The Power of Introverts

The book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is definitely worth reading. The book describes a number of institutions and organizations that promote the extrovert ideal that has become so pervasive in the western culture. The primary objective of the book was to show the value introverts bring to our society and how we would be unable to live without them.

I find too often that introverts are misunderstood. It is assumed that if you aren’t outgoing, then you just need to just work on developing that 'ability' and you can be outgoing. But the reality is that introverts don’t really want to be outgoing. I know because I am one. We get our energy working alone or just being with a few people, which helps us to recharge our batteries.

Extroverts just can’t understand the power that comes from a rich inner life. Their energy comes from being with a lot of people and being at the center of the show. Which is fine. But don’t expect introverts to be like that.

One of the notions the book refutes is that you can’t be successful in life unless you learn to work well in groups. Most business schools promote this concept in spades, Harvard Business School being one example. But group think often kills creativity.

Take for example, Steve Wozniak. Did he design the first Apple computer by group? By committee? NO! He designed it completely alone. Did Sergei Brin design the search engine data mining tool that has made Google successful by group? NO! He may have collaborated with Larry Page, but the data mining technology was one that he largely developed by himself.

Jim Collins in his books on the best performing companies says that the best CEOs are not flashy or charismatic. Darwin Smith who completely turned around Kimberly-Clark into an industry powerhouse was shy and mild-mannered. Every CEO Collins learned at the best performing companies where like Smith — totally unassuming, humble and quiet. To say that you have to be an outgoing extrovert to be a good CEO isn’t true. This isn’t too say extroverts can’t make good CEOs either. In fact, what Cain’s book demonstrated is that introverts are 'uniquely good at leading initiative-takers' while 'extroverted leaders are better at getting results from more passive workers.' So both have their place.

I run a pretty good size team of software developers and quality assurance gurus. When our growing company was looking a bigger space for our company, one of the suggestions was to put development in cubes that foster team work and 'open communication.' I was very opposed to the idea. Why? Because 90% of the people that work for me are introverts! And introverts want to work alone. They need quiet time to do their best work. Our output level would drop like a rock if we were to change our office layout to one that fosters team work. Leave that to the marketing and business development teams!

Thank you Susan for writing this book. It delivers a well needed understanding of powerful individuals who often do not get heard and are usually very misunderstood.


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