Introvert, Lone Wolf and Porcupine dilemma

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer came with explanation on why people maintain distance from one another, it is called porcupine dilemma.

A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. The porcupines were “driven backwards and forwards from one trouble to the other,” until they found “a mean distance at which they could most tolerably exist.”

Sigmund Freud found this concept so interesting that one day he declared that, “I am going to America to catch sight of a wild porcupine and to give some lectures.” A metallic porcupine is still kept on his table in Freud’s museum.


Concept was used to explain introverts and why people maintain distance and avoid coming very to each other.

But maintaining distance from group also has it disadvantages. Some wolves are thrown out from pack or leave on their own. They become solitary hunters or Lone wolf. There may be advantages of living alone ex. no need to share hunt. But at the same time, lone wolves have difficulty hunting, as large prey like moose, elk, bison are nearly impossible for a single wolf to bring down alone; this task is only possible if they hunt as a pack. Lone wolves will generally hunt smaller animals or scavenge carrion.

wolf hunting[1]

This can be applied corporate life also, like porcupine dilemma, team undergo storming and norming before they start performing.

Introverts like lone wolf miss working on large projects or miss being part of influential organisational network. They may become invisible on top management’s radar and confine themselves to small, insignificant projects or get bypassed during appraisal/promotions.

lone wolf


Introverts and Hikikomori

There is a Japanese animated TV serial called Anohana, the story is about six friends, whose leader is Jinta Yadomi, who is in love with one of the group member, a girl called Meiko Honma. Meiko dies in an accident, which results in Yadomi withdrawing from society and living as recluse. He becomes what Japanese call- a Hikikomori. Later ghost of Meiko pulls him out of isolation and back to society.


Hikikomori is a Japanese term which refers to the phenomenon of reclusive adolescents or adults who withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement. It is extreme case of introversion.

The psychiatrist Tamaki Saitō defines Hikikomori as “A state that has become a problem by the late twenties, that involves cooping oneself up in one’s own home and not participating in society for six months or longer, but that does not seem to have another psychological problem as its principal source.”


One of the reasons is tremendous pressure put by parents on children to excel in education; they face stiff competition while seeking admission to good colleges/universities. Even after graduation, students find it difficult to get decent jobs. Those who don’t make it to good universities or get decent jobs end up becoming Hikikomori to avoid public shame. Some prefer to stay at home rather than face difficult life outside.

They may lock themselves in their homes/bedrooms and avoid all outside contact, there are extreme cases where a person has not left his bedroom for decade!


Though this is predominantly Japanese phenomenon, some research needs to be done in societies that put similar pressure on their children to excel in studies and get decent jobs ex. Chinese and Indians.

Who knows we may come up with Indian version of Hikikomori.

Introvert, Avoidant and Schizoid

Carl Jung introduced the concept of Introverts and Extroverts. The concept was also studied by other psychologists like Hans Eysenck and Raymond Cattell.

Introverts tend to be reserved and are interested in solitary activities like painting, sculpture etc. They enjoy spending time alone and interact with few close friends. There is nothing wrong if person is introvert, it is just a personality trait. Unfortunately bosses treat introversion as some kind of personality disorder and keep counselling them on how to open up or become extrovert.

In fact there are two interesting personality disorders that are normally associated with people who avoid interaction.

First is Schizoid personality disorder. The person with schizoid personality disorder is completely unable to form any personal relationships. Such a person is uncomfortable being with and interacting with others and prefer isolation over human interaction (not to be confused with schizophrenia which is characterized by hallucinations)


Second is Avoidant personality disorder. The person with avoidant personality disorder desires human interaction and contact but is overwhelming afraid of rejection. The result is shyness, social withdrawal, and few if any close relationships.


Though two may look similar, there is difference, a Schizoid is not interested in forming any personal relationship, such person avoids human interaction, while an Avoidant wants human interaction, but is afraid of rejection.


Such cases should be handled by certified psychologist not by boss who has no background of psychology, as it can lead to disastrous consequences.

Social Network Analysis and Innovation

If you ask Project Managers if they are familiar with PERT and CPM, what answer do you expect? …If someone says “no” you will be surprised. Network analysis is integral part of project management and all MBAs study it in Operations Research.


Unfortunately its application to employees is not very common in field of HR. Application of network analysis to human relations is social network analysis. It is useful tool to study group dynamics.

social network

The social network is a theoretical construct useful in the social sciences to study relationships between individuals, groups, organizations, or even entire societies. These relationships can be put in form of network diagrams. The network can then be analysed in terms of connections (i.e. kind of relationship between two individuals called tie), distribution (ex. centrality, bridge, distance, density etc.) and segmentation (ex. formation of cliques, social circles, clustering coefficient etc.)


If ties between groups are very strong ex. cliques, then over a period of time, they tend to think alike, as they work/play/live together. There is danger of “group think”… any deviance from group think is not welcome. Innovations are unlikely to happen in such groups, since group think reduces diversity of ideas.


Weak ties are relationship between different groups, which unlike strong ties, are not used frequently. Since ties are weak, there is little pressure to conform to norms, in fact such ties lead to diversity to ideas, as they bring together disparate modes of thought. Such ties which lead to diversity of ideas and low on conformance are ideal for innovations.

