Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cicada creativity: Quiet inspiration that sets ideas buzzing

I love cicadas. Their buzz adds just the right touch to summer.

This year marks the emergence of what’s dubbed Brood II.

Introverts are like cicadas sometimes; we mull out of sight then breakout in a big way!

I’ll explain, but first, let’s look at a few fun cicada facts.

Billions and billions

Various species of cicadas live in every continent in the world except Antarctica. Just like introverts, they are everywhere!

The periodical cicada is one of the world’s longest living insects, staying underground for 13 to 17 years. In the United States, periodical cicadas are classified in groups called Broods. There are 12 broods of 17-year cicadas, and 3 broods of 13-year cicadas.

Amazingly, each Brood emerges simultaneously from underground in different years, in different areas, and in massive numbers. How they know when to emerge is still a bit of a mystery.

It is being estimated that the surfacing cicadas in Brood II will reach into the billions or even trillions, outnumbering humans 600 to 1, primarily up and down the east coast.

That’s a lot of cicadas!It's being referred to as swarmageddon and cicadapocalypse.

These cicadas will make a lot of noise as they live out their brief, buzzy, above-ground lives that last mere weeks.

Many people don't like cicadas. Many people dismiss introverts.

Introvert oppression

Introverts don’t tend to be fast-thinking or quick-talking.

We listen. We mull. We consider.

This often doesn’t bode well for us in business situations where fast-talkers are prized.

In business, the chatty extrovert tends to be favored.

Jack and Suzy Welch acknowledged this by writing in a column, “companies are so tilted towards extroverts that introverts within them often experience a dynamic not unlike the one faced by many women and minorities.”

What they mean is introverts in business regularly face bias, bigotry, and oppression.


But the Welch’s then make the mistake in this same column of confusing extroversion with “authenticity.”

So, their final recommendation, and the one introverts are often confronted with, is to essentially deny our introversion and be more like those wonderful, flashy, perky, boisterous extroverts!

Frankly, that’s not particularly good advice.

It’s akin to telling a woman to be more like a man, or someone from a “minority” to be more like those in the “majority” to be liked, accepted, and successful. Get my drift?

Seriously. Think about it.

Not a good idea. Just ask your HR people.

Crazy like a cicada

What to do?


Respect the introvert and our ways!

A quiet introvert is a working introvert. All that thinking and mulling is moving toward that “big idea” all the extroverts are grasping and clamoring for.

It may take longer for introverts to get there, but when we do, watch out!

It’s not unlike the emergence of the periodical cicada.

And, thus the comparison.

For years, you don’t see or hear the cicadas from a specific brood. But they are developing and maturing underground, waiting for that mysterious signal that will bring them to the surface in droves.

Once up, they buzz and click like nothing you’ve ever heard. It’s raucous and garners attention from the global media.

They are fascinating, attention-getting, buzz generators. They come on so strong, their natural predators can’t deal with them. This allows them to mate and proliferate.

Isn’t this the kind of overwhelming success you’d like to accomplish in business?

Forget about releasing your “inner extrovert” as the Welch’s advise; instead, you’d do better to cultivate and embrace your inner introvert.

Or at least accommodate the ones who work for you.

Introvert wisdom

For those who know, the best whiskey is the longest aged whiskey. Often, the same is true with ideas.

Sometimes it’s best to set aside the rush and let things simmer, embracing your inner introvert and being crazy like a cicada! Or, taking steps to cultivate and encourage the wisdom of the introverts in your midst.

Here are five tips for managing introverts that will help them perform with excellence in your business:

  •  Set expectations: Unlike the periodical cicadas, you probably don’t have 13-17 years to wait before you need to act. Not to worry! People are different. Simply work out a reasonable schedule and clear plan with appropriate deadlines. Then work the plan and don’t shorten the timelines.
  • Let it brew: Once the plan is made, let the introverts go quiet. They’re working even though you won’t see a lot of activity. Remember, activity doesn’t equate to progress. In fact, a lot of activity can actually hide a lack of progress. Extroverts love smoke and mirrors! Introverts don’t.
  • Feed the mull: Introverts like to take in a lot of information as we consider ideas and solutions. This includes a lot of reading, some rambling conversation, site visits, and more. Give your introverts free rein to free range their information consumption.
  • Keep it quiet: Introverts prize quiet environments. The wrong kind of noise can be exceedingly distracting. Sometimes, we find that going to a Starbucks or the library or for a walk in the woods provides more fertile surroundings for thought development than a noisy, chat-filled office. Let us roam in the quiet.
  • Avoid pressure: Yes, it’s tempting to always check-in on progress, but don’t! Include a few places in your plan for check-ins and let this happen via email, or whatever method is most comfortable for the introverts on your team. Anything that smacks of pressure will shut an introvert down. However, don’t hesitate to insist on results within the deadlines and expectations based on the agreed-to plan.
Because of the strong bias toward extroverts, it will be hard to ignore them while the introverts mull. But that’s what you’ll need to do.

When, once a day, an excited, over-stimulated extrovert bounds into your office with “the answer” to all your problems, tell him to hold onto that thought until later, even if it kills them. It won’t.

What you’re likely to discover is that the hurried, spontaneous, extrovert-driven ideas will fizzle when put up against the seasoned, unhurried introvert–generated insights and solutions.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, "Trendspotting: Introverts, generalists, and wordsmiths rejoice!":
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.”
And this is a good thing.

Extrovert noise

Sometimes, the best way to advance is to stop, assess, and regroup. These are not the strengths or even the instincts of extroverts.

In her book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, Susan Cain offers several examples and studies that show that in many companies the extroverts considered to be most charismatic may have the corner offices, the longer titles, the higher salaries, yet lack the performance to match!

One person laments that there’s often a “failure to distinguish between good presentation skills and true leadership ability.”

It’s not unusual for an extrovert to push their ideas by the sheer force of their charm. It’s a matter of ego and winning. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! And then it all blows up.

Commenting on students in a notable business school, one professor stated, “The risk with our students is that they’re very good at getting their way. But that doesn’t mean they are going the right way.”

Moving forward by force of will is sometimes useful, but this is the exception and not the rule. It can push a company blindly into one bad mistake after another.

As another person quoted by Cain states, “Aggressive power beats you up; soft power wins you over.”

Can’t we all just get along?

The bottomline is that in every company and organization there exist both introverts and extroverts.

By one accounting, the population divides pretty equally among both personality types. However, because of the influence of our culture of personality, there is a strong bias against introverts that must be intentionally pushed back on.

Both types are good. Both types are needed. Both types must be afforded equal value.

This will mean that the extroverts will need to be held at bay to make room for the quiet strength of the introverts.

But when the introverts emerge with their ideas, they’ll make an impact as big or bigger than the cicadas of Brood II!

So, do you agree or disagree? Are introverts oppressed while extroverts are blessed? Which are you? What kinds of good or bad experiences have you had at work?
If you want to learn more about cicadas, visit these sites:
A couple of excellent books about introverts:

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