The Genius of Opposites: A book review by Bob Morris

Genius of OppositesThe Genius of Opposites: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together
Jennifer B. Kahnweiler
Barrett-Koehler Publishers (2015)

“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” Margaret Mead

As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of an incident years ago when then chairman and CEO of GE, Jack Welch, turned to one of his senior vice presidents during a management committee meeting and said, “You and I seem to agree on everything. One of us is redundant.” I mention this incident because, with all due respect to this book’s subtitle, achieving extraordinary results does not depend on introverts and extroverts collaborating successfully. Diversity in terms of temperament and personality is usually desirable but not imperative. What is? Diversity of relevant talent, experience, skills, and an eagerness to collaborate on solving a problem, answering a question, achieving an objective, etc. The greatest CEOs do not encourage principled dissent; they demand it.

That said, Jennifer Kahnweiler has much of value to share about how introverts and extroverts can work and (yes) live more congenially together. Years ago, David Riesman write a book with Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney, The Lonely Crowd, in which he essentially contrasted those who are inner-directed with those who are outer-directed. Opposites can attract but they can also repel. If in a situation the given need requires introverts and extroverts to work together despite their differences, of if they believe it is in their best interests, they will probably do so. That was certainly true of the Manhattan Project and, more specifically, of Enrico Fermi and Richard Feynman.

She offers what she characterizes as the five-step “Genius of Opposites Process”:

1. Accept the Alien
2. Bring on the Battles
3. Cast the Character
4. Destroy the Dislike
5. Each Can’t Offer Everything

Kahnweiler fully understands and appreciates the fact that all human relationships worthy of the name must have mutual-trust and mutual-respect as a foundation. She carefully explains what each step requires and how to complete it. In fact, she devoted a separate chapter to each of the five steps. There are no head-snapping revelations in this book, nor does she make any such claim.

Who will derive the greatest value form this book? In my opinion, there are three groups: Those who now find themselves paired in an Introvert/Extrovert combination and want it to be as pleasant and as productive as possible. Also, supervisors who are responsible for collaborations (be it a pair or a team) and who also want each to be as pleasant and as productive as possible. Finally, those in personal relationships (current or prospective) who wish to gain a better understanding the differences between introverts and extroverts so that conflicts can be avoided or at least managed in a civil manner.

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