Introverts in Advertising

I am an introvert. I had a lifelong suspicion that this was the case, but it was formally confirmed about ten years ago when we were made to do a self-diagnosis personality test in one of my psychology courses. Admitting it out loud always makes me feel a little like I’m standing up at an AA meeting and baring my soul. Often people are really surprised to hear me describe myself as an introvert – they tend to be people who don’t know me very well. Or they tend to be people who assume introverts are socially incompetent or painfully shy people who could never speak in front of a crowded room – something I’ve done on a regular basis throughout my career. Introversion feels like something you should be a little bit ashamed of, as if it’s an anti-social trait which is frowned upon. It definitely doesn’t feel like something you would voluntarily offer as a self description in a job interview, or something you would highlight in a performance review.

Understanding that I am an introvert has helped me understand myself a lot better. My friend Aileen (an educational psychologist) gave me a neat little metaphor which she uses to explain the personality dimension to children. There are two types of robots. When they’re both in the playground they act exactly the same, zooming around, interacting with the other robots. One of the robots is solar powered. He gets energized from being outside under the sun and interacting with the world. The other robot runs on battery. After a while he needs to go inside to the quiet docking station and recharge. But once he’s powered up again, he’s fully ready to go back out into the world just as before.

Advertising agencies are a funny place for introverts. We’re a service industry and our product is people (even if we’d prefer our product to be creative ideas). Our increasingly open plan offices are built for collaboration and we work in teams which are often large and fluid. Our success hinges on perception, persuasion and relationships, both internally and with clients. Agencies can be political minefields, they can be aggressive and they can be loudly competitive – a situation Steve Henry regrets in a recent post:

“Creativity isn’t about toughness – it’s about skill and originality. You wouldn’t say “well Jane Austen fundamentally fails as a novelist, because she wouldn’t get very far on an assault course.” Or “Andy Warhol was a terrible artist, he’d be useless in the front row of a scrum.”

Modern agencies are not exactly a natural home for the more quiet, reserved or sensitive types, those who need to take a minute to think before they speak. Yet most creative agencies are probably full of introverts. Creative people are disproportionately likely to be introverts. Planners, with all their reading and geeky analysis, are also more likely to be introverts. And as we seek to integrate technologists, coders and engineers into our midst, it’s very likely that these people will also be introverts. Yet very little about today’s creative agency is designed to get the best out of introverted people. Which is probably a missed opportunity, and one that Susan Cain speaks passionately about in her brilliant TED Talk.

This is a video everyone should watch, introverts and extroverts alike, so that we can understand one another a little better. And so that we can create workplaces which work well for everyone. Our agencies would not survive without those extroverted shining stars, who can juggle a dozen different agendas while keeping everyone happy and momentum high. But likewise we need the thinkers, the dreamers, the ones who need a little more time and space to process things. And once we’ve had that time and space, we’re happy to rejoin you extroverts in the sunny playground.

  1. Reblogged this on Atekka Iqbal and commented:
    Recently being an introvert in advertising has been a worry close to my heart. At times I think is advertising the right industry for me? The industry and society in general is dominated by extroverts and anyone who doesn’t fit this criteria are looked down on. Before writing this blogpost, I did a quick google search and came across this blogpost by and it’s like the words have been taken right out my mouth. Read on and let me know your opinions.

  2. You could definitely see your skills in thee wofk you write.
    The world hopes foor more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say
    how they believe. Always fllow your heart.

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