Opinion

Introverted talent in America, buried by the 'influence score'

Companies that analyze behavior on social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, can assign users an 'influence score' that basically rates how extroverted they are. I fear that an employer, looking at a low score, would miss the next Larry Page, the introvert CEO of Google.

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There’s never been a worse time to be an introvert.

It’s a good thing Albert Einstein, Mozart, Darwin, Emily Dickinson, Gandhi, and Jane Goodall weren’t born in the 1960s. If they were, by the time they were young adults, they might all be taking drugs for social anxiety disorder – and burying their contemplative genius with each dose.

In the late 1980s, drugs like Zoloft hit the market and social anxiety disorder was first recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the bible of psychiatry. In their medicated state, these introverts might have been more extroverted and less reflective, and it’s possible that their gifts might have stayed inside as their personalities turned outward.

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About 25 percent of the population are introverts, but as many as 60 percent of gifted children are introverts. Introverts snag a disproportionate share of National Merit Scholarships, according to the Center for Applications of Psychological Type – despite the fact that their I.Q. scores are no higher on average than those of extroverts. Susan Cain, author of the blog “Quiet: The Power of Introverts,” cites studies showing that many of the most creative people in a wide range of fields are introverts who prefer not to work on teams.

Well, too bad. The extroverts have won the values battle. Probably because they talked louder and faster. More and more creative companies, filled with introverts, have re-organized into teams. More and more schools sit students in pods and assign projects to teams. And now introverts, who like to reflect before they speak and who are naturally more self-conscious than extroverts, have something else to worry about.

It’s called the "influence score." And having a low one could someday prove worse than having a low credit score. The influence score is the brainchild of companies with names like Klout and PeerIndex. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you will.

There’s a good chance these social analytic companies have already heard of you if you’re on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. In fact, they may have already assigned you an influence score based on the number of friends or followers you have, how often you post, how often your posts attempt to persuade. Several companies are already targeting consumers with high influence scores.

But your influence score may also have a darker side: It may impact whether or not you get a job offer or a promotion. A few years ago, no one would have guessed that having a low credit score could cost you a job offer. Well, your influence score is going to be even more important to companies as they look for employees who can spread the word and gain clout and notoriety for businesses and their clients.

So why is this bad for introverts? You could argue that social media have been a boon to many introverts, who prefer to network without having to shake hands and make small talk. Yet, not surprisingly, studies have found that extroverts are heavier social media users. And the most prolific social media users – the ones much more likely to earn a high Influence Score – are less likely to be introverts.

You might also argue that Larry Page of Google – an introvert – is one of the most influential people in the world. And yet he isn’t an active social media user and would undoubtedly have a lower influence score than the average college kid.

I worry that a few years from now, after influence scores become as mainstream as credit scores, organizations looking for the next Larry Page or Steve Jobs might miss him, distracted by the glitter of other applicants’ Twitter feeds. Or they might find him and fail to promote him because he’s not much of a team player and prefers to work alone.

Of course, he (or she) can always go off and start his own company and change the world and create an environment and a workplace that is introvert-friendly, that lets people be themselves and work in ways that make them happy and productive.

Jim Sollisch is creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising.

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