Extrovert Bias in Tech
3 minutes read

In my career as a writer of software, I’ve always lamented that the bigger discussions and decisions that my teams have made about software are often driven and led by the most exuberant or the loudest of the team members. Turns out that this phenomenon I’ve observed is not limited to the smaller companies and teams that I’ve worked on, but anecdotally plagues such places as Google. From: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/03/one-smart-guys-frank-take-working-major-tech-companies.html :

I also see a major extrovert bias, which might seem a little funny for tech. But, again, product managers (or, God forbid, Sales people) are all really subject to the “let’s just get some people in a room” style of planning and problem resolution. I firmly believe some massive amount of productivity is squandered from people choosing the wrong communication paradigm — I think it’s often chosen for the convenience or advantage of someone who is either in an extrovert role or who is just following extrovert tendencies. Massive problem at Google, which is ironic given their composition. Amazon had some obvious nods to avoiding these sorts of things (e.g., “reading time”) but I don’t know how pervasive they were or how effective people believed them to be.

I love to bandy about the phrase “The Medium is the Message”, as quoted by Marshall McLuhan in reference to how the particular communication devices we use influence how we both send and interpret messages. Usually, I think about this in the context of textual and short form communication - namely work email, chat, and social media. I honestly had not given much thought to the phrase in the context of vocal communication in professional settings. As the author of the email linked above indicates, the selection of “people in a room” meetings as the preferred communication choice has the effect of giving more weight and power to those among us who are natural extroverts - or heaven forbid, those of us who suffer from the Dunning-Kruger and whose inhibitions to contribute to a subject are removed as a result of their incorrect self-perception.

This is effectively why I prefer asynchronous forms of communication for discussion as opposed to real time - and I would assume most individuals who are INFP’s, or very close, would too. I want to understand a problem, let it simmer in my mind, ask thoughtful follow-ups later, explore alternatives to answers or even question the merit of solving the original problem, and be able to do all of this with fewer constraints on space and time. Other personalities take over when discussion and decision making is time-boxed on the scale of minutes/hours instead of days/weeks take over - namely the extroverted. In my anecdotal experience, this is true of pretty much every in-person meeting containing more than 3 people that I’ve had, and also tends to occur when using text-based chat where the culture/expectation is on constant communication (e.g. Slack with its “X is typing” indicator).

If forming some semblance of consensus and attempting to reach the best probable outcome is the goal, then the medium one chooses to form a discussion around is paramount if the input of all the expertise available to you is needed. I don’t believe there is one single medium that is best - I obviously have my preferences, but those are optimal to me and people extremely similar to me. A blend of a couple of mediums with iterations is more likely to provide equal weighting for everyone whose input is desired. As an example, consider combining time-boxed vocal and/or in-person meetings performed on a recurring basis, and augmented with a shared document or topical forum post. One size won’t fit all, but multiple sizes might fit everyone just well enough.

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