and can divert them from their main goals. While introverts welcome validation, they won’t let it define them or distract them. Moreover, leadership for an introvert is a means to an end. They do not crave leadership for its authority, rather they look to apply it to elevate their business and their team. This means that they are prepared to concede their control to the subject matter expert when necessary. For introverts, the focus is on keeping the long-haul perspective.

How can this benefit you?

Requiring validation can be damaging for entrepreneurs, because the first few years will be difficult and full of setbacks. This means that there will be very little validation and reassurance from others. You will likely go unrewarded at that time, which will be difficult for the extrovert. The introvert, however, doesn’t require that validation, and will be able to position their gaze towards the future.

Do Not Require External Affirmation or Approval

Introverts rely on their own inner judgment, rather than external signals, to guide them in making the right move or to let them know whether they’re doing a good job. Although they accept the insight of others, their thought process in and of itself is extensive and deliberate, and so they are comfortable and confident in their decisions and actions.

How can this benefit you?

This characteristic can give introverts an edge in business. For example, they don’t require the approval of others when pursuing an idea. Instead, they are able to think patiently through an idea or plan before discussing it with anyone else. This allows them to have conviction and consider every possible angle of whether an idea is worth pursuing. Conversely, for extroverts, it is crucial that they receive external feedback or approval. While feedback can be very helpful, at a certain point, a leader needs to stand by a decision and execute it.

Steer Clear of the Cult of Personality

Introverts are normally less concerned with other people’s impressions of them, which means they are less susceptible to peer pressure. They are less prone to be carried away by a tribe mentality, as they are individualistic and might be less likely to be in a group-think situation.

How can this benefit you?

The pressure of being well-liked can often put a damper on creativity. Introverts are more at ease in situations where they are solitary. Being the loudest and most popular is not a great concern, which makes more room for out-of-the-box thinking. As a result, not only are their ideas and solutions carefully considered and planned, but they are less likely to be prone to conformity.

A Knack for Quietly Empowering Others


“The best businesspeople aren’t necessarily the best talkers, but the best listeners, the people who ask the right questions,” says Beth Buelow, a speaker and coach who is the founder of “The Introvert Entrepreneur”—a website for introverts. How is this linked to empowering others? Professor Adam Grant at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School conducted a study, and found that when employees were proactive, introverted leaders produced better results and higher profits than extroverted leaders did. Grant observed, introverted leaders are more likely to listen carefully to suggestions and support employees’ efforts to be proactive.” Extroverted leaders, conversely, like to be the center of attention” and tend to be threatened by employee proactivity.”

How can this benefit you?

It’s clear that introversion and leadership are not antithetical. As an introverted entrepreneur, it may be worth adopting Grant’s lesson to your own venture by encouraging your employees to voice their opinions and by supporting their suggestions. To take it further, you may even allow them to pursue their ideas. This was the philosophy of former 3M CEO William McKnight, who permitted his employees to allocate 15 percent of their time on pet projects. 3M still follows this philosophy, which led to the invention of the Post-it note, among others.

Conclusion
As an introvert, it is important to recognize that you need solitary time to recharge. In spite of your best efforts to collaborate in a manner befitting an introvert, you will reach a point where you simply cannot help but feel drained. Resist the temptation to see your urge for solitude as a “liability,” and remember that alone time is the air introverts breathe, and self-care must be a priority. Time spent alone in a quiet environment will restore your energy, and may give rise to some of your most creative ideas.

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Rahaf Khalil is a staff writer at StartUp Mindset, Advocacy Coordinator at a non-profit, book club organizer, and overall lover of big ideas. She is passionate about exploring new ways of looking at social and cultural complexities as they intersect with tech and tech culture. She is an avid reader and a cat enthusiast. Follower her on Twitter @rkaaay

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Rahaf Khalil is a staff writer at StartUp Mindset, Advocacy Coordinator at a non-profit, book club organizer, and overall lover of big ideas. She is passionate about exploring new ways of looking at social and cultural complexities as they intersect with tech and tech culture. She is an avid reader and a cat enthusiast. Follower her on Twitter @rkaaay

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