Our industry loves the loudmouth. The relentlessly self-promoting, shameless, opinionated extrovert. Look at any awards list and it is consistently made up of the same people time and again. This is not an accident. Those that never tire of telling you about themselves seem to do well in an industry that is all about promotion. But we forget that at its core, our industry is about communication, and this works best when it flows in both directions. And that is a skill that the introvert is better suited to, especially in the context of the work of the digital strategist.
Think about the role of the digital strategist as we have previously described. As both an analyst and storyteller, the strategist needs to be able to listen and understand the audience, the competition and the digital environment, and use all these data points to put together a story that will truly resonate with this audience. This is not a native skill-set for the extrovert, who by design is more interested in impressing their opinions on others than listening to those people. I would argue that the best digital strategists are in fact introverts. As Susan Cain says in The Power of Introverts, her Ted Talk from 2012, ‘when it comes to creativity and leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best’. Why? Because, as she explains, ‘solitude is a crucial ingredient of creativity’. If you think about it, creativity is exactly what the strategist brings to an otherwise disjointed environment, but it is the type of creativity that requires research and thought. And that in turn requires solitude and time.
So if introverts make the best strategists, and strategists are central to the success of the digital venture, why is there a bias against them in our industry? Think about the stereotypes of what an ‘ad man’ looks like. Loud. Gregarious. Shallow. The popular account guy. The obnoxious creative director. These are all the opposite of what an introvert represents. But we are in a new world today. One where data driven decisions matter more than opinion and conjecture. Where the need to analyze and understand this data, and then have the time and room to come up with a strategy that connects with an audience, that delivers results and that build value today and into the future have come to the fore. And the introverts are best suited to thrive in that world.
What can we do about changing the perception of introverts as unsuitable for leadership positions in agency environments? Well, it starts with understanding that introverts don’t dislike people. This is a widespread misconception in an industry that is dependent on communication between people. I would argue that because introverts take the time to listen to the opinions of others, they actually understand people better. It just happens that they aren’t energized from being surrounded by others at all times, but need time with their own thoughts, and it is in these environments that they do their best work.
Next, we need to look at the true value of the work of introverts. Understand the impact they deliver to the organization. Find ways to measure performance that are objective. Goals with clearly articulated and measurable objectives remove much of the subjectivity from the equation.
Finally, recognize that a company comprised purely of alpha-dogs doesn’t sound like a fun or productive place to work. After all the noise and bluster, if we want to get work done and deliver on the promises we make, we need introverts to make that happen. It’s time to give them their space, their time, their solitude, and their due.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.