By: Michael Ebinger, PhD, MBA, Director of Innovation WSU

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time.” 

This quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald came to mind during my last bicycle commute to campus on a chilly November morning.  It summarizes a dichotomy that many of us work with:  how do introverts succeed in an extrovert’s world?  Resolving this question creates many opportunities to refine and grow intellectually.   

One way to resolve the question is to be open to new ideas.  I am a board member of a nonprofit in Spokane that is currently seeking a new executive director.  The common thought is that the executive director has to be an extrovert.  However, the candidate pool included at least one contender who is more of an introvert.  The new idea:  How could an introvert be a good executive director?  One line of thought is that the introverted part of that candidate might be a reflective thinker and create new ideas behind fundraising.  That panned out—in an interview question to the candidate, a completely new idea came forward that could only have come from a lot of quiet thought, not a lot of noisy brainstorming with a group.

The willingness to learn new skills is certainly a pathway to answering the introvert/extrovert question, too.  I can think of about 100 things I would rather do than stand in front of a group and talk.  One new skill to learn would be better speaking skills, certainly, but Toastmasters didn’t work well.  Instead, I volunteered at an art museum and later at a natural history museum and led tours.  That pushed a lot of new learning: how portraiture changed from the Renaissance into the Baroque, what prehistoric ceramics were made at what times in different areas of the Southwest, for example.  Telling the stories had to be entertaining, too, so a natural style had to be developed.  It stuck, though I need continuous practice in front of groups.

Seeking lifelong learning opportunities seems to come naturally when introverts and extroverts realize that they have a lot to offer each other.  I think about some of the greatest advances in different areas of science as an example.  Introspection about other scientists’ work tends to produce the next discoveries in many fields.  Moving from an Earth-centered view of the heavens to a heliocentric solar system and multi-dimensional universe took a lot of quiet thought about why observation of heavenly bodies didn’t match theory.  Expounding new theories that led to current views took those thoughts into the public realm, often through times of ridicule before the new theories were accepted.  But the interplay of introverts and extroverts seems to be present throughout.

How do introverts succeed in an extrovert’s world?  My thought is that through careful application of the different facets of intellectual wellness both can inform each other’s worlds nicely.

**Wellness Collaborative Announcement: due to lack of participation we have canceled Anna Brown’s 12:00pm M/W running group. All other walking and evening running groups will continue.