As an introvert, I liken professional networking events with going to the gym. They are something I tell myself I should do–it’s good for me–but the actual experience is painful and leaves me exhausted. It turns out I’m not the only one.

Intrigued by the reinvention of Steelcase’s design principles after former CEO Jim Hackett met Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts, at TED and she called him out for destroying the workplace. Since then Steelcase and Red Thread Portland, Maine, has been building office spaces that are designed for all workers—introverts and extroverts alike.

Red Thread and Treehouse Institute, a local nonprofit, teamed up to host Design Thinking is for Everyone: Introvert Edition. The 2.5 hour workshop, led by Alex Denniston, addressed Red Thread and Treehouse Institute’s shared view that we can build more powerful communities and organizations when we design for introverts.

Drawing on design thinking, a process—applicable to all walks of life—of creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems, the event engaged attendees in finding solutions to a familiar problem: “How might we create networking events that introverts love?” We started with what we know about introverts, including: introverts like 1:1 or small group interactions, we like quiet environments, we like to feel welcome in a new environment, and we like time to think and reflect before talking. With these basic agreements about introverts in mind, the attendees were introduced to three stages of design thinking: discovery, defining, and delivering. Participants interviewed each other about their own experiences at networking events. Working in pairs, they asked questions like, “Why did you go to the event?”, “What came out of your experience at the event?”

The goal of design thinking is to create solutions that better meet people’s needs and desires. The discovery phase is the first step in understanding what influences decisions and actions. The next step, is to define the problem with the user in mind. Using mind maps and journey maps we began to break down the experience of being an introvert, and more clearly define networking events. These exercises highlighted that introverts do lots and lots of things before a networking event even starts. When creating our journey map as we discussed Networking Events for Introverts, we had 20 post its up before anyone even mentioned arriving at the event.

blog 2Figure 1: Steps before even arriving at an event

We learned that introverts prefer to have a “common object or task” to interact with as a way to meet new people. Instead of the direct, face to face “Hi, my name is Adam. I run a small nonprofit, what do you do?” style interaction, we prefer to have something that takes the attention off the introduction and allows us to move into a conversation more organically in a “side by side” style.
postit 1 postit 2The delivering step of design thinking is about identifying solutions. Participants selected a pain point (i.e. walking into a room, exiting a conversation, etc.) and brainstormed possible solutions for that problem. Dot voting or heat mapping was used to identify the most compelling and exciting ideas. After some conversation about those ideas, a final vote selected a few ideas to try at future events.

The three ideas that rose to the top:

1. “The Hosts”
Introverts want to connect person to person. They don’t want to talk business until they know you and have a chance to be known as a person. In order to alleviate the stress of walking up to strangers, this idea encourages events to use proactive hosts who welcome participants and make introductions.

2, “We’re Here to Learn”
We discovered that being able to understand why you and someone else are in a room together and starting a conversation is important to introverts.To help create an understood common ground for why participants are in a room together to begin with, the focus is on learning something together via a presentation, followed by small group activities.

3. “The High Five”
Out of empathy for that moment when we know the conversation is over, and that’s fine, it’s just time to move on, a high five is adopted as part of an event’s code of conduct replacing the need to say you need a drink, the bathroom, anything but this tortuous moment of not trying to offend the person you just had a nice conversation with. Torture is replaced with celebration.

Interested in Design Thinking? Check out Field Guide: A Design Thinking Experience, June 21-24, in Bethel, Maine.

Blog Authored By:

Adam Burk
CEO | Treehouse Institute
Director | TEDxDirigo