Organisational Development specialist can also use social network analysis for other purpose also like bringing about change, identifying communication channels, mergers and acquisitions etc.

Narcissus and Arrogant CEOs

Narcissus a son of river god and nymph was a very handsome youth. He was so full of himself that he rejected love of nymph called Echo. Goddess of revenge called Nemesis decided to punish him for this. She made him fall in love with his reflection. He started spending hours looking at his reflection, unable to leave beauty of his own reflection, till he died. Word Narcissism owns its origin to it.


Prof. Dan Hambrick defines a narcissist as someone showing the following four personality characteristics:
1. Entitlement – I insist upon getting the respect that is due to me.
2. Leadership/Authority – I like to be the center of attention.
3. Superiority/Arrogance – I am better than others.
4. Self-absorption/Self-admiration – I am preoccupied with how extraordinary and special I am.

'It's amazing that with all the things I've done that I haven't gotten a big head.'

Dan also created an index to measure narcissism in CEOs. The four measures are…
1.The prominence (size) of the CEO’s photo in the annual report
2.CEO prominence (number of mentions) in company press releases
3.CEO’s use of first person singular pronouns in transcripts of public comments to shareholders
4.The gap between the CEO pay and the pay of the 2nd highest paid executive.

Two such examples are …

Carly Fiorina- Who was so confident of her decision to acquire Compaq and merge it with HP, that she ignored opinion of board members, employees and shareholders. HP acquired Compaq for $24 billion, only to realise that they had overpaid, acquisition ended with $ 14 billion as goodwill in books of HP! Finally Carly was sacked, when merger failed. HP was neither able to compete with Dell in hardware segment nor with IBM in software/services segment.

HP compaq

Albert Dunlap-When he took over as CEO of Sunbeam, he ruthlessly sacked people, closed some product lines etc. to cut cost, but at the same time kept increasing his compensation package. Finally he was sacked after it was discovered that he was indulging in malpractices to show inflated sales figures (using infamous bill and hold technique and as usual the auditors Arthur Andersen were unable to spot malpractice).

Antisocial personality and accounting scandals

American psychiatric association has published diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. This manual classifies personality disorders.

One such personality disorder is antisocial personality disorder.A person suffering this may show following behavioural patterns:
1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviours as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
2. Deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
3. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

Executive coach David Dotlich calls such personality as “Mischievousness”. Such employees often act impulsively and are so caught up in the cleverness of their ideas that they don’t assess the ramification. For them rules are only suggestions and certainly don’t apply to them.

ethics 2

Examples of such personalities in corporate world are not hard to find. CEOs and CFOs of companies like Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, Satyam, Lehman Brothers, Waste Management etc. felt nothing wrong in breaking law, resulting in accounting scandals which came in different forms like overstated sales/revenue/assets, falsifying accounting results, improper accounting, financial misstatements etc.


They were so caught up with their financial wizardry to grow their company (and their personal wealth) that they had no concern for stake holders who suffered because of these scandals i.e. shareholders and employees. Many after getting arrested felt that they had done nothing wrong.


All these companies had rules; code of ethical conduct etc. but CEOs & CFOs felt that they were applicable to other employees, not them.

Psychopathology and HR professionals

Tata Strategic Management Group recently released a report on use of psychometric tests; it shows that use of psychometric tests will increase, also, while MBTI and FIRO B are popular, Hogan assessment is growing fast. To my surprise there was no mention of NEO PI 3 or 16 PF.

While I am certified in FIRO B and have no faith in MBTI (FYI yours truly is INTJ) it was Hogan that caught my interest. To understand any test, you should go through the manuals; I went through the manuals of Hogan assessment inventories. I found one of them quite interesting- Hogan Development Survey. It identifies 11 behaviours that can derail a person’s career (dark side as they call it).

The manual says it is derived from two sources- Work of Karen Horney and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by American Psychiatric Association.

Something about Karen Horney-Karen Horney was German psychoanalyst (student of Freud), whose focus was on anxiety. Anxious individual (esp. children who experienced bad parenting) had certain needs which she called as neurotic. All of us have these needs, but in case of neurotic dependence on one of them is too high, this results in a person either moving towards people ( to seek affection/approval), move against people or move away from people.


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV has eleven such Axis II disorders (in addition to mental retardation) ex. Anti-social, Paranoid, Avoidance, Naricissism etc.

psychiatrist cartoon[1]

Putting two together, 11 such behaviours were identified and Hogan Development survey was developed.

In hands of expert psychologist this can be a great tool, but I doubt whether HR professionals without any background of organisational behaviour or psychology can handle this, esp. non performing techies/line managers turned HR professionals.


I have a fundamental question – Should untrained HR professionals venture into area of psychopathology?

I fear that this tool in hands of half-baked HR professional will be a disaster- firstly he may identify wrong behaviour and then coach employee on dealing with wrongly identified behaviour!


Anyway, this theme appears in HBR article “Managing Yourself: Can You Handle Failure?” by Robert Hogan and in book “Why CEO’s Fail” by David Dotlich.