As verbosity and shooting from the hip seems to have dominated centre stage in the world’s media you will understand why I have wondered if there is indeed any place in the world for the introvert. Then I was reminded of this wonderful talk and it was reassuring to listen to it again.
In this wonderful TED talk, Susan Cain puts forward a plea for the world to recognise and celebrate the talents and abilities of the introverted. Cain describes how she always felt that her natural introverted style of being was somehow wrong, and that through her life she has always been encouraged (overtly, or societally) to be more outgoing. Despite her instincts, she became a corporate lawyer and went out to large social gatherings when she would have rather been at home reading, or sharing an intimate dinner with close friends.
From a very young age Cain became aware of a very real bias in our society. Key institutions such as our workplaces and schools are designed for extroverts. At school, children are encouraged to be social and outgoing, to collaborate on group projects. Schools are structured for group work; the desks are set into pods of 4-8 desks designed to maximise group interaction. Children who prefer to work alone are often viewed as problem cases as children who do not mix well with others.
Workplaces are also geared up for group work. We now work in open plan offices, which may be the ideal environment for extroverts, but this is far removed from an introvert’s zone of stimulation. A belief system exists within our society that creativity and productivity comes from group work. However Cain suggests that it would be far better for people to go off independently to generate their own ideas, freed from the restraints of group dynamics, and then to come back together as a team and talk through things in a well-managed environment.
“There is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” Susan Cain
Cain is not calling for us to abolish group work, or open plan offices. Social skills are of course important, as is teamwork. The world needs collaboration, but also needs freedom and autonomy to allow introverts to flourish in their own way.
Cain’s three calls to action to help change the attitudes of introversion in our society:
1) Stop the madness for constant group work! Offices should be encouraging casual chatty interactions to enable an exchange of ideas. This is great for introverts, and also great for extroverts, but we also need more privacy, and autonomy in the workplace.
2) Go to the wilderness. Experience your own revelations which come from deep thought. Take time to get inside your head a little more often.
3) Share your gifts with the world. Whether that is energy and charisma of an extrovert, or quiet contemplation and thought of an introvert – share your gifts with the world!
“[Introverts,] the world needs you and it needs the things you carry. So I wish you the best of all possible journeys and the courage to speak softly.” Susan Cain