Yesterday I attended a programme where part of the process included an assessment day for budding entrepreneurs. It ended up becoming one of those days where I questioned myself as an entrepreneur and began to doubt my ability to succeed in a business world that is becoming increasingly louder, crowded and noisier than ever before.
Following several remarks made by the CEO of the programme, which largely focused on my quiet-working nature, I was left feeling very mixed and ended up doing a lot of soul searching afterwards in a cafe. I genuinely felt like something was wrong with me and I began wondering if it was possible for quiet people to succeed in the business world and as entrepreneurs.
I want to discuss the nature of introverts and whether or not they have the capability to become successful change makers and create long term sustainable solutions to many global problems. In a nutshell: “Can quiet people be powerful entrepreneurs?”
There are thousands upon thousands of advice articles which discuss how becoming an entrepreneur is an amazing thing to do and why more of us should do it. Despite this plethora of literature, there are not that many articles which succinctly talk about introverted entrepreneurs in a detailed and analytical manner.
Firstly, I am genuinely shocked that many still view quiet people as individuals who lack power, presence, passion and ambition. This is a mini story that my grandmother regularly told me throughout my childhood:
“There were once two dogs who wanted to capture a mystical creature in the woods. One was a guard dog; he would bark and yelp at anything and everything that moved. The second was a beagle; he was quiet, observant, calculating and could catch any animal. Together they searched high and low for many years to try and find the animal. But they never found it.”
At the end of the story, she would always pause and ask: “Why do you think that the dogs never found the magical creature?” This is something that I leave for you to consider.
If I were to say the word “business person” the first image that comes to mind is someone extremely confident, loud, shark-like and is openly equipped with sky high levels of ambition to reach the top. In TV shows such as, The Apprentice and most reality shows, almost all of the characters are gregarious, boisterous, aggressive and super loud. And why not? After all, such characters are a great source of entertainment and end up making lucrative careers out of having outrageous opinions.
At a glance, many say that “it’s only TV” but what happens is that we subconsciously start to associate loudness with ambition, success and power. We automatically look down – and ignore – quiet people because we begin to confuse quietness for being passive and weak.
Loudness does not necessarily equate to being knowledgeable and having reason
Unfortunately, this image of an aggressively loud business-man is one that has began to subconsciously stick in our minds; regardless of our level of education, background and industry experience. This image also puts a lot of people off from deciding to set up their own businesses or join a start-up.
When I began my start-up, I vividly remember being told – by a ‘friend’ – that I was too “weak” and “quiet” to do that. I remember feeling like a failure (before I had even started) and that I, as a quiet person, couldn’t ever take bold steps or make big decisions that only loud people could make. What made me actually create my start-up, ignore the comments and sustain it was a deep passion that simply would not go away. I knew that in my heart, I had to give it a go and try see if it would work. If it did: Excellent. If not: failure is normal and at least I gave it a go.
We simply do not associate quieter people with positions of power, despite the fact that some of the world’s most influential minds are naturally quiet people. I’m talking about people like Bill Gates, Emma Watson and JK Rowling – quiet people who wield tremendous power, are influential and have created a change for the better in our world. These individuals are shining examples – and beacons of hope for introverts everywhere – that quiet people can be confident and powerful in a world that is constantly talking over each other.
So while many people say that introverts cannot hope to become successful entrepreneurs or change makers in the ever changing modern world of work consider this: “In a gentle way you can shake the world” ~ Mahatma Gandhi.