How “just do it” might be stopping you in your tracks—especially if you’re an introvert

You have an idea to make the world a better place. So just do it, right? Well, that’s often easier said than done, especially for introverts. Here are three strategies to help you work with—not against—your introversion to make things happen.


Introverts: slow down to get ahead
(photo courtesy Herr Olsen, Flickr Creative Commons)

Has this ever happened to you?

You take on the task of brainstorming big-picture ideas that you want to bring to life in a powerful way. You devote time to making a long list of possibilities. And in those moments of inspiration, you create multiple intentions that all feel equally important, equally urgent. That urgency causes you to rapidly shift gears; your thoughts jump to how to translate those ideas into tangible outcomes or actions. That’s when the flow stops, and your inspiration right along with it.

Goodbye, creativity… hello, resistance.

We’ve all experienced this at some point, and I’d venture to guess that introverts—those who gain energy from solitude and feel drained by prolonged social interaction—have felt it more than most.

As an introvert, I love the inner world of ideas, more than I tend to love the outer world of actions. That inclination is neither good nor bad; it’s just how I’m wired. The challenge comes when I start being manipulated by our “Just do it!,” externally-motivated culture. In feeling pressure to DO my ideas (turn ideas into actions), I sometimes push aside my deep need to BE with my ideas, to let them settle in and expand and take shape.

Many people—usually extroverts—believe the introvert’s love of thinking means that we’re not doers at all. So introverts try to counter that false perception by acting before we’re ready. The result? Instead of giving our ideas space to breathe, we become obsessed with how they’ll fit into a spreadsheet or grant application. We end up feeling stuck, lacking inspiration, and being overwhelmed—all red flags that pop up when we don’t honor our need to think before we act.

If you have great ideas but get stuck on implementation, consider your readiness for action: there’s a chance you’re not really stuck at all; maybe you’re simply getting ahead of yourself.

To gauge your readiness, take the time to notice where the pressure to “go, go, go!” is coming from. Is it from fear, or from confidence?

Leading from fear (for instance, rushing to action because we’re afraid we won’t meet others’ expectations) cheats our process—and our vision—of much-needed time to develop and mature.

When you feel able to take small steps forward with a sense of confidence and abundance, then you know you’re ready.

Here are a few ways for in-our-heads introverts—or anyone who feels stuck—to balance the being with the doing:

1. Slow down.

Slowing down allows you to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, to do each necessary and very doable step before making the next move. Allow yourself space to sit with your ideas long enough that you can discern which ones are most important.

2. Listen carefully.

If we rush to doing, we miss the messages that come from our inner wisdom. Put your idea out there. Pause and listen to what comes back. Act on what you hear. Listen again. Make adjustments based on the feedback. Give yourself intentional space (days, not minutes) to simply listen.

3. Trust the process.

Sometimes, it’s hard to move to action when we get bogged down in uncertainties. It’s easier to stay in the theoretical, because reality is too unpredictable. But if we slow down and listen carefully, we create more space for the process to unfold as it should (not as we might force it to). And with each step forward that comes out of honoring our process, trust grows. We learn to trust that we can handle whatever happens.

We introverts are more likely to create a healthy balance of being and doing if we give ourselves space, solitude, and silence to hear our inner truth. Then we can hear it saying clearly:

Slow down.
Listen carefully.
Trust the process.


Beth Buelow was seven when she outlined the marketing plan for her first entrepreneurial venture, 23 when she learned she was an introvert, and 38 when, in 2010, she put the two together to create The Introvert Entrepreneur. She is a professional coach, blogger, podcaster, speaker, and author of Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


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Video spotlight: The magic is in the process

We write a lot here at Idealist about people who’ve made their ideas happen. And if you’ve been following along, you’ll recognize a common theme in their stories: it’s not easy.

In this video of Jane ni Dhulchaointigh at this year’s 99u conference, the Irish entrepreneur talks about how she launched sugru, a new kind of rubber that helps make your stuff work better.

“All the magic and beauty happens in the process, and not the finished product,” she begins.

She goes on to give a charmingly honest account of the valuable lessons she’s learned—and all the wonderful doubt, delusion, and failure along the way.

If you’ve ever been unsure or stuck, Jane’s story is sure to give you hope.


Did Jane’s talk strike a chord with you? Tell us about an experience you’ve had with process, product, and the related magic in the comments below.

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What’s all the buzz about? Redefining creative collaboration with brainswarming

Could brainswarming...

Can brainswarming help you have the breakthrough you’ve been needing? (Photo via RioPatuca on Shutterstock.)

Brainstorming: it’s a tool we’ve come to know and love (or hate) as a default way to generate fresh ideas for our projects, programs, and more when we’re stuck or just starting out.

