Dashboard Confessional: Thinking Out Loud



Among the many internet topics that are sure to generate attention and engagement -- right up there with kitten videos, "what Hogwarts house would you be sorted into," and seeing where your state/city ranks in anything -- talking about "introverts vs. extroverts" is a surefire winner. I'm a self-identified introvert, having grown up sibling-free, with the liberty and propensity to read uninterrupted for hours on end. Various online tests have put me solidly on the introvert end of the scale; if asked, both Ms. Myers and Ms. Briggs would agree.

Just after getting my first job out of college, a friend of mine encouraged me to learn about how different Myers-Briggs types interact in the workplace. I remember very little about it in detail, but one particular difference between introverts and extroverts stood out to me. It has to do with communication, particularly in meetings but also true in most other venues.

  • Introverts do most of their thinking silently. When they speak, they feel like they're providing a final answer. When they hear others speak, they interpret those words as another person's final answer.

  • Extroverts think out loud. When they speak, they are still working through their thoughts and haven't necessarily reached a conclusion yet. When they hear others speak, they interpret those words as additional pieces of a work-in-progress, and not as definitive final answers.

Naturally, this leads to confusion and resentment.

These kind of simple misunderstandings cause introverts to:

  • put effort into tasks that extroverts suggest, not realizing that the extrovert wasn't mentioning them as definitive action items, but rather as possible directions that merit consideration and further review;

  • feel disrespected when they provide what they think is a final answer to a question, only to have extroverts interpret that as just a starting point for future collaborative discussions; and

  • ultimately withdraw as much as possible from sharing their thoughts or acting on what they see as unfocused or pointless direction from extroverts.

Of course, these same problems happen in reverse. Extroverts:

  • resent introverts for their lack of participation in team activities;

  • become exasperated with what they see as introverts' inability to accept any solutions other than their own; and

  • get confused by introverts' propensity for wasting effort on activities that are still in the planning and discussion phase.

In our Makeover Monday community, iteration has recently been promoted and lauded as a valuable means to improve our weekly vizzing. Some people have taken to posting essentially a rough draft of their viz to Tableau Public and then soliciting feedback; others post a "completed" viz and then happily re-viz and re-post, through several versions, as more people see and comment on their work. For many this has been very helpful.

For an introvert, this is next to impossible. "Iterating," in a public venue, is the visualization equivalent of thinking out loud.

This came up often back when I was a graphic designer; the last thing I wanted was someone doing a drive-by critique of a work in progress. "Hey, that looks cool!" someone might say, following up with something like, "You should make that part a gradient and make the text pop out more." To which I'd think, "YES OF COURSE I WAS GOING TO DO THAT. I'M NOT REMOTELY CLOSE TO FINISHED YET."

I mean, I don't even want people to watch me cook; I think the first time you should see your food, if you aren't the chef, is when the finished plate appears in front of you. As a matter of fact, I don't even want you to necessarily know what the food is going to be. The presentation is important and I don't want any spoilers out there to ruin the magic. I don't want to "think out loud" with my designing, or with my cooking, or with anything else. When I'm ready for you to see what I have to show, or hear what I have to say, you'll see it and hear it, and not one second earlier.

So, in the grand tradition of introverts, when I "speak," which is to say, when I publish a viz to Public and put up a tweet about it, I am not thinking out loud. I've already done my thinking and planning and iterating. I leave my work in progress for hours or overnight, and then return to it; I'll write out my concept or workflow in text, or maybe I'll sketch it out on paper; I'll create and discard ideas as I go. Once it goes up to where other people can see it, I want it to be, as much as any viz can ever be, "done."

This is not to say that my way of thinking is the right way. It's just my natural instinct, and as such it robs me of some opportunity to learn, to improve, and to participate in the community. I struggle with accepting that my public work can still be considered by others as "thinking out loud." I got an object lesson in this over the weekend. Alexander Mou, as part of a regular series he writes for his own blog, used one of my recent designs as the basis for a "Tuneup Thursday" post.


He remixed my Oil and Gold viz so that it was nearly the same as before, with the small exception of having the vertical timeline I used run from bottom to top, rather than from top to bottom.


When I saw his post, my first reaction was, "Vertical timeline running bottom to top? I would never do this." My second was, "People are going to think that *I* did this, and I never would." My third thought was, "Who the F does this guy think he is?" And then the fourth thought was, "You are way too angry about this. Maybe calm down and read what he's saying."

Well, that's what I did. And he had valid points. Several valid points, in fact. None of them said that the choices I made were wrong; he offered justifiable reasons to make one small change to the layout. I didn't agree with every one of them, of course, but they were matters of opinion and preference, and they were borne from a desire to build upon and elevate, not criticize and tear down.

Ultimately I had to do some honest self-reflection and own up to my initial reactions. I realized that they were all coming from that same place, where I didn't think of my viz, my "speech," as an opening remark in a conversation, but rather as the concluding remark of an internal dialogue. But that's unfair of me to think. The word "Public" is literally right there in the name of the product. This is a public product in a public forum, and it's going to generate public conversation. If I can't learn to accept that conversation in the spirit in which its intended, I'm doing myself and the community a disservice.

That's my struggle. Not immediately pushing back on critiques or comments; keeping an open mind to opinions I may not hold, or accepting that there could be practices/techniques that I'm using improperly.

Are you an introverted achiever? I see you, friend. I am you. Welcome to our tribe.

Let's together give thanks that we are in the anti-Reddit -- the community that generously and sincerely wants nothing more than to elevate one another's work, and critiques only to help one another improve. I promise to work harder to remember this, and to be more vulnerable in allowing all of my shared work to, essentially, be my version of thinking out loud. But I hope in return, you'll promise to try to do the same.

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