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Creative Introverts

“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me. They’re shy and they live in their heads. The very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone…” Steve Wozniak

In an earlier post – The Creative Personality: Both Extroverted and Introverted – I quoted Dr. Linda Silverman, director of the Gifted Development Center: “Introverts are wired differently from extraverts and they have different needs.

“Extraverts get their energy from interaction with people and the external world. Introverts get their energy from within themselves; too much interaction drains their energy and they need to retreat from the world to recharge their batteries.”

But creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi also says that creative people “seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.”

On her blog Quiet: The Power of Introverts, Susan Cain notes Bill Gates is an introvert, but not shy, and Barbra Streisand, who famously suffers from stage fright, is a shy extrovert.

Cain notes, “Shyness and introversion are not the same thing. Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.

“Some psychologists map the two tendencies on vertical and horizontal axes, with the introvert-extrovert spectrum on the horizontal axis, and the anxious-stable spectrum on the vertical.

“With this model, you end up with four quadrants of personality types: calm extroverts, anxious (or impulsive) extroverts, calm introverts, and anxious introverts.”

[Also see my post Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference?]

In her recent NY Times op-ed article Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?, Cain writes about a number of examples of research on the topic, and lists people, including engineer Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs (Wozniak is at the right in this 1976 photo of the two).

Wozniak commented in “iWoz,” his autobiography, “Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me. They’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

Cain also notes that psychologist Gregory Feist (a Professor at San Jose State University) “found that many of the most creative people in a range of fields are introverts who are comfortable working in solitary conditions in which they can focus attention inward.”

In his book The psychology of science and the origins of the scientific mind, Feist writes about the “astonishing” variability of people: “Some of us are quiet and introverted, others crave social contact and stimulation; some of us are calm and even-keeled, whereas others are high-strung and persistently anxious.”

Autonomy and creativity

The Encyclopedia of creativity (Volume 1, By Steven R. Pritzker) reports that “a wide range of autonomy-oriented personality dispositions systematically covary with creative ability and creative achievement…

“In addition, we have seen that autonomy is a cluster of personality traits (introversion, internal locus of control, intrinsic motivation, self-confidence/arrogance, non-conformity/norm-doubting, solitude, and asocial or antisocial behavior.”

Different styles and strategies

in her article, Susan Cain notes that “introverts” are found in the animal kingdom, “where 15 percent to 20 percent of many species are watchful, slow-to-warm-up types who stick to the sidelines (sometimes called ‘sitters’) while the other 80 percent are ‘rovers’ who sally forth without paying much attention to their surroundings.”

She adds that “Sitters and rovers favor different survival strategies, which could be summed up as the sitter’s ‘Look before you leap’ versus the rover’s inclination to ‘Just do it!’ Each strategy reaps different rewards.”

As an introvert, I am a bit put off by the nickname “sitter” – I may in fact sit many hours a day, but it is active work at my computer. Is that “sticking to the sidelines”? In a sense it is, since I work alone.

But those nicknames and descriptions come from our predominantly extroverted culture – “Just do it” is not only a commercial slogan but a widely valued style of action, and “sitter” seems to be a disparaging characterization of people who are more cautious, introverted and autonomous than the majority.

Do you agree? And are you introverted and creative?

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Creative Introverts

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2013). Creative Introverts. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Aug 2013
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