Written by Janece Shaffer Tuesday, July 10 2012
Readers around the globe can’t stop talking about Susan Cain’s recent book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” - a manifesto celebrating the quiet genius of the introvert. Eager to get in on the conversation, Womenetics invited this New York Times best-selling author to share her journey and her insights on how business could benefit from this untapped resource.
Susan Cain began her talk to 40 Womenetics guests at the St. Regis Hotel in Atlanta by telling a story that has made her TED Talk a favorite. Her talk received a record-breaking one million hits in the first week. The story goes like this: Growing up, Susan Cain and her family would spend countless hours reading, each lost in the reverie of a good book. When young Susan Cain first prepared to go to camp, she had an idyllic vision of how the summer would unfold. She imagined young girls, in matching nightgowns, reading side by side. But when Cain arrived and opened her suitcase of books, her counselor asked with furrowed brow, “Why are you so mellow?” Cain got the message. She slid her suitcases of books under her bunk, and that’s where it remained for the duration of the camp.
The counselor then corralled Cain and the other campers into a large group where they were taught a buoyant cheer that went like this - and yes, this was when the New York Times best selling author began to do the cheer from her podium – “R-O-W-D-I-E – That’s the way we spell rowdie, rowdie! Let’s get rowdie!” Her reaction to the cheer: “Why must we be Rowdie, and why do we have to spell it incorrectly?”
The New Poster Child for the “Not” Rowdie
Former Wall Street lawyer Susan Cain is now the poster child for the “not rowdie,” for the introvert, and she has crafted an insightful and personal book about her journey to understand the place of introverts in a world that celebrates the extrovert. According to Cain, our society embraces the extrovert ideal – an “omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.”
|“Introverts living under the extrovert ideal are like women living in a man’s world.”
– Susan Cain
Cain asserts that extrovert culture dominates the way we do business, but with our economy now faltering, she believes we are at a seminal moment where we can “embrace the power of quiet” and create a greater balance of power between those who rush to speak and do, and those who are more likely to sit and think.
“A mix of personality types is the most effective,” says Cain. “The ying and yang of a pairing like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.”
What Are You?
Cain asked the Atlanta group to reflect on their preferences by considering questions like: Do you prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities? Are you not a big risk taker? Do prefer to think before you speak? Do you seem to care less than your peers about wealth, fame and status? Answer yes to questions like these, and you are well on your way to introversion. At the heart of the introvert/extrovert question is how sensitive you are to outside stimuli - if you recharge from the energy of others (extrovert) or if you need solitude to recharge (introvert).
Cain explains, “According to Carl Yung, who first coined the terms introverts and extroverts, there are no pure extroverts or introverts, but we each fall along a spectrum and that orientation shapes who we are. How do I respond to stimulation? Do I crave stimulation?”
And why does this matter? “Our orientation shapes our lives – how we live, love, work. Why we are the way we are?” says Cain.
Why the Business World Needs More Introverts
In creating a case for introverts, Cain spoke of the work of management theorist Jim Collins, who researched 11 outstanding companies – many of the best-performing companies of the late 20th century - in an effort to uncover the secrets of their success. After extensive research he found that these companies had one thing in common: They were run by CEOS who were introverts. They were leaders not renowned for their charisma, but for their humility and intense professional will.
What Collins concluded from this, “We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos, but the institutions they run.”
A World With Walls & Doors
Ask Cain about the current trend in workspace design – the adoption of the open workspace – and watch her cringe. She explains that perhaps for some extroverts the lack of privacy is manageable, but for the introvert – and for the record, she estimates that between one-third to a half of the population is introverted – the open workspace is deadly.
She speaks of her own experience in trying to work on one of her books in just such as a space, “I spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about the arrangement of my face.” Further reason for privacy, Cain explained that every time your work is interrupted it takes you 50 percent longer to complete the task.
“We need space. Solitude is key to the creative process, “ says Cain.
That’s why she encourages a return to the private office – complete with walls and doors – but she also lobbies for plenty of open, communal space where there is an opportunity for chance meetings. Pixar recently redesigned their offices, and Cain applauded their choice to place the bathrooms on the other side of a large atrium so often colleagues would have the chance to gather informally.
“These chance meetings are gold,” Cain adds.
Another thing that she rails against – brainstorming. In almost every case, (except online) brainstorming has been proven ineffective. She said that typically, the ideas that win out were presented by the person who speaks the most – and there is no correlation between those who speak up more and the quality of their ideas. According to Cain, this Cult of Groupthink is killing innovative, creative thought.
Instead of brainstorming in a group, she suggests that an individual spends some time alone with the assignment before gathering as a team. This will allow participants to tap into their own creative thoughts before being influenced by the group.
How To Be Your Best Introverted Self
Susan Cain’s best advice to introverts who are navigating a world designed for extroverts: “Play to your strengths. When I go to a networking event I don’t try to meet everyone there. Instead I try to really connect with one or two people, and if I do that successfully every time, I am slowly building a network of people I can turn to.”
She also spoke of her time as a negotiator facing a colleague who was clearly an extrovert. Cain did what she did best as an introvert. She carefully prepared and spoke with conviction.
“People respond when you speak with conviction,” she says.
In her book and in person, Cain celebrates introverts, validates their gifts, makes a case for their significance and reminds the world to stop imploring them to speak up.
More stories on how introverts are taking over the world one step at a time:
Are you more of an Introvert or an Extrovert? Intuitive or Sensing? A Thinker or a Feeler? Get where this is headed? If not (or even if you do) read this article to learn more about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the advantages to being your own kind of leader.
Ari Weinzweig is an inspiration to introverts everywhere. He is intelligent, witty and shy, and he owns Zingerman’s - a $40 million enterprise with over 500 employees and hundreds of thousands of loyal customers.
“What makes you able to be an introvert and public is having a true passion to express something you think will make a difference,” says Wendy Davis, co-founder of Baby Blues Connection. She embraced introversion while overcoming postpartum depression to find happiness in her career.
Janece Shaffer, senior editor of Womenetics, is also an award-winning, professionally produced playwright. Her plays have been produced in theatres across the country including the Asolo Repertory Theatre, Alliance Theatre, and Taproot Theatre. She also has more than two decades of experience in the communications field and has held communications positions at Emory University, The NAMES Project Foundation/AIDS Memorial Quilt and the Alliance Theatre. Shaffer holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in communications from Georgia State University.