Introverts and Interaction

Two weeks ago, I got the most comments ever on the topic of whether introverts dominate pharmaceutical market research and whether that has created a problem or not.  The gist of the comments follow:

1.Yes, there are a lot of introverts on the client side of pharma market research (one estimate from a supplier- 98%).  Others noted lots of introverts on the supplier side as well, especially in non-sales positions.

2.  No, its not a problem if introverts dominate because either you need a mix of people or that introverts are really, really smart people.

Full disclosure here:  I am an introvert (mostly).  I need to recharge my batteries after being with people and I need to prepare myself to join a group of people.  Obviously, I also agree that introverts are really smart people and may well be the best people for the job of corporate market research.

BUT – similarly to the person who raised this issue at the PharmaMR Conference, I think there may be a nugget of an insight here.  Bear with me as a reconstruct this argument.

As part of trying to cope with the various pressures facing the pharmaceutical industry (decreased reimbursement, poor R&D productivity, increasing regulatory requirements) Corporate Market Research departments have taken a hit in headcount and budget.   While this may be a cyclical phenomena (as suggested by one reader), it seems like a (potentially permanent) structural change to me.  This is at least partially because of the two trends of outsourcing and automation.

As I stated in an earlier post, McKinsey identified three types of work – the two that are most relevant for this discussion are transactional and interactional.  Transactional work is repetitive work that is more easily outsourced and/or automated, so is most likely to go away as a source of employment in the developed world.  Interactional work has a stronger future in the developed world.

So, I see a potential problem if the corporate market research departments are mostly populated by introverts, who feel best when they spend most of their time alone, but the future is brighter for work that depends on interaction with people.  If corporate market researchers don’t spend enough time in interaction, if they follow their own tendencies to avoid interaction, then they may not be doing that part of their job as well as would serve them (and the companies they work for).

If you agree with this, then I would suggest two different courses of action:

1. On a personal level, if you are an introvert, give some thought to how you should push yourself to increase your interaction with your clients (or for those you supervise, same thing)

2. On a department or industry level, what kinds of things can be done to support introverts in the important work of interaction?

I will be posting ideas in the next few weeks so stay tuned. As always I welcome your comments.


6 responses to “Introverts and Interaction

  1. Hi Karen:
    I don’t think being an introvert is necessarily a bad thing. [I know that is not what you are implying] I think that when juxtaposed versus extroverts, perhaps, those who are extroverts are uncomfortable around their introvert colleagues. [Maybe akin to the squeaky wheel phenomenon of life]. Introverts can be deep thinkers who need time to process information or to respond to a question. They are not reactive types, perhaps. Every team needs at least 1 introvert as a balancer – or perhaps even to play the role of devil’s advocate. Sometimes, too, I think some folks get temporarily overwhelmed by the time pressures in market research. Maybe their ‘introversion’ is a way to recharge themselves, to take a deep breath and regain their bearings before having to dive back into the fray.
    In my opinion, the world needs different types of personalities to effectively operate and move forward. Teams need different personality types (introverts and extroverts) to avoid group think when moving itself forward as well.

    • Irene: I am definitely not implying introversion is a bad thing for market research – just that it has some characteristics that need to be overcome in order to maximize the impact of the person. Awareness of that, and working to overcome those tendencies can make the person (and the department) more effective. For example, early in my career, I got a tip for when to catch a certain marketing person alone so I could interact with them one on one. That was crucial to increasing my effectiveness.

  2. I think you have two things at a very high level that will ultimately decide where our profession ends up. One is that you have to have the skills and proficiency as a market researcher. The second is that you need to communicate that to others successfully in order to impact and help make better business decisions. If you can’t do both of those things, you have a problem and you are not going to have a seat at the table. If you are missing both, it will happen that much faster. Introverts tend to struggle with the latter if they haven’t developed compensatory mechanisms to overcome that problem. Extroverts probably tend to struggle more with the former. This is not an either/or situation. Just my opinion. I don’t necessarily think it’s the mix of extroverts vs. introverts, because you must have both of those skills. Gone are the days when you can hide in the basement if you can’t communicate insights and help make effective decisions. If you do both and given the absolute thirst for innovation by pharma companies, your resources will not dry up unless you have incompetent management. A cynical view is that this is a time when management is often trying to CYA, and information that we provide can help that type of management as well. In any case, I believe that if you can do both, you will likely have more resources than you can spend. After all, when is it more important to make good decisions than when you are trying to rebuild your portfolio in the face of expiring patents and the associated sales hit? So this can be the best of times or the worst of times for our profession.

  3. One thing I think has changed lot over the last few decades is the increased siloing of jobs into pure transactional or pure interactional. There used to be a greater mix, at least in my experience, in pharma. Look at job listings now, and you’ll see some that demand an endless list of skills, and others where the primary responsibilities include “liaising.” In addition, credit for jobs is often given now to the pure interactionist. A lot of trouble at a lot of companies is due to interactionals running the show, with transactionals reporting to them. Dilbert records this pretty faithfully. I suggest a return to a model used decades ago–transactionals were responsible not just for endless repetitive work, but for the more interactional (and less face it, better paying and higher status) jobs.

  4. I recall seeing an article or case study on the Market Research Executive Board site about the idea of “teaming up” analysts and consultants (sort of introverts and extroverts) to optimize MR effectiveness, instead of asking either to be who they are not… or to play to strengths that neither comes by readily.
    Another thought in the same vein… there are some interesting free self-diagnostic tests to identify one’s own strengths at the site:

  5. Pingback: Introversion and Market Research | karenjtibbals·

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