In order to make use of my daily commute to Mountain View, I’ve started listening to audio books. I started with Quiet: The power of Introverts, by Susan Cain. Her TED talk is below.

For more on Cain’s work, check out her TED talk.

I had a few key takeaways from the book.

  1. I see a lot of parallels between design thinking extroversion
  2. I’m also seeing lots of parallels between the craft of design and introverted personality types.
  3. Prototyping requires both mindsets

1. Extroversion and Design Thinking

Extroversion is about getting energy from groups of people and lots of stimulus. This creates the ability to make quick decisions with limited information, which allows you to move quickly and tackle new situations. On the design thinking side, you can see how this mindset would work well with rapid protoyping, space saturation, brainstorming, and exploring the unknown all call on similar types of skills or proclivities. Spend any time at the d.school during a class and you’ll feel the energy buzzing off the place. There’s no shortage of stimulation.

2. Introversion and Design

In contrast, introverts are drained by environments with a lot of stimulus. They are more energized by serene environments. And although they may not have the same decisiveness as their extroverted brethren, they tend to stay with problems longer and have better patience for complexity and ambiguity. As a designer and introvert, Cain’s description felt spot on. I’m drained by too many people, I prefer one-on-one interactions or, at times, putting on my headphones and working through the problems of a particular design challenge. Dialoging with the challenge at hand. To me, this is the craft of design.

3. Prototyping – The Bridge

So here’s the tension for me. I’m a design thinker. I’m also a designer, and an introvert. And all of this comes to a head with prototyping. To be an effective prototyper you need to have a bias to action (a strength of extroverts). But you also need an ability to shift from group conversation (more extroverted) to the typically solitary act of making. To do that, you need to focus and solve the complex problems that come when moving from any idea to reality (strength of introverts). Paul Graham’s Maker’s Schedule idea touches upon this as well. So we’ve got to move fast, and we’ve got to go deep. What’s a girl to do?

My solution. You’ve got to be able to slide between the two axes. (Cartesian, not Bunyan). Cain talks about the need for introverts to “perform extroversion” in order to be successful in business environments. I think of it as popping out of my hole, peeking around, sharing, then dropping back down. The trick is to do it enough that you get the benefits of sharing, of feedback and dialogue with your team, customers, etc, but not stay out so long that you start to get drained by the experience. Make sure you know where you get your juice and structure your work, your teams and projects in a way that allows you to be there as much as possible.

Here’s a trick I learned from my partner. She’s interested in doing a career transition. Some of the advice she read suggested that in addition to doing the new thing, you can also learn quite a bit, by, wait for it… reading. I know, who’d of thought. So I recently came across this series of books by Adriana Trigiani. The first, Very Valentine has been out for a couple of years. Apparently it’s a novel about a family with a shoemaking business. I’m guessing readers will have to wade through some family drama, sex and intrigue on their way to shoe-making gems, but since we can’t be cutting leather on the bus or plane, this might be a good way to get some background knowledge. If anyone’s read it, let me know.

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