For my leadership learning, I wanted to read the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. My initial impulse was because I’m an introvert and have found myself frustrated by U.S. corporate norms that often favor extraverts. Can I find information to help myself succeed in this environment? Well yes and no.
One insight I got was that I am not as much as an introvert as I thought I was. For instance, the idea of speaking in public does not terrify me as much as some people. I also realized that I have some skill in public “small talk” needed to create a happy social environment. However, I am definitely an introvert in that I am not always in the mood to that and that I have a tolerance limit.
Ultimately, what makes an introvert an introvert is the need for “quiet time” by oneself. Cain points out that a number of introverts have made creditable leaders, negotiaters, performers and public speakers (including Cain herself) , but that these individuals often desire some “alone time” to recharge. Unfortunately, this can result in a person being perceived as being aloof or timid.
To be truthful, I already knew a lot of this before reading Cain’s book. I think the more important insight is how important “alone time” really is to the psyche of an introvert. Having heard for 15+ years that people need to ALWAYS collaborate/learn in a community, Cain brings in research to show that the solitude is an important aspect of learning and working for many people. For instance, if you believe that “10,000 hours of practice is mastery” (or at least “practice makes perfect”), chances are that some of the practice will be in solitude.
According to Cain though, modern business culture often assumes a 100% extraverted model where “brainstorming” is restricted to semi-public group discussion with no individual reflection. Although group brainstorming has its benefits, Cain argues that the result is not always optimal. In some situations, allowing introverted staff time to reflect on a problem could result in more creative solutions.
Another issue Cain mentions is the trend for completely open offices. If these spaces become noisy, many introverts may become too distracted to work productively. But if spaces can be designer where introverted staff are allowed some time in a truly quiet space, they may be more creative and better charged when they are required to be in an group setting.
These issues are important in a higher education setting or IT setting where it is likely that many instructors and other types of staff are, in fact, introverted. They may also be a little bit cranky at constantly working in an extroverted environment.
P.S. Appreciating Extraversion
I have to end this blog post by saying although Cain and other introverts can sneer at extraverts, we introverts do have to appreciate the social skills that extraverts bring to the table. Having a co-worker help you out with a cheerful attitude or ask about your day with genuine interest is truly a lovely thing. And truly nothing colloborative could happen without someone reaching out first.