However, in a recent Fast Company post and in his new e-book, Kevin Maney suggests it might be time to think of this old-school method as old news.

He writes that brainstorming “relies on a thunderstorm metaphor–a sudden swirl of energy that gets everybody’s attention for a moment, then passes by, dissipates, and leaves nothing behind.”

So, out with the brainstorm, Maney says, and in with with brainswarm.

How does it work? Below is a short summary of the steps:

  1. Get the right swarmers. Cultivate a tight-knit core swarm and get them into a room with fresh recruits who will say something to shake up the familiar.
  2. Have a swarm room.  The worst place to jam on new ideas might just be the place where most companies today send people to jam on new ideas: the traditional conference room.
  3. Multiple writing and sketching surfaces are key. If everyone in the session has a pen and access to a writing surface, barriers to sharing ideas fall away.
  4. Herd the swarmers. Too many idea sessions start with a rule that there are no rules…if you have infinite choices, what do you choose?
  5. Be a critical swarm. Stop being so warm and fuzzy…Brainswarms need both a surfeit of ideas and constructive debate about those ideas. Bad ideas can lead to good debates that then lead to better ideas.
  6. Swarm success. There are lots of ways to make sure the ideas don’t get lost. Assign someone to synthesize and write up the swarm’s best ideas.
  7. Don’t stop. That’s the vital difference between brainswarms and brainstorms. Brainswarms never end.

How has brainstorming worked or not worked for you? Is it time for a new strategy?

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Ask Ero: Answers for confused and baffled Idealists

Ero is Thoughtful Adjusted Cropped3In this series of blog posts, I’ll try to answer all your questions (regardless of how ridiculously unqualified I am to answer them.) Consider me sort of a tech-literate, bearded, Ann Landers, or a work-safe Dan Savage.

In the last installment of this series, I answered questions about editing for brevity, solving big problems, and listening to music. How were my answers? I hope you’ll tell me. Now, on with this installment’s question!

After recently losing a job, I’ve almost given up hope. I’m not getting call-backs, and it might be due to my age- I’m not fresh out of college anymore. When I do get calls, they’re for entry-level jobs. I’m also an artist, and appreciate a flexible schedule, so how do I know if I should be looking for freelance work or a full-time job? -Margo

This is such a great question that it deserves an entire post all by itself, so here goes!

First of all, why limit yourself to one kind of work or another? You may not want the commitment of a full-time job. But keep your eyes open for that anyhow, and apply for what sounds appealing. You can even go to an interview, get a job offer, then decide to turn it down.

But you won’t know what’s out there unless you’re looking for it. Your dream job might be just where you least expect it. It’s not unheard of, after all, to work part-time or contract gigs, and have a low-key small business on the side. Unorthodox work is pretty common for artists of all kinds, so I’d advise looking for everything at once. Your solution may be a combination!

Now, keeping your morale up is hard, especially after losing a job. It gets even more frustrating when you’re highly skilled and experienced, and the only call-backs that you do get are ridiculously low-paid. Low compensation can be a problem in the nonprofit sector (though compensation is a complex issue). But although you may not be seeing them now, well-compensated jobs exist. Keep up the search and don’t get discouraged.

As for age discrimination, this can be a serious problem, but usually there’s not much you can do about it unless you see it happen. When first applying for a job you can’t affect the behavior of people who read your resume– but you can adjust how you present yourself. Make sure your cover letter and resume really represent what you have to offer specifically for the job you’re applying to, instead of just showing years of experience.

Discrimination happens, but you may also be missing opportunities because you don’t seem like you really want a position. This is not at all to say that you should hide your age. But you want to be sure you’re presenting your strengths properly.

After all, what you really want is to find work that values you for what you are: skilled, experienced, and not at all entry-level. Plenty of other folks out there are in the same boat: it’s an aging workforce, and some will see you as a talented youngster who’ll liven up the workplace with your crazy youthful enthusiasm.

There’s also a truth that isn’t often expressed, which is that the jobs ecosystem is not a bag of rice, it’s a bag of extra-chunky granola.

Every single job is a different size and shape.  Some are startlingly well-paid, some poorly paid. Some need decades of experience and advanced degrees, some want someone with strange new ideas. Some want specific odd types of experience, or unique individual skills.

During the course of my work day I see a lot of job listings – has 10,470 right at this moment! – and almost all of them are surprising in one way or another. They vary a lot! 

You’re the obviously-just-right candidate for at least one of them. As a jobseeker your task is to find that opportunity, and then make sure to make your obvious-just-right-ness clear.

After all, you’re looking, not to succeed with all jobs…just ones that are right for you.The right work for you will come along if you keep looking, and keep putting yourself out there. (You can find lots of useful tips on our blog).

I believe in you. You can do it.

