The Research File
Quiet road to success
|Colm Carey on a book which claims low profile executives can be achievers|
If you are involved with any large corporate whether as an employee or a supplier, you will agree that a lot of executive time is spent in meetings. Many of these meetings concern internal matters that have little value and add nothing to the bottom line. It is estimated that once a business reaches a certain size it spends significantly more time on internal matters than on issues that impact on customer satisfaction and market development. The internal workings of the machine (the means) come to matter more than the reason why the business was set up in the first place (the end). The almost inevitable outcome of this behaviour is market share decline as customers are ignored or dealt with in ways that suit the needs of the organisation rather than the needs of the customer. Meetings convened to deal with customer related issues often lose out to internal meetings as people are forced to focus on what is urgent to the detriment of what is important. If many meetings are a waste of time, what about the much coveted brainstorming sessions beloved of marketing people and consultants? The theory goes that if you get a group of people into a room with a facilitator and a brainstorming methodology you will come out with one or more ideas that when implemented will boost your organisation’s fortunes. If this brings to your mind the one about monkeys with typewriters eventually coming up with the complete works of William Shakespeare, you are in agreement with some research into the relative effectiveness of groups versus individuals in creating breakthrough ideas. In a recent book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain makes the case for individual reflection as a source of innovation. Cain says introverts often come up with great ideas without the need for brainstorming or group consultations. She instances people like Bill Gates and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, both essentially introverts, who came up with ideas that contributed significantly to shaping the world we live in today. Despite the achievements of introverts, our culture tends to show greater admiration for extroverts whom Cain calls the “alpha beings who prefer risk taking to heed taking and action over contemplation.” Talkative people tend to be rated smarter, more attractive, more interesting and more desirable as friends and colleagues. You can see this in action in focus groups where people often pay greater attention to what more talkative participants say than to the thoughts uttered by the quieter individuals. But as an experienced moderator will tell you, when the talkers have talked themselves out, the valuable insights often come from introverts. If you hassle the introverts in an attempt to get them to perform like extroverts they clam up altogether, or conform by expressing agreement with their more vocal group mates
A COGITATION OF INTROVERTS
The list of talented introverts quoted by Cain is long and impressive. It includes Newton, Einstein, Chopin, Van Gogh, Proust, Orwell, Warren Buffet, Ghandi and Google co-founder Larry Page. Cain says “neither E=mc² nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal.” Despite the impressive achievements of introverts, we are told from an early age that group thinking is superior to individual contemplation. Business culture is based around the idea of teams and encourages groupthink by designing open plan offices in which space for personal reflection is almost non-existent. A CV without a team sport listing is treated with suspicion on the basis that the candidate is not a “team player” - but she might just be the next Bill Gates!
|Google co-founder Larry Page is a good example of how an introvert personality need not be a hindrance to proving successful in marketing.|
Cain says there are many definitions of what constitutes an introvert but common to all is a belief that some people need less stimulation than others to make them content. Extroverts are more likely to enjoy the thrill of the chase and the monetary and status rewards that come with success. The introvert leader will pursue success with quiet confidence and in that sense may appear to have serendipitously hit the jackpot when in fact they were strategically working towards it in their own quiet yet assured way. If you have been watching either the Irish or UK version of The Apprentice, you will have seen the extroverts crash and burn in the competition’s early days. They prance and preen their way to project manager only to suffer premature ejection. The introverts, despite criticism from Dr Bill and Lord Sugar, regarding their lack of forcefulness and team spirit, often end up in the winner’s enclosure giving the understated smile that settles on the face of the cat that knows how to get the cream.
TAKE A RIVER JUMP
US-based Greg Heist of Gongos Research urges clients to help halt dropping survey response rates by breaking out of the traditional ad hoc research paradigm. Calling on clients to “jump into the river”, Heist advises clients and researchers to stop focusing on large, sporadic studies and embrace a river approach to engage consumers. Think about a series of six three-minute ‘research snacks’ instead of one or two big surveys. Some of these actions are easy. Others are more challenging and will take time to implement but Heist says if we do not amend our behaviour, response rates will drop to a point where market research as we know it will go the way of the fax and telex.