A deer caught in the headlights. That is how you might find yourself, having landed a dream job in the creative field, only to be cast into a working environment that doesn’t believe in walls or cubicles. If you are the ‘quiet type’, that is.
The growing trend
Noise, tension, verbal wars, loud phone calls, laughter or any other mood fluxes hover in an all pervading atmosphere. And here you thought you would find your own private corner to potter about, and tap away at the keyboard, oblivious to the outside world. Sadly, the open plan office remains the new age office model, and deemed a sign of corporate ‘efficiency’.
Not only is this practice embraced by reputed blue chip companies, the smaller and lesser known counterparts and private entities pick up on these corporate standards of excellence as well – a sign of their diligence to stay abreast of the times. Apart from the silent screams in your head, there is no collective voice of dissent in an age of team building, entrepreneurship, leadership and all other ships that you are happy to let sail past you. You are not among those who are keen to be heard and be noticed for your assertive nature. Oh no. You fervently believe your work, ought to speak for itself.
What about the quiet ones?
So who are you to get in the way of social or corporate trends at the behest of your personal discomfort, right? So you resolve to suck it up, grapple silently with escalating stress levels, and find solace in eventual numbness that you succumb to, to churn out the goods that you are expected to deliver on a daily basis. And there are those common signs of resignation: clamping a pair of headphones over your ears, setting your desktop image to a dreamy far away place or sinking as low as you possibly can in that ergonomic office chair.
You do get the job done at the end of the day with a sense of accomplishment for having done so against certain odds. Eventually, it’s no longer a matter of concern, you simply learn to zone out, shut out the noise and find your rhythm.
At the end of the day it’s not so much about the open plan office itself than what it represents– it is a statement of a certain ethos that the corporate world preaches loudly. The problem is, it alienates all those who shudder inwardly at the thought of loud, open, clang-y and personality driven success. And success does have its many meanings beyond raises, promotions and perks.
Why do so many creatives who tend to be introverts, ultimately crave independence, away from the shackles of the corporate world, to work in the privacy of their own homes or private studios? This is increasingly true of writers. Success lies with being able to make a comfortable living, working independently. For the assertive, sociable and charismatic – there’s potential for success in any organisation. It’s ready-made and waiting, complete with a predefined formula. Few organisations have a place for the quiet thinker. You only need to glance at a job advertisement to understand this. Often there are the phrases ‘able to think on your feet’, ‘team player’, ‘can do attitude’ and so on and so forth. Learn to flourish in a group or sink on your own.
Quiet thinkers don’t outshine in the firing range or in the thick of action and activity. Neither do they produce their best work with collaborative thinking, discussions and interaction. They need to retreat, and recharge their batteries, mull things over and weigh their options. They are not the loudest and the most charismatic. None of this equates to a lack of effectiveness or efficiency. They simply require a different approach. Unfortunately few organisations will entertain this nature above the loud and assertive personality types. It is at the price of discovering new potential, ideas and novel ways of approaching a problem and ultimately retaining talent. They remain an unharnessed resource in today’s world.
The past is peppered with the most celebrated inventors, artist, political leaders, change-agents, and musicians. But in the past, capability was defined and perceived differently. This does not in anyway mean that extroverts or the assertive types are not the true bearers of success, it’s simply means that a good portion of people are not represented well, and have to adapt to a world that is not best-suited for them. That is unless they are exceptionally talented.
So where do introverts go?
You can go from designer to creative director, but no matter how well you design, you cannot go from designer to ‘creative genius’. There’s no way forward unless you have those favoured qualities that prove management and leadership skills in their desired form. In other words, you can go up the corporate ladder, but you cannot go up the creative one – seeing that it doesn’t exist. So what must a quiet creative, in an orthodox world defined by corporate norms, do? Too often, you are expected to come out of your comfort zone, to create instant impressions (regardless of whether this builds trust or not), make quick decisions (with or without all the information), and at times even indulge in verbal wars. It’s either that or you are simply not competent enough.
There’s some noise about it
One of the most interesting and enlightening books ever written about introversion is ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain – a self confessed introvert. Page after page offers insight into this extroverted world order and the alarming rate at which it is embraced as the norm. The book reveals how we have arrived at the age of personality leaving behind character. And there are endless references to actual events, from teaching methods at Harvard Business School to the success stories of introverts, ‘in a world that cannot stop talking’. The research and scope of the book are intense, and its message cannot and should not be ignored if society is to avoid sinking into superfluousness and rise above it to embrace novelty.