Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Power of Introverts

Years ago I saw an article in Sports Illustrated about a group of NFL football players who instead of partying or running around used to sit around or lie on the floor reading books. They were quiet. They were a little different from the blabbermouths. They were nicknamed "The Zeroes."

Interestingly enough, there's a popular new book (Jan 2012) that has quietly gathered a lot of attention for itself, aptly titled, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. More than 1,100 people have reviewed the book, which I consider a good indicator of its popularity.

In an interview posted on Amazon.com author Susan Cain is asked why she wrote this book.

For the same reason that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Introverts are to extroverts what women were to men at that time--second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent. Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to “pass” as extroverts. The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and, ultimately, happiness.

According to the reviews the book details example after example of introverts who profoundly changed history. Too often we think that only extroverts can be leaders and make a difference.

Cain observes that the qualities that used to rule have been subverted in our new media culture. It used to be that character was important. Qualities like industriousness, discipline and the like were held in high esteem. Today, these have taken a back seat to outgoingness and "a winning personality."

Here's a paragraph from the book's description:

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.

I once participated in a business retreat in which we all went through Meyers-Briggs personality testing. I myself found it an invaluable experience as you encounter the varieties of human personality and discover why some people react differently in different situations. One exercise showed vividly how not only are people introverts and extroverts, but that in different situations even extroverts can become introverted when placed in the presence of people more extroverted than themselves.

To some extent personality is fluid. But for the most part, "At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled 'quiet,' it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer."

If you're an introvert, my guess is that you will value the affirmation this book supplies. And if you're an extrovert, I'm certain that you will find this volume of insights helpful in navigating a world that has a full range of personality types, plenty of them the quieter type.

I do like the title. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. I think I'll shut up now. Have a thought-full day.

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