Part 2: Quiet – Solitude matters! – a GHC 2016 lecture by Susan Cain

Continued from Part 1:  Quiet: How to Harness the Strengths of Introverts

Solitude matters.  “We need to rescue solitude!” Cain emphasized.  “And in the same vein, we also need to rescue leadership.”  She showed a slide that displayed a group of penguins obediently waiting to slide off an iceberg, as their leader has just done.  “The most charismatic person is not necessarily the best leader.”  This was somewhat mind-blowing.  My MBA courses never seemed to let up on the importance of charisma – being powerful, influential and inspiring so that you could lead from anywhere, even without being in a position of authority.

“Are you an introvert, extrovert or ambivert?” the next slide asked.  Cain’s book has a questionnaire that readers can complete to answer this question.  Due to time constraints, she could not have us go through the full questionnaire so she proposed the following alternative:

It’s a little new and unorthodox but we’ll give it a try.  I want you to split up into groups of 4 (groan).  I shared a personal and private story and now I’d like you to share a similar story from your own past with each other.  You will then select the most poignant story and share it with the group at large.  It may be a little uncomfortable but I really believe that if we are open and honest with each other, a greater truth will emerge.

As Cain said these words, I mentally formed a group with the woman sitting to my left (a self-proclaimed extrovert), Jessica on my right (a self-proclaimed Cain fangirl) and Jessica’s seatmate.  I also began mentally scrambling for a personal, poignant story I could share but found it hard to come up with one that I would be willing to share.  This was going to be tough …

“And I am, of course, kidding!” Cain said brightly and the audience burst into relieved laughter.  We laughed for a long while!  “I could see some of you thinking, ‘OK, how can I get out of here now?'” Cain teased us.  It was indeed amazing how she had alarmed us and how quickly and easily we accept the concept of working in groups, regardless of how outlandish and strange the premise might be (this was a session about introverts, after all!).

“Of course we’re not going to do any such thing,” Cain comforted us as we relaxed.  “But what were you thinking during those moments?  Recall the discomfort that you were experiencing.”

“Introverts are quite collaborative,” Cain continued.  “We don’t necessarily hate all group activities.”  She put up a slide that depicted a silhouette dancing, with a caption that read, “How do you feel after 2 hours at a fun party?”  I know how I felt … drained!  Cain explained that introverts feel depleted and drained after such an experience, while extroverts feel energized and recharged.  She stated that this battery metaphor describes what is happening neurobiologically.

Introverts value solitude and for good reason.  When there is too much external stimulation (noise, music, chatter), we find it distracting.  However, when things are quiet, it is as if a light has been switched on inside of us.  We find ourselves productive and creative.  I remember describing this experience as “uninterrupted time” and being told that it was a luxury I could not expect in an imperfect world.  Extroverts have the opposite reaction to stimuli; it energizes them.

Cain shared the findings of researchers:  this tendency towards introversion or extroversion can be observed in babies as young as 2 days old!  In an experiment, babies were fed sugar water.  The babies that salivated more were found to have greater sensitivity to external stimuli.  From the body’s point of view, sugar water is equivalent to a party.  The babies that salivated more grew up to react more strongly to stimuli and exhibit more introverted tendencies.

A second experiment involved adults solving math problems while loud and soft music alternately played in the background.  Results showed that the extroverts solved the problems more quickly when loud music played and the introverts solved the problems more quickly when soft music played.  This research demonstrates that there is no one-size-fits-all work environment.  The onus is on you to customize your environment to best fit your needs and in order to do this, it is essential that you know the research.

Continued in Part 3: Quiet – Attention to Detail – a GHC 2016 Lecture by Susan Cain

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