A well-publicized potential cultural fallout of Covid is the fall in value for dense city living, office commutes and business travel, with a corresponding rise in value for working from home, digital meetings, and focus on quality of life. This is great for everyone, except maybe the extroverts. Or is it.

With the start point of extreme extroversion, the workplace can only trend in the opposite direction and I wonder who the winners of this trend will be at the margins. Introverts have a head-wind in that they’re less expansive and confident in their body language and on Zoom these factors are less influential. But it’s also harder to get someone’s attention when you have something to say, easier to drop further into the background, and more deflating when others are clearly distracted by an excel sheet open on another tab with a macro that’s been ingeniously coded to play an in-excel version of Crossing Animals. Doesn’t help that you have your awkward face staring back at you in a tiny window and sucking up all your attention and fueling your self-consciousness. Introverts benefit from the prosociality of extroverts that helps them get included into the mix, and prosociality in general is decreased over a web meeting. The Q then is do introverts lose more than extroverts do, or are they relatively better off?

  1. Prosociality is indispensable: Now it’s become even more valuable and in short supply. We need the extroverts more than ever. Their value goes up. The gap widens between them and introverts in who gets promoted to leadership positions.
  2. Prosociality is a distraction: We realize that we never needed it, it was nice to have and we enjoy working with people we get along with, but ultimately quality of work is what matters. Interpersonal skills see a drop in market value. Introverts become more valuable.
  3. Porque no los dos: We realize our philosophy of leadership and management style has been painfully unidimensional, and a new type of partnership-leadership develops with an introvert-extrovert pairing mixing the best of both worlds.

1 and 3 instinctively feel both correct as well as true. So I reject them immediately and say 2 is the answer. I’ve also got an agenda, because I’m introverted and I’ve been waiting for our time in the sun. I’ve been a long time advocate of digital meetings. It’s a difficult sell. A piece of research in the 1970s, which has since become management lore and academic scourge, was called the 7% Rule. Only 7% of communication was verbal, it claimed. The remaining 93% of nonverbal communication included 55% that was body language, and 38% that was pitch and tone. The fact that this applied to certain situations of inconsistent communication has since been lost. The numbers were easy to remember and fun to state. That’s all it took to become pop science.

So a digital meeting entails a lot of lost information. In the short run they are very inefficient. In the long term we learn to replace all that lost information with explicit verbal communication, which I would argue is great for business operations and complicated large scale coordination. It’s also great for introverts, if you assume that they’re innately disadvantaged at the intuitive nonverbal communication extroverts excel at reading, processing, and exercising at will. It’s an uphill battle. When the inefficiency of business processes is noticed during the teething phase, the extroverts who are struggling disproportionately during this phase will give up and call the whole thing a failure. The leadership positions are dominated by the extroverts, they have the higher ground and when they call that fact out, since we don’t have the motivational luxury of Princess Padmei dying, we’ll just concede defeat. It doesn’t help that this Zoom-experiment has come during an unfortunately disruptive event that will remain a strong negative association with digital meetings. Going back to our offices will be a relief and a pleasure and we will remember that.

Addendum:

It’s been interesting to note who’s out and about during the lockdown. The place where I go jogging is usually full of people exercising. Yesterday it was empty, apart from the really attractive people. There’s an easy and boring explanation. We find fit people attractive. The fitter the more attractive. The fitter the more dedicated to fitness, and the more frustrated by the lockdown. They’re going to break first and go for a run. But there’s a more interesting hypothesis: Attractive people get a lot of social attention. Would they derive a lot of their daily dopamine from admiring glances? If anyone is disproportionately affected by social isolation, it must be the attractive?

It’s always been my observation that degree of extroversion is reliably correlated with how physically attractive one is, or one’s social status in general. It’s true that we find extroverted people more attractive, but in general I’m quite happy to conclude that I’ve seen a higher % of good looking people who are extroverts (GX/(GX+GY)) than of extroverts being good looking (GX/(GX+UZ)), which is a very weird result because it means the % of unattractive people who are extroverts (Z) is a tiny fraction (G/U is small in any typical population) of the already tiny fraction of attractive people who are introverts (Y). Double whammy.

I’d be very annoyed with our state of liberal values if this ends up being true. Looksism, heightism and baldism are criminally underrated ills of society.

A novel insightful exercise to determine the pragmatic difference in intellectual payoff between a novel insight and an obvious fact mistaken for novel insight.