TED 2012: Susan Cain and the Power of Introverts
The face of the world is made of extroverts – the outgoing, the social and the assertive – but look closer and you’ll see the introverts standing quietly in the back, not the least bit troubled that they might go unnoticed. Our society, however, favors the extroverts.
The message was powerful: nearly 50 percent of us are introverts, those who feel most alive, connected and inspired in the quiet and contemplative moments of life. And introverts are a force to be reckoned with despite an inherent cultural bias. Cain points to our schools and our workplaces as institutions designed for the outgoing and gregarious. Children are confronted with group work even in the most solitary of assignments, such as creative writing. Student desks are arranged in pods with children facing one another to encourage interaction. When those children leave home and join the workforce they will likely be confronted with more pods, more group activities, and open floor plans, even if that is not the best environment for them.
Cain describes what she calls the “new groupthink”— society’s belief that creativity and productivity come from outgoing, social places. But, she contends, solitude is a vital ingredient in creativity.
“Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss,” Cain said, “dreamed up many of his amazing creations in a lonely bell tower office that he had in the back of his house in La Jolla, California. And he was actually afraid to meet the young children who read his books for fear that they were expecting him to be this kind of jolly, Santa Claus-like figure, and would be disappointed with his more reserved persona.”
Cain also talks about growing up in an introverted family who prized books and solitude. Social time with her family meant everyone sitting around the living room reading quietly. In its own way, it was still social. They were still together. But it allowed for family members to go off on their own adventure of the mind. To travel to places maybe only they wish to travel to.
But she is not calling for revolution; not exactly. She wants to see our workplaces have spaces for casual, chatty exchanges of ideas, coffee shop-style, where introverts and extroverts alike will find common ground. Then, when it comes time to do the work, the mental heavy lifting and the thinking, we can go back to our private places that offer autonomy and freedom—the freedom to work in the way that is most productive for ourselves.
Ryan Schill is a journalist, writer and photographer with an eye toward the public interest. A graduate of Kennesaw State University, Ryan holds a BS in Communication with a concentration in Media Studies and he is currently pursuing an MA in Professional Writing at KSU. He tweets occasionally at @rpschill.