Have questions about anything I’ve said? Or about anything else (and I do mean anything)? Ask me.

Ask Ero anything (anything anything anything) at

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Feeling derailed? 3 tips for staying on track

It’s something we hear all the time: You want to do good, but even your best intentions go awry. So what can you do about it? We asked Francesca Gino, a professor of decision-making and negotiation at Harvard Business School and author of the new book Sidetracked, for some advice.

FGino Photo for Book

Francesca Gino. Photo credit
Rosalind Hobley.

The three forces that throw us off track

Sidetracked addresses a problem most all of us can relate to: How is it that we spend so much time making plans and charting goals, then find ourselves far afield from them later, wondering where we went astray?

“Both in my own experience and in talking with others, one consistent surprise is that we think big things are going to move us and get in the way, but the reality is that very small and seemingly irrelevant forces have a huge effect on our decisions,” Gino says.

In many cases, the forces guiding us aren’t obvious. So the first step in getting set straight again? Awareness.

Forces within ourselves. Most of us harbor an overly positive view of ourselves, and Gino’s research concludes that our intentions are often as valuable to us as our actions. “For example,” she says, “I tell you I’m coming with you on Saturday to pick up trash in the park. If it rains and I call you to postpone, I’ll still feel as good about myself as if I’d actually done it, regardless of whether or not I ever do reschedule.”

Forces stemming from relationships. We are of course influenced by the people we know, but also by people we’ve never met. In a UCLA study mentioned in Sidetracked, it was found that hotels who advertise to their guests the environmentally-friendly option of reusing their towels during their stay get many more participants when they include a statistic about the large percentage of previous guests that have done so. Whether we are conscious of it or not, most of us feel drawn to join a crowd, rather than blaze new trails of our own.

Forces coming from outside. In a study involving car insurance, policy buyers were required to report the mileage on their cars’ odometers to determine their premiums: the less miles driven, the lower the cost. Participants were significantly more truthful when the form they filled out had them sign their name and an affirmation of honesty first and then give the mileage number—rather than the reverse. In this case, a very subtle, simple visual change was the sidetracking culprit.

Do you need help staying on track?



“We are all vulnerable to these forces, so let’s recognize them for what they are and take steps to minimize their impact,” says Gino. Here are her top three tips:

  1. Check your perspective. “It’s good to feel confident, but also important to realize when we’re giving ourselves too much credit,” Gino says. “To avoid getting sidetracked, we need to be honest with ourselves about what we do, and give ourselves credit for following through, not just for having good intentions.” Her advice is to stop sometimes and ask: Am I being egocentric? Am I discounting the advice or experience of others because I have tunnel vision with my own?
  2. Take your emotional temperature. “It sounds silly, but I think it works,” Gino says. “It’s very easy to take stress or other emotions you feel from one area of life into another, unrelated time and place.” So if you feel your emotional temperature rising in rush hour traffic, avoid getting sidetracked when you get to work by asking yourself: Are the emotions I’m feeling at the moment going to cloud my judgement? Should I cool off for a minute and then start my day?
  3. See the big picture. “Often, we’re very narrowly focused on the task at hand, and we forget to step back and zoom out,” Gino says. She advises periodically stopping to revisit the bigger goals we set out to accomplish and make sure they stay on our minds, even though the details of carrying them out can require the bulk of our attention.

Do you find yourself getting sidetracked? Why do you think it happens? How do you avoid it?


Visit Francesca Gino’s website for more about her research on decision-making, judgement, negotiations, and other areas of behavior. Buy Sidetracked on Amazon or Barnes & Noble for more research and tips on how to stay your course.

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Stuck? Try problem-solving like a designer

The idea

People first, ideas second. Might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many of us forget this – even in the social good world.

This idea of empathy is the key driver behind design thinking, a creative approach to problem-solving that’s gained buzz in recent years thanks to the mammoth design and innovation consulting firm IDEO.

But it’s not just the territory of big companies. Brooklyn-based The Design Gym is taking design thinking and putting it in the hands of the community. Through facilitation and storytelling workshops, giant hackathons, and their Weekend Workout, (which attempts to solve a problem from a real organization or company)  their belief is that anyone can be innovative – if you just exercise that muscle.

“There are lots of organizations that don’t talk to customers. That part of what we’re doing isn’t groundbreaking, it’s just showing them a new approach. You get so stuck in management and growth and systems and all of a sudden you lose touch with those people who can provide you very simple solutions,” co-founder Jason Wisdom says.

Design thinking in action

A typical Weekend Workout works like this: You come in on Friday night for a crash course on design thinking complete with beers and improv exercises. On Saturday, you go through the entire process on a problem that everyone can relate to, like park services or airline issues, using the 5 phases: learning from all the people who touch this problem in someway, making sense of what you learned, generating solutions from those learnings, experimenting or testing those solutions (many failing), and telling the story of what you learned. When Sunday comes around, you’re challenged to use that process again on a real client.


