Let's get this clear, introversion does not mean shyness. Shyness is a fear of social judgement. Our personality type determines and explains how we react to stimulus. Extroverts crave social stimulation, while introverts are at their best in quieter situations.
The Introverted Illusion
"A widely held, but rarely articulated, belief in our society is that the ideal self is bold, alpha, gregarious" - Susan Cain
In Western society, extroversion (properly, extraversion) is celebrated: the outgoing and enthusiastic nature of a person who gets things done and is a great communicator is considered an asset. Much of our public life is dominated by extraverts, such as Clinton and Thatcher, among others. In fact we're living in an "extrovert ideal:" in a University of North Carolina study, it was found that 96% of managers and executives display extravert characteristics.
"When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise."
At the same time, negative traits popularly associated with the extravert as well as the positive traits of the introvert make it appear that introverts are actually more intelligent. Excitability, a lack of self criticism, a tendency to speak before they think and a lack of internal contemplation are all associated with an extravert personality. On the other hand, quietness, seriousness and a tendency to detach themselves to go and consider things carefully make it seem that introverts are smarter.
Several studies exist to support our assumption that introverts are smarter. A study by "The Gifted Development Center" found that around 60% of gifted children are introverted (compared with 30-50% of the population) and that the same is true of 75% of highly gifted children.
A 'Different' Kind of Intelligence
True intelligence is notoriously hard to measure quantitatively. IQ scores are a popular choice used to approximate intelligence, and the Gifted Development Center report quoted above is based on IQ scores, but the usefulness of this is questionable.
Measuring intelligence by personality type is no easier. A 1985 report by Robinson (see p309 in the International Handbook of Personality and Intelligence) proposes that in verbal intelligence tests, introverts do well; whereas extraverts perform better when given written tests. You'll see from the Handbook that studies attempting to measure extravert versus introvert intelligence produce differing results.
In the Workplace
In business, Ray Williams in Psychology Today theorizes that both introverts and extraverts only do well when they have the social skills to back up their intelligence - in that matter, at least, they're similar.
The two personality types tend to affect the way one navigates through working life in different ways ("tend to" is the key phrase here - everyone lies somewhere on the spectrum between introvert and extravert and the degree of either will affect results). Extravert managers usually make their own distinctive stamp on work done by the people they manage, whereas introvert leaders allow their employees to find their own way and use their own creativity. For this and other examples of how the two types differ at work, you can watch Susan Cain's TED talk "The Power of Introverts."
A manager can harness the power of introvert and extravert employees by engaging them in a way that suits their personality. Cain believes that team-working is not always beneficial to an introverted worker - they need space to develop their own ideas, whereas extraverts thrive in an environment where they can bounce ideas off others.
Power of Invention
Some of the world's top inventors are introverts. Believed to be the most intelligent people in the world, they prefer to be alone to focus on their craft. Little to no social stimulation gets in the way of their thinking.
Bill Gates, Larry Page (founder of Google), Albert Einstein and Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple Computers) are all introverts.
Does this mean that there are no extravert inventors?
No. Steve Jobs was a classic extravert and a born salesman. He was also an innovator and visionary. But could he truly be called an inventor? It was Wozniak the introvert who single-handedly invented the first Apple computer.
Differently skilled is how we should look at introverts and extraverts, not more or less intelligent. Where introverts can create the most wonderful new ideas and inventions (and not all introverts can do that), talented extroverts can inspire and motivate (those with the right social skills, anyway).
So let's not focus too much on who is the most intelligent. Let's celebrate the yin and yang of the two and consider how strange a world it would be if everyone was either one or the other!
How do you leverage introverts in the workplace? Share with us in the comments below!