The terms introversion and extroversion were introduced into psychology by Carl Jung in 1921. Almost all subsequent psychological models, from Hans Eysenck’s three-factor, to the Big-Five Model have this continuum integrated into their frameworks.
Their original definition is as follows: ‘an attitude-type characterized by orientation in life through subjective psychic contents.’ The typical social shyness trope does not appear here; genuine introverts are not necessarily socially shy, and extroverts may experience shyness just as much or more than their introverted peers.
A quick Google skim will lead you to see extroversion as a unipolar dimension, associated with increased proclivity to engage in prosocial behavior, higher self-reported rates of life satisfaction, and strong correlations with success, especially in traditionally gregarious fields like entrepreneurship. ‘Nearly all top of the page advice for entrepreneurship is geared towards extroverts, encouraging more extroversion,’ says Zain Jaffer, the CEO of Zain Ventures and career-long entrepreneur whose Silicon Valley advertising startup sold to Blackstone in 2019. ‘Highly successful introverts such as Bill Gates, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk are rarely asked the important questions around how they navigate business in their own authentic way.’
But as those household names stand to prove, introversion does not have to stand at odds with finding phenomenal success in the field of entrepreneurship. It can be, instead, a strength-below is an overview of how.
Psychometrics of Successful Entrepreneurship
The broad, self-reported personality traits associated with success in entrepreneurship are best categorized along the Big-Five Model. The five traits isolated by the model are as follows: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (defined here as sensitivity to negative emotion).
The excess or lack of these traits within a personality often correlates not only to career choice, but also to likelihood of success in different given domains. In entrepreneurship, high levels of openness, extroversion, and conscientiousness have been found to strongly correlate with success. In social entrepreneurship, agreeableness is also positively correlated to success.
‘What is clear from those findings is this: extroversion is only one of three major contributing personality traits to entrepreneurial success,’ says Jaffer. ‘And it is only a correlation, not a causation.’
Optimizing for Personal Strengths
Introversion is correlated with cognitive flexibility and creativity. However, introverts operate within the workplace entirely differently. Group-brainstorm sessions, meetings, and classic ways of collaboration can prevent the quieter minds from having their ‘ah-hah’ moment. The new trend of ‘open’ offices, intended to stimulate cross-department discussions and collaborations, can prevent individuals to ideate individually.
Introverts are often careful thinkers, who are comfortable with independent thought and action. This lack of a need for external validation is a massive advantage when enterprising and forging a new territory in an uncharted market. Introverts have these strengths on their side, as well as the important chance to create a company culture that’s more conducive to contributions from introverted team members by rethinking scheduling, office design, and company culture to suit private, quiet time.
Introversion can come with excellent observational skills and capacity for active intimate listening. Instead of approaching the necessity of networking in business in the classic salesman pace, introverted leaders that are able to hone their natural pace might see faster and stronger peer-to-peer connections. Leaving a networking event with only a contact or two, but having had deep, engaging conversation with each, can often be just as effective as having worked the room.
Hiring for Gaps
‘For every Steve Jobs in a successful venture, there is often a corresponding, more introverted Steve Wozniak at the heart of the operation,’ says Jaffer. ‘And for every Mark Zuckerberg a Sheryl Sandberg; the list goes on.’ Having a broad range of personality strengths in a founding team, if coordinated well, leads to success. For introverts, this might mean timing up with a gun slinging sales maverick or a visionary co-founder that charms the whole team on board. In the wise words of Bill Gates himself, ‘You better hire some extroverts … and tap into both sets of skills in order to have a company that thrives.’
Hiring for gaps is effective and necessary beyond merely extroversion. Some sections of business will be highly inefficient for an entrepreneur to navigate, even if they’re capable. Early entrepreneurs should be encouraged to get over the fear of hiring quickly, and to put eager executives in positions where they can do what actually brings them energy.
Depending on the field, founders can also hire according to their leadership style. In fact, a study conducted by Adam Grant, of University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, found introverted leaders generated better performance and higher profits than extroverted leaders when the employees were proactive. It turns out that extroverted leadership had the advantage primarily when employees required a lot of direction.
There’s one final consideration that all founders, introverted or extroverted, should take into account. At the end of the day, success aside, remaining true to oneself is far more valuable than any financial gain. Being incredibly extroverted is not necessary for sustained success. But practicing self-awareness around your leadership style, playing to your strengths, and building your team to fill the gaps and find real motivation – those are the things all great entrepreneurs do again and again.