Quiet shows the slow rise of the extrovert ideal for success throughout the 20th century, while making a case for the under appreciated power of introverts and showing up new ways for both forces to cooperate.
Here goes another book by a top TED speaker. Susan Cain’s talk about the power of introverts has been viewed over 10 million times.
The reason is that her book and talk made a lot of people feel heard for the first time. In the seven years of research leading up to the publication of the book in 2012, Susan uncovered the slow rise of the extrovert ideal in the public and American workplace.
This helped her understand where a lot of her personal struggles as a Harvard Law School graduate and Wall Street lawyer came from, and why she could never have thrived in these environments.
Her book is a well of wisdom about personality types, workplace relationships and human interaction.
Here are 3 particular gems that struck me:
- Whether you like small talk or not is part of your personality type.
- Western cultures portray extroversion as the ideal ofsuccess.
- Companies need to adjust their workplaces to introverts aswell.
Ready to uncover the power of introverts? Here we go!
Lesson 1: Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert determines if you like small talk.
Huge lightbulb moment for me right there.
Do you love when Sally gives you the flimsy details of her latest trip to Cancun over a quick cup of coffee?
Or would you rather talk about Stoic philosophy for 2 hours?
The former speaks more to an extrovert, the latter more to an introvert, of course.
But why is that?
It’s because of the way we process information differently.
Introverts are what’s called “highly sensitive”, meaning they take in the information given to them, for example via stimuli from their environment, a lot more thoroughly than their extrovert peers.
For example, an introvert can stand in front of a single big picture in a museum for 10 minutes, continuously observing and looking for new details to be found – a horror fantasy for an extrovert.
In a similar manner, introverts don’t like small talk. They are engaged by profound conversations about life, values, morals and ethics, because it allows their highly sensitive information processing to thrive.
People often ask me how I can sit there and talk about a single business idea with my roommate for two hours – if you’re one of those people, there’s your answer.
Note: If you don’t already know it, check out the Myers-Briggs personality test to find out your own type. It’s free and very insightful. I’m an INFJ (and that’s going to make me successful).
Lesson 2: In Western cultures, extroverts are often presented as the ideal of success.
Competence and confidence are two different things.
Sadly, in Western cultures, we confuse them a lot.
We often perceive whoever’s the most confident to be the most competent as well.
That couldn’t be further from the truth, since just being a charming speaker and captivating figure does not make one a good leader.
Being more sociable often leads people to think you’re also more interesting and willing to cooperate.
But if you’re an introvert, sitting quietly in your corner, just listening and taking everything in, nobody will come and talk to you.
More often than not, people will think you’re a weirdo.
In our culture, extroversion is often seen as a prerequisite for success, which gives extroverts an unfair advantage.
Even the best schools, like Harvard, try to groom their graduates into extroverts, by forcing them through group work, seminars, presentations and even going out with fellow students at night as part of their program.
Go to Japan, however, and you’ll find none of this. Students study quietly, take vigorous notes and speaking without being asked is considered downright rude.
Different countries, different cultures, but in the Western world, the extrovert ideal prevails.
Lesson 3: Companies should adapt their workplaces to let introverts make their best contribution.
Due to the extrovert success ideal, most companies are tailored to extroverts.
Think about it: open offices, meetings, group brainstorming sessions, presentations of PowerPoint slides, workshops and of course, lunch at the canteen.
For introverts this means they feel constantly interrupted, overloaded with information and stressed, which makes it hard for them to thrive in such an environment.
But when you think about it, not all great things were achieved by extroverts or even groups of people.
Wikipedia, for example, is a huge collaboration, but mostly of people who each sit at their computer alone at home.
Einstein thought of the theory of relativity all on his own and Harry Potter was written in solitude too.
So if you have a great introverted thinker on your team, don’t force them into a box they don’t fit into. Give them the option to work alone and let them flourish – as long as you keep an open mind they’ll always come to you once they’re ready.
Companies should consider this and have more options for introverts to spend time alone vs. participating in group activities and meetings when they feel they have something to share.
My personal take-aways
II can agree with the common voice, as reported by the press: it makes introverts feel heard. Luckily, I’m not in a situation where I have to battle extrovert systems all the time, but it becomes clearer and clearer to me that whoever shouts the loudest is not necessarily the smartest.
The internet might be the greatest invention of all time, especially for introverts, as it allows us to impact the world right from our living room.