I am an extrovert, a big one. I display all the classic characteristics… happy to jump in, confident talking in large groups, seek the spotlight and think shallow but fast. Except, after reading this book I’m not so sure I’m as much as I thought I was or even if I want to be one… but we’ll get to that.
Most of us bracket ourselves into two buckets, introvert or extrovert, even
those who don’t have the first idea about psychology or any interest in it will be able to confidently classify themselves one way or the other. This however presents a problem for somewhere between 25 – 50% of the western introverted population. You’re not celebrated, because extroverts are and in a big way. Our whole society is built around extrovert ideals and it is these ideals that Susan Cain challenges in her ‘gently’ brilliant book – Quiet: T
he Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.
Think about it, we are encouraged to work in groups at work, although research suggests that stems creativity. Those who are quieter in meetings or may not say anything at all are branded as disengaged, difficult, or just not interested. When in fact they might be processing the problem in hand, just thoughtfully and in more detail. Presentation skills are highly regarded, with those able to communicate their ideas to large grou
ps admired for their confidence, but just because they force their way into the spotlight doesn’t make them right.
This book is such a refreshing look from the other side, it really does make us extroverts think twice… and believe me, it’s not often we do that. While the book is packed with key messages, examples and stories I’m going to focus on two themes, one for the introverts out there and one for the extroverts:
- When you should fake you’re an
- The power of working alone
In the spirit of the book and bucking against social traditions, I think we’ll start with focusing on the introverts first.
In her book, Susan tells us the story of Professor Brian Little; by all accounts he is a quiet man, keeping himself to himself, living in the remote Canadian woods. He spends his free time reading, writing books and at social gatherings tends to pair off into smaller groups and quiet conversation. Professor Little is an introvert. Except when he is teaching his students at Harvard University, then he’s definitely not. During lectures he has a booming voice, breaks into song, twirls about on stage and is often described as a cross between Robin Williams and Albert Einstein.
So how come he is able, as an introvert, to speak so effectively when in public? The answer is down to a new field of psychology (which he pretty much created incidentally) called – Free Trait Theory. This theory is all about being able to act out of our born natural character to serve our core personal objectives. Essentially introverts are capable of acting like extroverts when it’s about something they consider important, when’s it’s for people they love, or anything they value highly.
This is important, as culturally we are told from the start introverts are not good at certain social situations and can become crippled with fear – for example public speaking or networking at a large event. While this can be true, it can be overcome by anyone with practice and if the individual can do this with something they highly value, it’s all the easier. That is why Professor Little, the consummate introvert gets away with it, because he loves his work and students deeply.
Those introverts who are able to act in an extrovert way also benefit from another psychological trait called ‘self monitoring’. This is where the individual is able to use external social cues in order to monitor their own social behavior, rather than their own internal compass. They look to others to understand how to act and invariably follow a mantra of ‘when in Rome’, enabling them to read the room and be more effective in communicating to the needs of their audience however large or small.
Clearly the book goes into far more detail on techniques introverts can use to jolt themselves from behind their desks, books and computer screens, but the key point here is anyone can. Often introverts have thought through problems far deeper, but are unable to articulate their ideas to the group, missing out on potentially giving the right answers or an interesting, differing view point. Well Free trait theory says there’s now no excuse.
I have recently moved desks at work and I don’t like it. I’ve moved away from my social group, those I talk and share ideas with throughout the day and to be honest, it’s just plain boring being in a quieter space; except here’s the thing… I’m getting lots of work done and at a higher quality, which leads me nicely on to my next section about the power of working alone… and it’s awesome.
Almost all organisations in modern day business use teams as a way to drive projects and enhance innovation. The concept of people having their own pod like spaces is gone and open plan offices rule the roost with over 70% of companies adopting this model. The internet enables no barriers between colleagues and collaboration has become a sacred concept. Woohoo for the extroverts.
However this tidal wave of collaboration might not be all it’s cracked up to be and new research suggests those individuals who are exceptional in their field note ‘deliberate practice’ as a key reason for success. I.e. they spent a lot of time alone practicing and honing their craft. Studies show that master violinists for example, perform better when they practice alone, as opposed to those who practice in groups. Famous innovators like Stephen Wozniak (Apple) and James Dyson (think posh vacuum cleaners) spent hours alone perfecting their designs. Allowing yourself time to focus on a problem rather than working in co-functioning groups, enables specificity in the thought process that can be the bedrock of creativity.
Group work also brings with it two other related problems, which is backed by science outlined in the book. Firstly science suggests you’re more likely to come up with a larger quantity of ideas on your own and those ideas will be of a higher quality, than if you work in a group. Secondly, when working in groups the science again suggests the best ideas are not the ones always used, as the louder members of the group dominate and those ‘quieter’ individuals get lost in the pack and here’s a shocking twist… The louder members of the group statistically don’t give as higher quality of ideas. Now in my mind this won’t happen in all cases, but it certainly does give something for both the introverts and the extroverts out there to think about.
In summary this really is a great book for both introverts and extroverts alike. It enables both sides to spend some time looking at the others perspective and demonstrates success lies with individuals who can pull between the best of both personality characteristics.
At the start of this blog I stated I no longer want to be an extrovert, but that’s not really true, what I do want is to learn from this book and realise I need to ‘raise my words not my voice. As its rain that grows flowers not thunder’.
Note: I have mentioned before one of the great things I get from this blog is the great book suggestions I get from friends, family and colleagues. This particular book was suggest by Alex Boast, who himself is a brilliant blogger and can be found at – www.ghoststorywriter.co.uk