Transparency: A guide to Openness for introverts (& friends)

This is the transcript and video of my talk at CreativeMornings Cologne on Oct. 28th. At the bottom of the page you’ll find the sources and pages I’m referring to.

CreativeMornings Cologne, Oct. 28th, 2016 on Transparency (Openness)

Hi, I’m Anja, I’m a strategist at SapientNitro, but I’m not going to be talking about either of these. Everything that I’ll be covering, including sources etc., is here on Medium.

The Creative Mornings topic this month is transparency. There’s a lot of things that can and sometimes should be transparent. If you were to image search it, you’ll find models and fabrics, businesses and processes, arts and photography, lots of stock photography, government, obviously laws, regulations and taxes. Most of these things are transparent at time.


Humans though, aren’t transparent. And that’s a good thing. We can decide to be open about our feelings, emotions, opinions and beliefs, but we’re not transparent (no matter our Social Media activity). The means to be open is called communication, and can range anywhere from explicit to implicit, from verbal to non-verbal, from simple to difficult. We’re complex. Even more complex than laws, businesses and taxes.

So when talking about human beings, I’ll be talking about openness, not transparency.

Now when preparing about the topic for this session, I was worried if it’s something worth talking about at CreativeMornings. So I did some research to figure out if there was something in our industry worth sharing that related back to openness. And I found a research paper that I’d like to share at the beginning.

At it’s easiest part, it looks like this, so I want to quickly make sure we’re all up and running first.

Full study can be downloaded at

Here’s a couple of characteristics that I’ve picked from the study and randomly from the MIT’s 638 primary personality traits, let’s take half a minute to pick 3 that you think would be matching to a creative person. Or to rephrase it: which do you think correlate to a person you’d also describe as creative? Pick 3.

The study itself is much broader than just this, but I’ll focus on this result. This matrix shows correlations between different personality traits and creativity. They’ve used different research methods to study correlations, from left to right going from personal assessment (how do I see myself), to peer assessment, to video-based observation and finally to two different test scores called T-88. On top of that, they’ve studied this for twins, which can be seen by the A- and B-columns here.

There are 3 obvious (layman-)findings in it. One trait scored high across all research methods. This trait happens to be openness. Meaning: no matter how it was researched, either self-assessment, assessment by others or through tests, openness is a “primary predictor for general creativity” according to this study.

Two other traits are interesting as well. Extraversion correlates very high with perceived creativity, both self-assessment and peer assessment, but not on the T-88 tests. Meaning: Whenever a person is assessed by another person (either self or other), extraversion correlates with how creative the person is seen. When no person is judging, it doesn’t matter how extraverted someone is.

Lastly, and I’d like to hear some ‘bingo’ from the audience, another trait stood out and was called ‘contributive’ by the researchers. This trait is: intelligence. Also, it seems to correlate higher when we’re not self-assessing or being assessed by peers. Which kind of makes sense given how hard it is to assess intelligence. Also, it takes brains to solve problems.

So the 3 traits researchers found to be correlating with creativity are: openness, and partly extraversion and intelligence.

Full study can be downloaded at

Alright now. Openness is important, extraversion isn’t so much, and intelligence doesn’t hurt. But my talk focuses on openness and introverts. Being open is hard for introverted people, and now that we’ve seen extraversion even pays more into being perceived as creative, it’s even more important to shed some light on openness and what it means.

One thing though I’d like to point out before. No one is just an introvert or just an extravert. Just like all things human, it’s more complex than that and we’re talking about a spectrum. There’s even something called ambiverts in the middle, and I guess most of us are somewhere in that middle. It’s depending on the context. To make it more complicated, all of these roles can be pretended, so there might be a pretended extrovert giving a presentation, or a pretended introvert trying to make a point.

Openness is a topic that I personally find interesting and challenging at the same time. Recently, I started working at a new company that happens to have openness as one of their core values (the others can be found here And unlike other companies, they live up to these values and try to incorporate them every day. While doing my homework, I even found Harvard and Yale studies using them as an example of leadership and organizational behavior. In this talk, I’m using 3 main aspects for openness according to Sapient.

Part 1: Listen up. Listening is probably the introverts’ superpower. According to Julian Treasure, a sound consultant, it means: “making meaning from sound”. And there’s a lot of guides on the intertubes helping us to listen better, many of them coined as “Active listening” which includes make hmm, and ahh, when someone speaks. It actually boils down into: don’t do anything else while you listen to someone. And this is a hard one, because it means not only doing nothing else (like Instagram, TV, or other second screen things), but also it means: don’t prepare a response while you listen. Just: make meaning from what the other says.

The model I found most interesting for this is this one. Anyone knows what this is? It’s a talking stick. Maybe not the prettiest example of it, but you can buy it for 15$ in this shop. It’s supposed to give a person the right to speak, meaning: everyone else is supposed to listen, and listen only. The stick is being passed around and the one who’s talking cannot be interrupted. Which provides space for thought and reflection on what’s being said rather than preparing a response.

Now, the talking stick probably isn’t something that will enter modern business culture at any point soon, but it’s parts could still serve as inspiration.

They are:

  • An eagle feather to give courage and wisdom, to speak truthfully and wisely
  • A rabbit fur at the end to remind us that our words must come from our hearts and be soft and warm
  • A shell to remind us that everything changes, seasons, days, but also people and situations
  • And the four colors of the beads as “the powers of the universe at the moment to speak what is in his heart”
  • Attached is also hair from the great buffalo to speak with the power and strength of the animal

I think even if this seems to be out of place and time, there’s some food for thought about how to listen, even if it’s just clear roles of speaker and listener, independent from their respective roles and character.

