Conventional wisdom is that successful people tend to be extroverts who can easily build relationships, promote their personal brand, give riveting presentations, and generally "press the flesh" in face-to-face situations.

That conventional wisdom is outdated. As hundreds of pundits have pointed out, the only way a company can survive and thrive today is by being constantly and consistently innovative. And extroverts aren't very good at that.

In the past, a successful company needed both introverts and extroverts. The introverts (engineers, writers, artists, etc.) did the innovating while the extroverts (executives, marketers, salespeople, etc.) handled the "business end of things."

Today, however, that "business end of things" is rapidly being automated out of existence. As a result, extroverts are becoming less essential to success and in many cases are simply dead weight.

Take sales, for instance. According to the market research firm Forrester, a million B2B salespeople will lose their jobs within five years because online ordering systems are rapidly becoming more sophisticated and intelligent.

At the same time, companies are scaling down traditional "road warrior" outside selling (which favors extroverts) in favor of inside selling, where the salesperson sits alone in an office and communicates with customers online.

Inside selling favors introverts because it's heavy on research (to find out more about a customer), doesn't involve crowds of people, and requires an ability to create innovative solutions to unique customer problems.

The same is true of marketing. In the past, marketing involved attending a lot of meetings, giving a lot presentations, hosting trade shows, running focus groups, and so forth, all of which is classic extrovert activity.

Today, however, marketing is increasingly data driven. Because we can measure almost every marketing activity and investment, marketers are becoming more like engineers. A top marketer today is mostly all about the numbers--an introvert, in fact.

Same thing with management and leadership. Since teams are often dispersed around the world, leadership is now less dependent upon personal charisma and more dependent upon the ability to interact effectively online. Introverts do this better than extroverts.

Since all these trends are continuing apace, it's fair to wonder whether there's much of a role for extroverts in today's must-be-innovative, dispersed, globalized firms. After all, you can't glad-hand over the internet.

All of this is obviously good news for introverts. As the internet drives an ever-faster pace of change, introverts once relegated to the back room are now front and center, communicating directly. They no longer need extroverts to act as middle men.

In this, as usual, Steve Jobs is the role model. Yes, he was great at presenting Apple's products but obviously not a "people person." In fact, most of the really successful entrepreneurs--Gates, Zuckerberg, and their ilk--are introverts through and through.

Published on: Apr 28, 2015