Tuesday, February 28, 2012

TED 2012: Shh. I'm an Introvert

The eloquent and graceful Susan Cain is a self-declared introvert in a world geared toward extroverts.  She performs best when given quiet time to think and analyze.  She argues that 1/3 to 1/2 the world is introverted like herself.

Yet the world does not sufficiently value introverts.  Teachers rate extroverts more highly.  Extroverts have an edge in promotions in the workplace.  And the world is becomingly increasingly hostile to introverts.

Education systems have a singleminded emphasis on group work.  Even classroom arrangements that have shifted from individual desks to group pods mark a transition to an environment that is difficult for an introvert who wants to think things out alone.  This is particularly true in the MBA schools where I teach.  There is an enormous premium placed on the skills of oral presentation and relatively little on the value of writing cogently.  This is reasonable, given that we know success in business is linked to this presentation skill.  After an interesting exchange with a very capable and introverted student this year, it got me thinking whether the B-School establishment was perpetuating this tendency.  So Cain's talk really struck a nerve today.

Many great transformational leaders have been introverts, and their strength has often come from a time of contemplation alone 'in the wilderness'.   But today, we are tending more and more to be led only by extroverts - and the ones who talk loudest at that.

Cain offers three Calls to Action:
  • Stop the madness for group work.  Provide introverts and extroverts with an environment that brings out their best work.  
  • Go to the wilderness.  Give yourself time to think alone and unadulterated by the voices of others.
  • Do the self-examination to figure out which style brings out the best in yourself, and try to find an environment that suits your style.
Cain is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, if you want to read more on this.

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