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Dean Blount's Blog

Collaborative Introverts and Reflective Extroverts
March 2, 2012

  My recent trip to Arizona’s desert allowed me to reflect and enjoy wonderful views and hiking.
  My recent trip to Arizona’s desert allowed me to reflect and enjoy wonderful views and hiking.
 
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As many people know, I often spend a few days in February at a retreat center at the edge of the Arizona desert. It is a simple place, a bit rustic, designed for people seeking solitude, reflection, wonderful desert views and good hiking. I had a great visit last week — it offered me an opportunity to step back after a busy and productive month.

Yet, on my last day, I was struck by the life of contrasts that I lead. That morning, I woke up in a modest one-room cabin on the edge of Saguaro National Park. That night, I was in downtown Chicago chatting over a gourmet dinner with Jeff Immelt of GE and several other CEOs.

Multifaceted thinking

As an introvert, I love quiet time, the interior journey, the life of the mind. But as a social scientist, I also love meeting people, learning their stories, and watching the human world of organizations, families, cliques and clans. I am intrigued by social structures and why they work the way they do.

Recently I’ve coined the phrase “collaborative introvert” for people like me — people who appreciate solitude and reflection, but who also like to get things done out in the world. There have been several articles and books recently that have sought to pit the value of teamwork against the value of individual problem solving and reflection (see, for example, this story). To me, that frame is just wrong — people don’t have to be one or the other.

Flexibility is key

The best problem solvers, the best managers, the best leaders I know are flexible in how they think. They can think independently and analytically, yet also benefit from the input of others and can take alternative approaches to problems. Whether they are collaborative introverts or reflective extroverts, they understand the power of flexible thinking — both alone and in groups.

That’s why at Kellogg we strive to teach people to think rigorously, collaboratively and bravely — to harness the power of the team, but to also know when to step back and reflect. 

I welcome your comments, feedback and ideas at sallyblount@kellogg.northwestern.edu

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