Image source:

Second part is about curiosity. Curiosity is the part of openness that’s not just inside out, but outside-in: constantly learning about the world around us.

It’s the thing we all had but mostly lost along the way as we grew up. Many of you might have kids at home, constantly asking: why? Why? Why? It’s their job to. That’s how they find out about the world and themselves in it. And they ask questions to do this job.

At some point, most of us seem to lose this ability to ask til we make sense of it and take things for granted. Or even worse, out of fear to seem stupid.

But some people don’t lose it. Like this guy, Tim Urban, and his blog is appropriately named: Wait but Why. It’s fantastic. He asks why, and answers it. For things from Artificial intelligence to procrastination to ‘The worlds raddest man’. Any idea who that might be?

Tim Urban has written an extensive article series about Elon Musk, trying to figure out: why? Why colonizing Mars is a good idea, why Tesla is awesome, and ultimately, what’s Musks ‘secret sauce’. It’s worth every minute reading.

And there is a lot to the secret, but what struck him most was this: it’s not so much about the abilities of a person like Elon Musk, but about the blocks we ordinary people have. And he shared some epiphanies he’s had along the way, which is the part I’m sharing now — yet it’s just about 5% of the whole piece (go read it).

Image source

One: You don’t know shit.

Which is what many smart people before Elon Musk have said in their way. We know nothing, really. But we should try to figure it out. And encourages us to ask why “til we hit the floor”.

Full article at

Two: No one else knows shit either.

This is about the misconception that somehow, something is out there that you just can’t get hold of. That society knows something that you don’t or that famous/rich/smart/______ people have something that you don’t. We’re holding ourselves back for nothing from being curious.

Full article at

Three: You’re playing Grand Theft Life.

But we’re holding back because of a) misplaced fears and b) misplaced identities. Basically we’re overly afraid of dangers (what could possibly happen if we’re asking a question that everyone else already knows the answer?!) — and b) we’re connecting being right to our identity instead of maintaining a learning attitude.

Full article at

Now, the last part is about Sharing information and feedback. I’ll focus on feedback, because it’s the harder part. To share information, there’s all kinds of introvert-friendly tools to use, but feedback is tough. Both for the giver and the receiver. So tough many environments keep it at the lowest possible level, in the form of a yearly review. Which is a pity because feedback can be a powerful source for growth. But it’s difficult.

Even if giving or receiving feedback is a skill that can hardly be learned through books, here are two that I want to recommend. Both are by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, with Bruce Patton for Difficult Conversations, from Harvard. These books provide structures and patterns rather than telling the reader to say Ahhh, and Hmmm, during conversations. So again, even though this is a skill that can’t be taught through reading (sorry introverts), they are incredibly useful to lead to learning and understanding. For both Introverts and Extraverts.

For example, in ‘Thanks for the feedback’, they focus on the receiving part of the conversation. Because they found out that this is the crucial part. In order to make something out of feedback, or even be able to accept feedback, we (all) need to understand it’s nature. It’s too easy to just stow away feedback as “off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and, frankly, you’re not in the mood” (which is the subtitle of the second book). One thing that stood out for me was this: if we were clear about the nature of the feedback given, things would be much easier to deal with.

Books can be found at

And there’s 3 ‘natures’ of feedback that we expect of the giver, and if what we get is from a different nature, things can get messy.

One is appreciation. If we seek for appreciation, we want to be seen, our efforts to be respected. For example, “thank you for coming here at this early hour”. Thank you! Another is entirely different, and is about coaching. If I’m looking for coaching, I want to know precisely what I can do differently, maybe in order to get better at something. I want feedback on how to get to that promotion I want, or I’m asking my friend what clothing would be appropriate for a metal wedding. The third one is evaluation, which kind of ranks me where I stand. Am I doing better or worse than my colleagues, the first wife, etc.

Books can be found at

Another thing is how we receive feedback, and it helps to be aware of our nature, or temperament. The authors distinguish between the swing a person has, or the amplitude by which our mood tends to be switching. Just how strong a person reacts to even minor things is a good indicator. Then there’s the baseline a person works on. I’m thinking of it as our general mood, are we more stoic or affectionate? And another one is our level of sustain, meaning: how long we tend to deal with feedback. There’s people who can just stow feedback away — and those who endlessly munch on every remark they hear. I think it’s a good picture to have in mind, both for ourselves, i.e. how we deal with feedback, but also towards others: how will they be able to deal with what I have to say?

Books can be found at

This was my short run through openness, here is an overview of what I’ve covered. Openness is the key indicator for creativity, while extraversion isn’t so much. Openness also means listening rather than preparing a response; it reflects in curiosity as an how much I let into what’s outside, and finally there was the ability to make use of feedback. One of the main superpowers for growth.

Sources & Images


The Nature of Creativity: The Roles of Genetic Factors, Personality Traits, Cognitive Abilities, and Environmental Sources:,

Spelling of Extraversion vs. ExtrOversion

Sapient Core values


Definition of listening

Talking stick

Talking stick shop


Elon Musk


2 Books on Conversations & Feedback:

Their talk at Google


All images except where stated other: (♥)

Tim Urban

Talking stick


Hi! I’m a digital strategist, a facilitator of workshops, and a writer. Find my profile at & my workshops at Based in Cologne.

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