Susan Cain: The power of introverts

Watch a presentation by Susan Cain talking about the power of introverts.

Susan Cain starts her speech by the story how she went to a summer camp with a suitcase packed with books, expecting that this is what she will be doing there, similarly to what she used to do at home, with her family. It turned out that summer camps are all about teamwork, being extrovert and outgoing. She points out that 1/3 to 1/2 of the population is introvert, we need to let introverts do what they best do instead of pushing them to change.

Introversion – which shouldn’t be confused with shyness – is about how you respond to stimulation and how you prefer quieter, more low-key environment. As Susan Cain says, to maximize our talents, we need to put ourselves “in the zone of stimulation that is right for us”.

Majority of institutions, both schools and workplaces, are designed for extroverts, which is connected with their need for a lot of stimulation, teachers believe that ideal student is extrovert. The same happens at work – introverts are often ignored when it comes to leadership, despite the fact that they are more careful and less likely to take unreasonable risks. In fact, research done by Adam Grant from Wharton School shows that introvert leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts do. Susan Cain brings up some examples of introvert leaders in the history, including Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Gandhi. 

Even though there is no such thing as pure introvert or pure extrovert, each of us can be placed somewhere on this scale. In contemporary world we need better balance between these two types of personality. Cooperation is extremely important, but we shouldn’t forget about power of solitude – Susan Cain illustrates this thesis with example of Steve Wozniak, introvert who invented first Apple computer and then started cooperating with Steve Jobs to create Apple company.

There is strong cultural background for support for extrovert personality: Western societies, especially the US, “have always favored the man of action over the man of contemplation”. We should realize that the person speaking the loudest in a group is not necessarily the person with the best ideas.

Teamwork is necessary, but the more freedom we give to introverts to be themselves, the more likely they are to come up with their own unique solutions to various problems, says Susan Cain. 

She finishes her presentation with advice of three courses of action to take:

1. Stop the madness for constant groupwork

2. Go to the wilderness (not necessarilly literally, it just means getting inside our heads more often than we do)

3. Think what is in your suitcase (reference to the story from the beginning about the suitcase filled with books) and why these things are there.