I’m an Extrovert.  Like most Extroverts, I’m a quick decision maker.  This is sometimes good (when a quick decision is needed and the stakes aren’t too high), but it often isn’t (when a well thought out balanced decision with high implications is needed.)

I’ve always thought that the reason for this ability to make snap decisions is because of one of my other Myers Briggs Preferences, my Intuition.  I see the big picture and therefore don’t dig into the detail, which is something the Sensors of this world prefer to do.  Until this week, when I really got going on Susan Cain‘s book “Quiet: the power of the introverted mind in a world that can’t stop talking.”  She’s getting me to rethink this tendency, and to consider whether in fact it is my Extroversion which causes the often flawed snap decision making style.

What do you make of this?

Extroverts are more likely to take a quick-and dirty (a favourite phrase of mine) 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.  Introverts think before they start, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately.”

She goes on to quote Einstein (a consummate introvert):

“It’s not that I’m so smart.  It’s just that I stay with problems longer.”


Steve Wozniak makes the same point in his book iWoz.

Patience is usually so underrated…..I just learned things gradually, figuring out how to put electronic devices together without so much as cracking a book.”

Susan goes on to quote some research carried out by psychologist Joseph Newman, which so resonates for me.  People were invited to his lab to play a game:  the more points you get, the more money you win.  Twelve different numbers flash across the screen, and you can choose whether or not to press the gameplay button.  If you press for a “good number” you win points, and you lose them for a “bad number”.  You soon learn through trial and error that four is good and nine is not.

Apparently extroverts are much more likely than introverts to make the same mistake several times, pressing nine repeatedly.  Why?  According to psychologists this is because extroverts think less and act faster on such tasks:  “introverts are geared to inspect, and extroverts are geared to respond.”  In such a situation, having made a mistake, an introvert will reflect and slow down before moving on.  An extrovert will do the opposite:  they SPEED UP!  They throw more energy at the problem in an attempt to remove it.  they do not pause to reflect, and so don’t learn from mistakes.

This is so much my style.  I think back to a vivid example:  I’m driving in a large town late at night trying to find my hotel (this is pre satnav days).  I have a map, but think it will be easier to look for landmarks and rely on a bit of luck.  I soon get lost.  The hotel is not where it is supposed to be.  Instead of pausing to either read the map or ask someone, I speed up, driving around and around in probably circles, in the vain hope that I will get lucky and that on the law of averages I must be bound to find it soon.  Needless to say I was wrong, and eventually ring the hotel to be guided in by them.

The thing is, the extroverted way of making decisions is the one most favoured at work.  Extroversion is more exciting, more sociable, has more of a buzz.  It leads to overconfidence, and denial of the facts in many cases, most obviously the 2008 financial crisis.  Think Enron.  Vincent Kaminski‘s book “Conspiracy of fools” tells how he refused to sign off dangerous transactions, and was eventually stripped of his powers and hauled in  by Enron’s president. “There have been some complaints, Vince, that you’re not helping people to do transactions.  Instead you’re spending all your time acting like cops.  We don’t need cops, Vince.” 

Research of 64 traders at an investment bank showed that the highest performers were the emotionally stable introverts.

So what do you do if you or your organisation are Extroverted?  You have to find a way to slow down the decision making, for a start.  You consciously seek out introversion and weave it into your decision making process.  You respect it, and find ways of unlocking it in meetings (and encouraging the introverts to extrovert themselves.)

In my case, I got lucky. My wife is an introvert, and she brings in the logic as well as slowing down the decision making process.  She is the counterbalance and the sanity in the household.  Without her we’d be living in a tree house in the Outback or something.

I’d love to hear whether this ties in to your experience.  Whether you’re introverted (you get energy from within, like a battery)  or extroverted (getting energy from others, more like solar powered), does this tie into the way you make decisions?  How do you compensate for this at work?

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