Kelly presenting the user journey her team created for miLES.

There’s been seven workouts so far, with past clients including the Acumen FundMakeshift Magazine, HolsteeThe Future Project, and Made in the Lower East Side (miLES).

With miLES, for example, students were asked to find a way for artists, teachers, and more to utilize the 220+ vacant storefronts in the Lower East Side, and also keep the landlords who wanted to rent them to higher paying customers (i.e. bar and restaurant owners) happy. They came up with pop up shops. And not only that, but a central hub of carts where people could find signage, seats, tables, and more so they could set up and take down their store with ease.

A few of the clients from the Weekend Workout, such as Makeshift and Holstee, took on students after it was over to help put their ideas in action. That’s one of the big goals of Design Gym: develop relationships with companies and organizations so the students can gain both experience and exposure.

“They’ve been our biggest evangelists in terms of helping us find new opportunities, “ Jason says. “And we support them getting jobs or consulting gigs, or give personal coaching around their careers. As long as people know you’re absolutely committed to their success, they’ll bend over backwards to help you as well.”

Tips for replicating the idea

Jason and his team would love to first get The Design Gym firmly planted in NYC, then expand to other places.

But if the idea of a Weekend Workout makes you want to immediately start to do the heavy (or light) lifting of bringing one where you live, here are his tips on how to make it successful:

1. Find a point of focus.

Sit with the organization or company beforehand and tease out the problem. “We want the problem to be big enough to satisfy the organization and do something significant, but small enough that it can be implemented,” he says. Things like, “What’s the future of our organization look like?” is way too wide for a short timeframe, narrow down those problems or opportunities.

2. Tap into different communities and locations.

Bounce around to different spaces. Or if you can’t do that, partner with a space that can bring in diverse clients. Design Gym frequently hosts their classes at the Brooklyn Brainery, an eclectic, community-driven education space where you can find classes on everything from how to run a marathon to making marbled papers to being a connector.

“One of our primary drivers is to continually enforce that diverse community. Because the solutions are so much more interesting due to the communities diverse backgrounds and it’s fun to connect with people who would never get  to be around each other otherwise,” Jason says.

3. Make everything in the space fair game.


A team, client (Holstee) and community celebrating after a fun-filled and exhausting weekend.

During the prototyping phase, when students are experimenting with ideas to see if they’ll work, encourage them to use whatever is front of them. At the Brainery, students will often use stuff from the classrooms: frying pans, duct tape, 2×4’s, etc. “The more props you can show us, the better off it is. We’ve had students present back in haikus and built structures, also some teams presented through brilliant songs,” Jason says.

4. Embrace your students’ inner geek

Anyone can attend the Weekend Workout and everyone who does is there for one reason: to learn new things. While most students tend to be in their late 20’s to early 40’s, their backgrounds run the gamut from novelists to 5th grade science teachers to product leads at Google.

“With the problems we’re working on being so diverse, people start to feel this applies to them, whether they’re in healthcare or a tech startup or construction,” Jason says. “What they have in common is that they’re geeky people.”

5. Don’t be a helicopter instructor.

The less you do, the better off your students are. “We found if do a really good job at the explanation and creating structure, and leave them alone, the better off they are,” Jason says. “Allowing them to go through and fail a little bit and do things wrong and learn from that is an important part of the process. And it takes us standing back a little bit for that to be able to happen.”

Another tip: Don’t try to force groups based on personalities you think might work well together. Whether you group people together or randomize it, the results ware usually the same.

6. Show your appreciation.

“Everybody has busy lives in this city. So we want to thank people for deciding that out of all the places they could possibly be, they’re spending time with us,” says Jason. They’ve shown their gratitude by giving students a bag with a Moleskine notebook, bottle of wine, and handwritten thank you card.

7. Empower.

Design Gym just launched a train-the-trainer program, where they have students come back from previous weekends and learn the skills necessary to become a really strong facilitator. Finding them long-term engagements with organizations or companies is another priority, and they’re toying with creating a consulting firm run by students.

8. Create continual opportunities for community. 

They’ve hosted happy hours, rotating potlucks, and more. “Our big epiphany was our first happy hour. We had 23 students in the class, and 21 came out to happy hour and said they wanted to continue to be involved in whatever it is we’re doing,” Jason says. “That to me was such validation we’re doing something right. And in the end, they become close friends.”

Are you an organization in the NYC area that could use some creative problem-solving at a Weekend Workout? Or want to implement a similar project where you live? Get in touch with Jason:

If you’re in the NYC area and want to participate, the next Weekend Workout will be May 31-June 2.

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