Innovation the Introvert’s Way

Introversion Innovation

While I am far from an expert in innovation, I can sometimes come up with a creative approach or out-of-the-box idea. Inspiration often strikes at the strangest times—when I am drying my hair or coloring with my four-year-old.

Organizations will often hold innovative “events” or call meetings where the best and the brightest are brought together to brainstorm. Individuals come up with ideas, play off each other, and take the kernel of an idea and develop it into a full-blown product. They thrive on the interaction, the conversation, the finishing-of-each-other’s-sentences kind of energy.

But innovation often happens in quieter ways. And for some, the idea of driving innovation feels antithetical. How do you drive something that best happens organically? Putting me in a room full of innovation hackers is the fastest way to quell the ideas I might be percolating. Trying to drive it out will only scare it away. I want to tease it out. Quietly.

There is great power in not thinking…not doing…not innovating. When you stop trying so hard, you can often access the deepest, darkest, strangest, and most innovative corners of our minds. You can start to see patterns that weren’t apparent when you went looking for them. You can make connections that are just below the surface of our conscious but retreat when we try to grab them.

Innovation for some will not come when we try to drive it, spur it on, or make it happen. Even the terms “driving” and “hacking” conjure up an intensity that may not suit all styles. It’s a quiet energy that fuels the brain of your more introverted employees. It happens when we stop trying. When we quiet the mind.

And in the spirit of creating a culture of innovation, it’s smart to incorporate a diversity of styles into the innovation process. For introverted innovators, new ideas, creativity, and innovation may be more likely to come if you encourage innovation in the following ways.

  • Give them the space and time to be quiet and to approach innovation in their own way.
  • Thinking is the introvert’s playground. Let them stay there for a while so they can process their own thoughts and the ideas of others.
  • Ask them. All of your team members, both those that are vocal and those that “hang back,” likely have ideas—you can draw them out by inviting them to contribute.
  • Use technology like social collaboration platforms to give introverts a comfortable environment in which to express their creativity.
  • Leverage the strong listening skills of introverts. In order for a good idea to be heard, someone needs to be listening. Introverts tend to be great listeners.
  • Provide a safe space for ideas that are less than perfect so that even seemingly “half-baked” notions are easily surfaced.
  • Remember the loudest ideas don’t always equate to the best ideas.

As a self-proclaimed introvert, I must confess—I don’t want a hackathon. I want a reflectathon. Please don’t build me an innovation kitchen. I’d like an innovation closet. To be sure, at some point introverts want and need to share their ideas and get feedback from others. Introverts often need their more extroverted friends to encourage innovation and help bring their ideas to life. If the innovative idea is kept in the world of concepts and ideas, it may never be tested against reality.

Driving a culture of innovation isn’t just about being open to new ideas. It’s also about being flexible with respect to how you get to those ideas. It’s about encouraging diversity of styles and thought. Be on the lookout for your introverted innovators—their internal world may be incubating your next big idea—if only you can coax it out!

Leah Clark

Leah Clark

Director, Strategy and Planning, GP Strategies Corporation

Leah leads Strategy and Planning for BlessingWhite, a Division of GP Strategies, focusing on bringing new products to market and enhancing the participant experience. She works with clients to understand their leadership and engagement challenges and consults with them on the creative solutions.

Prior to joining BlessingWhite, Leah had her own practice in executive coaching and consulting. She is a certified professional coach through an ICF accredited organization and is a Myers-Briggs practitioner.

Leah has over seventeen years of experience in marketing, strategy, and product development in a corporate environment. She has also served as an adjunct faculty member in the fields of psychology and organizational psychology.

She has a Master’s of Arts degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Sociology from Boston College where she graduated summa cum laude.
Leah Clark
3 comments on “Innovation the Introvert’s Way
  1. Tracy Contrino says:

    Thank you! I love this article. As another self-proclaimed introvert, I sometimes worry that remaining “quiet” during an innovation session gives others the impression of being “uninterested” or “unmotivated” or even “bored” with the content being discussed. It’s rather the contrary…as you’d likely agree, we’re taking it all in, assessing, breaking it down, analyzing, etc. I’ve learned over the years that speaking up is key to many things that equal success in one’s career and so I force myself to do it. I’ve become more comfortable doing it, but rarely enjoy it. It might be fun to one day do an Innovation “closet” session with a bunch of introverts…could be the most silent, intensely creative, and highly productive meeting ever ;-).

  2. Leah Clark says:

    Thanks, Tracy! I agree on the speaking up – but it can be challenging for introverts. Your comment is a good reminder to push beyond comfort zones while also honoring our natural personality types. When we talk about being inclusive I think it’s so important for leaders to think about that term broadly and be inclusive of other styles – including that of introverts. Love the description of the innovation closet. Thanks again for responding.

  3. Suzanne Kennaugh says:

    Whilst I’m not an introvert, I totally get the idea that as soon as someone asks me to be innovative or creative I freeze – panic sets in that I have to come up with something amazing!

    My best ideas are in the shower, walking the dog and finding the metaphorical versions of these (innovation closet) in workplace is something you’ve inspired me to explore 🙂

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