Monday, May 14, 2012

Extroverts, Introverts, and Risk

I just finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. From the title you might think it’s a self-help book targeted toward introverts; one of those I’m OK, You’re OK, pop-psychology guides to feeling better about yourself. That’s far from the case. The book is a fascinating look into the world of introverts (and extroverts). It’s very well written and Cain backs up her observations and opinions with lots of academic research that's been conducted on outgoing and inward people.

While not a safety and security-specific title, there are a number of take-home messages in the book that are relevant for humanitarian security practitioners. Some points I keyed in on include:

  • Extroverts tend to be greater risk takers than introverts
  • Greater risks are taken by a group of risk takers compared to a single risk taker
  • Group decision making can be improved by having a balanced mix of extroverts and introverts (think Crisis Management Teams)
  • Whether an extrovert or introvert is highly regarded is generally a cultural norm (e.g. the US and Europe tend to value extroverts, while introverts have higher status in Asia)
  • According to Free Trait Theory, personality traits that are hardwired (such as extroversion and introversion) can be overcome - if you care enough about something

There’s a lot of information in the book to take in and reflect upon. It gives introverts valuable context on their personalities, but it also provides extroverts with a better sense of how the other half lives (introverts account for anywhere from one third to one half of the population). Managers will especially find the book worthwhile as it provides insights into a topic that is rarely discussed in organizational dynamics references. There are even a couple of chapters devoted to parents of introvert children.

It’s a given that cultural awareness is one of the cornerstones of good humanitarian safety and security practices. An equal amount of, if not more, attention should also be paid to understanding human behavior. Books such as Quiet are must reads for security professionals interested in taking their practice to the next level.



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