Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Mutterings of A Mixed-Lefty-Omnivert!

As if being left handed weren’t enough to set me apart, I’m also an introvert.  But actually I score as “mixed left handed” in a world that is either 90% right or mixed right handed.  I’m also what organizational psychologists used to call a “high-functioning” introvert in as world that is 60-70% extrovert.  A less pejorative-sounding term is a hybrid or omnivert.

Both attributes crossed my mind frequently in recent weeks. The beginning of baseball spring training, which actually starts in early February each year, is always a reminder that while being mixed handed made it easier to learn to bat equally well from either side of plate, I couldn’t hit a curve ball either way.

Take the test at this link to see where you fall in the population when it comes to handedness. You might be surprised.

Strongly left handed people make up only 2-3% of the population while mixed left handers like me are more common at 7-8% of the overall population. Lefties and left-leaners such as me show up as a slightly higher percentage among school-age children.

Anyone who has taken a Meyers-Briggs evaluation to help identify dominant traits may recall that one of the primary outcomes is to discover where individuals fall on a scale from introvert to extrovert to a mix.  A simple way to remember the difference is:

  • Extroverts feed off interactions with other people for energy, including group activities, but feel the most drained when they are alone or doing something solitary.


  • Introverts (no, most are not shy) prefer interactions with smaller groups of people.  They get drained by enforced social groups.  Either way they need time to recharge with solitary activities.

I’m not sure what percentage of the population is mixed left handed and omnivert, but even before throwing in essential tremor which I have experienced since I was a teenager, I suspect the slice is pretty thin.Quiet

I do know for certain though that in retirement, it is clear I am indulging my introvert-leaning trait for the first time since early childhood and loving every minute of it.

Think of my passions such as motorcycling, cross-country travels with Mugsy, learning to fly, walks, reading, drinks or dinners with individuals or small groups of friends and of course researching and writing this blog.

More than 40% of executives are introverts or omnivert hybrids such as me,  but almost any group, including work teams or collaborations outside the office will include a mix and, therefore extroverts and introverts alike would find a new book well worth the read.

Released just before spring training, it was written by Susan Cain and entitled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking .

Cain notes that “our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race.  And the single most important aspect of personality – the ‘north and south of temperament’ as one scientist puts it – is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum.”

She continues “our place on this continuum influences our choice of friends and mates, (unfortunately, far too often, opposites tragically attract) and how we make conversation, resolve differences and show love…it affects the careers we choose and whether or not we succeed at them…”

For those who don’t or won’t read, and that includes a huge proportion of extroverts, because it is “too solitary and draining,” a TED talk by the author was posted a few weeks ago.  I have worked with folks who are extremely one way or the other over the years.

I have worked with folks who are extremely one way or the other over the years.  I remember one highly effective former co-worker who was so introverted it seemed he could enter or leave a room without even disturbing the air and conversed only to answer questions or say hello.

I have another friend with whom I worked inter-organizationally who, emblematic of many others, would rarely read and couldn’t or wouldn’t use email.  He always used called by telephone and leave voice mails to ask the simplest questions.

When texted or emailed a quick reply, he would still call back to get the answer in person.  He hated data-driven decision making.  He was also a master at misleading others who also didn’t read or retain information to inform decision-making, just as he was often mislead in return.

Lost on him and others like him is the fact that for 30-50% of the population, using email and other forms of written communication permits a person to better form and articulate positions and responses as well as to provide more substantiation for decisions and opinions beyond “whose asking” or the bump and shove of politics including cabals.

Carl Jung, who initiated our understanding of introversion and extroversion in the 1920s, understood that no one is purely one or the other but we have dominant traits and preferences.  He also witnessed the almost tyrannical domination of our culture by extroverts that began during the 20th Century with the rise of the cult of the salesman.

The Internet is changing all of that along with more solid research on creativity and how groups work and don’t work and the origin of ideas, especially as collaborations are less and less reliant on being in the same physical location.

Even Facebook and Twitter, which seem at first glance to be 24/7 platforms for extroverts, may actually be equalizers for introverts because the interactions are so much less draining.

As Cain quips, “there is absolutely zero correlation between the best talkers and the best ideas,” and there never has been. Researchers at the University of Iowa and University of Texas, Drs. Debra Johnson and John Weibe, found that introverts and extroverts show clear differences in brain activity.

Findings, as reported by Molly Mann, show introverts working more from “frontal lobes, the anterior thalamus, and other structures associated with memory, planning and problem solving, whereas extroverts had more activity in their posterior thalamus and posterior insula, which we use to interpret sensory data.”

This is why many extroverts began to struggle or fall behind or out of step when some organizations, such as one I managed adopted internal email nearly a quarter of a century ago before the internet made it ubiquitous.

You could see these folks prairie-dogging or moving from work station to work station delivering “verbal emails” in a desperate attempt to get a face-to-face fix while at the same time creating a burden on other employees who were more rapidly adapting to online collaboration.

Today’s workplace needs a blend of both introverts and extroverts an especially hybrids who are aware of their needs for high levels of social interaction or time to recharge and don’t make those needs a problem in the workplace.

Even in social settings it is just as important for introverts to learn to speak up as it is for extroverts to beware of the propensity to need to be the center of every group’s attention.

Oh, and as far as lefty, righty, just remember that half of the Presidents of the United States since WWII have been left handed and lefty Apollo Astronauts were 250% greater than the overall population.

Either way, it is a good exercise for everyone to switch sides with their computer or tablet “mouse” every year or so just to keep both sides of the brain active!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am also left handed and an introvert. Good to hear I'm not alone! Researching and understanding my differences has helped me understand why I view and interact with the word differently.