Working out loud & the rise of the introverts

Introvert unleashed! The idea of working out loud - using social platforms to make your work observable and to narrate your work in progress - is becoming more popular. Yet even some who see the value of working out loud will say it’s not right for them.

“I don’t like to toot my own horn.”

“I’m more comfortable quietly doing a good job.”

“It’s fine for extraverts, but what about everybody else?”

Well, working out loud is good for introverts, too - maybe especially so. Here’s why.

The power of introverts

Over 3 million people have viewed Susan Cain’s TED Talk on “The power of introverts.”

In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But...introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

And in her book, “Quiet”, she makes a convincing argument that the “rise of the Extrovert Ideal” undervalues a whole class of people who think and work in a more subdued way.

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled "quiet," it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

At work, we can’t afford to exclude or undervalue one-third of our staff. Working out loud can be a more comfortable way for introverts to contribute and for others to recognize and build on those contributions.

A safe place

For much of the 20th century, getting attention at work meant you had to speak up. Whether it was in a meeting of a few people or a few hundred, you had to find ways to make your views known. To do that, you had to sound smart in public and be more social or more aggressive. You had to be the “Extrovert Ideal” described in Susan Cain’s book.

But working out loud emphasizes on-line contributions, typically using social collaboration platforms. Introverts who work out loud talk about using a collaboration platform as an advantage for them.

“It’s easier to participate in on-line platforms than in live situations.”

“I’m more confident online than I am in real life.”

“It doesn’t take the same type of emotional energy to connect with people.”

A friend of mine, who describes herself as a "confirmed introvert", went even further:

“It’s a HUGE help. Without a tool like this, no one would know who I am or what I work on. I’d be hidden at my desk because I’m not outgoing enough to get out there and do things the typical extrovert way. It gives me safe and controlled environment to present myself and my work.”

It’s not about you

If online platforms are more comfortable environments for introverts, there is still discomfort around the best content to contribute. Many people don’t like the idea of self-promotion, so talking about themselves and their achievements doesn’t feel right.

And that’s a good thing.

Because working out loud is about your work, not about you. It’s about framing what you’re doing as a gift, something that might help others. What are you working on? Who are you working with? What are you learning? What are you finding interesting? What help do you need? You're looking to answer those questions in ways others might find useful.

Think of it as "leading with generosity." When your contributions are a sincere effort to help, rather than to get attention, you don’t need self-promotion. Others will talk about you and your work on your behalf.

The rise of the introverts

Susan Cain is right. We need the introverts. We need to value people more for their ideas than for how smart they sound in public. More for their contributions than for their social skills.

And that’s becoming easier. At work, the current generation of tools and practices make it possible for everyone to work out loud, giving everyone - introverts and extroverts alike - the power to shape their reputation and control their career.