“I am a horse for a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork…for well I know that in order to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person do the thinking and the commanding.”
First of all, I’m no Einstein, but we do have some things in common. For example I don’t like to worry about what I wear to work (apparently, and probably apocryphally, Einstein didn’t like to waste valuable thinking time on wardrobe decisions). Also, we are both INTPs (according to most MBTI-type websites). For those of you who don’t know about MBTI, there is something called a Briggs Myers Personality Indicator which categories people into 16 personality types. I stands for Introverted, and if Jungian archetypes are to be believed, everyone is either an introvert or an extrovert. In other words, roughly half of the world’s population is introverted.
Introversion, as I understand it means looking inward, rather than outwards. Introverts prefer quiet places to noisy places, prefer the company of a few rather than the company of many, they need to recharge their batteries with quiet walks, reading books, etc. Extroverts like meeting new people, doing noisy and exciting things like going to parties and nightclubs, they get their energy from other people (a bit like vampires). Introverts get their energy from themselves or from their close friends and relatives.
As Susan Cain says in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking“, introversion seems to carry a negative connotation these days – to some it means shyness, social awkwardness, even misanthropy, but it wasn’t always viewed so negatively. In Steven Covey’s seminal book “7 habits of Highly Effective People” he describes the current obsession with personality over character. We admire good looks, a winning smile, the ability to speak well in front of an audience; we are told to be assertive, confident and pro-active, qualities normally associated with extroversion. In the past people were more concerned with character – stoicism, moral fortitude, and temperance, etc, qualities often more associated with introversion – think: the strong silent type, silence is golden, still waters run deep, etc.
The fashion these days seems to be that extroverted is better – open plan offices, brainstorming, motivational talks by people with great hair and beautiful white teeth, and team working, all favour extroverts. It’s as if extroverts have taken over the world – they design our workspaces to suit their way of working, they measure people against competencies that come more naturally to extroverts, e.g. the ability to network, to work in groups, to share information, etc. They rule the airwaves and occupy managerial positions (but apparently a large number of CEOs are actually introverts). They must be stopped! (now I sound like David Icke).
Personally, I don’t much like working in groups and it’s not because I’m socially awkward, or shy, or behaviourally challenged. I simply work better on my own most of the time. I get more work done, more quickly. I don’t like meetings. Meetings are invariably an opportunity for the office gasbag to vent their spleen or for a manager to lay down the law – very rarely are meetings productive. When I go to conferences I don’t want to walk around introducing myself to strangers, I prefer to cultivate one or two relationships with important contacts. I think brainstorming is a waste of time, studies have shown that decision-making is best done independently and then crowd-sourced, rather than getting everybody in a room to reach a consensus driven by one or two dominant actors.
When people get into groups they typically allow one or two people to dominate the discussion (usually the extroverts) and this somehow gets translated into a consensus view. This also happens in the classroom, the prevailing ELT pedagogy is based on Vygotskian ideas of socio-constructivism, i.e. we learn from each other, hence the preponderance of group activities in modern English language classrooms. But do students actually like working in groups, or do they work in groups simply because their teacher tells them to?
There are all sorts of problems with forcing people to study or work in groups – it may well go against the grain for a lot of people. Whenever I work in a group I find that I can’t speak as well, my ideas are not as forthcoming and I allow other people to lead the discussion. My wife recently expressed a similar dissatisfaction with her training course bemoaning the fact that “we always work in groups. It’s really hard. I have to compromise, or agree with something that I know is wrong, for the sake of group unity.” And that says it all really.