Thursday, June 7, 2012

Trendspotting: Introverts, generalists, and wordsmiths rejoice!


There are three hopeful trends shaping up that promise a better life for many. Chatter in articles, Tweets, comments, books, and more has been popping up addressing the increasing influence of introverts, the value of generalists, and lamenting the failing quality of writing and editing across the board.

These are good things!

Introverts leading in the workplace

In a recent Fortune article, Campbell Soup CEO Doug Conant talks about being an introvert in an extrovert’s domain; the C-suite.

That this topic is coming up over and over in business journals and in books is a sign that the rah-rah ego-driven personality-cult leadership style cultivated by hard-driving in-your-face extroverts is on the wane.

Thank goodness!

The value of introverts was clearly documented in 2001 with the publication of the book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't. Jim Collins wrote:
“Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy – these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.”

This idea began picking up steam and was pushed along by bestselling books such as Introverts in the Church published in 2009. Although targeted to an evangelical audience, the book connected with readers from all walks of life as it graciously affirmed that being an introvert is okay and part of God’s plan.

A more recent book aimed at a more general audience, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, has been holding steady in the top 100 of Amazon’s bestsellers since its release in January of this year.

The author’s manifesto is brilliant. Check it out.

In the meantime, introverts arise and unite! Quietly.

The broad vision of generalists recognized

Too often I encounter corporate HR types who are looking for writers and insisting that candidates be ultra-specialists in their field, whether it be health care, finance, religion, technology, banking, education, and so on. They want a geekish subject matter expert who also, by the way, can write.

They believe that only a subject matter expert can write well about the specialty.

Balderdash!

As I stated in a previous blog post, “A good writer is able to write well because they possess a broad knowledge of many subjects. This enables them to create stories, metaphors, and examples that will connect with your customers, most of whom are not medical geeks, insurance geeks, or technical geeks.”

You don’t want a specialist or a geek, you want a good writer! And the best writers are generalists.

Or, as the Greek poet Archilochus wrote, as quoted in the article All Hail The Generalist, we’re foxes: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

In the article the author states further:
“The future has always been uncertain, but our ability to navigate it has been impaired by an increasing focus on studying bark. The closer you are to the material, the more likely you are to believe it. In psychology jargon, you anchor on your own beliefs and insufficiently adjust from them. In more straightforward language, a man with a hammer is more likely to see nails than one without a hammer. Expertise means being closer to the bark, and less likely to see ways in which your perspective may warrant adjustment. In today's uncertain environment, breadth of perspective trumps depth of knowledge.”
I’ve never cottoned to comparing myself to a tree or an animal as many personality inventories like us to do, but in this case, I’ll cave. We've got too many hedgehogs. The world needs more foxes. Foxes eat hedgehogs for lunch. I am not a hedgehog.

I know a lot of introverts who are not hedgehogs either. We should get together for lunch.

Writers and editors valued

Seldom does a week go by of late that someone isn’t lamenting the failing quality of all things written, both online and in print.

From incoherent writing to sloppy editing to zero proofreading, whether you refer to it as information, content, or writing, it’s all going from bad to worse.

This dire state of affairs was brought into the forefront recently with a blunderous typo by Mitt Romney’s people. In an app, America was rendered with the “i” and “c” reversed.

In his article, Why 'Amercia' needs copy editors, Merrill Perlman cites several other recent very “pubic” and “moronic” typo fails.

While Perlman issues a call for more editors, the problem goes beyond simple typos. The world is awash in information. Only the best content deserves to survive and be curated.

Good content starts with good writers. Good writers know how to organize and structure information to make it both accessible and interesting. And I don’t care what Seth Godin says, good writers deserve to make money.

So do good copy editors and proofreaders. All are wordsmiths.

Producing great content for print or online takes a team of skilled professionals. Copy editors are aces at fact-checking and ensuring paragraphs proceed clearly and logically. Proofreaders straighten crooked sentences, make sure the grammar is in sync, and ferret out those nasty typos.

Cutting these roles out of the publishing picture will lead to disaster and can even add unnecessary costs when you have to keep re-explaining what you meant to say the first three times.

So, writers, editors, and proofreaders, CMOS and AP at the ready!

And now, so what?

So, these trends bode well for people like me who are introverts, generalists, and darn good writers. Not to mention editors and proofreaders. And, of course, consumers of content, the readers.

They also bode well for companies and organizations who learn to listen to their quieter leaders, harvest the wisdom of their broadly-visioned generalists, and build communication departments staffed with great writers, editors, and proofreaders.

Here’s hoping!

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What do you think? Are introverts undervalued? Are specialists over-valued? Does great writing and good editing make a difference? Have you seen other evidences of these three trends? Please share your comments!

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