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

Continued from Part 2: Quiet – Solitude matters!

“People often ask about shyness,” Cain continued.  “Shyness is different from introversion.  Shyness is a fear of social judgment.  President Obama is a famous example of an introvert who is not shy.  On the other hand, Barbara Streisand is a shy singer who suffered so much from stage fright that she did not perform for 20 years.”

Cain showed a slide depicting toddlers and caregivers seated in a circle for a musical activity.  Some toddlers stuck close to their parents, while one little fellow in red pranced happily in the center of the circle.  You could not identify his caregiver, whereas the other toddlers demonstrated a clear alliance with their caregivers.  When caregivers observe their children staying beside them and not physically participating in group activities, their mental narrative becomes one of concern.  “Is my child getting less out of the experience?” they worry.  This definitely struck a chord with me.  As a child, I remember being actively encouraged to participate in group activities.  Cain said we may also recall observing this behavior in a spouse, child or friend.

“Caregivers, there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye,” Cain pleaded on behalf of the apparent wallflowers.  “These children may be sitting beside you but they are not sitting inertly!  They are paying careful, subtle attention to the minute details and nuances of the social activity.  It is often so subtle that it goes unnoticed.”

Cain gave us an exercise:  spot the 5 differences between two pictures.  I immediately rose to this challenge, having adored this activity as a child.  Both pictures depicted a silhouette male figure seated on a bench in a city park.  I noted 4 differences before Cain moved to the next slide:

  1. The man’s face is turned to his right in the second picture
  2. There is only one bird on the tree in the second picture
  3. There is no sidewalk separator in the second picture
  4. The tree in the second picture is missing a branch

Cain explained introverts often do better at this exercise because their eyes move more often than those of extroverts.  As she said this, I became aware of my own eyes rapidly moving back and forth between the pictures, trying to spot differences.  This trait would later be labelled “attention to detail” and lead me to a career in Software Quality Assurance (QA).  I remember how often I’ve compared user interface screens to prototypes and successfully identified defects.  I even received recognition for identifying the most defects!  This led me to believe I was a good QA Analyst and motivated me to work harder.  The way Cain brought this technical skill back to its roots was truly fascinating.

The next slide showed a photo of Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg, COO and CEO of Facebook, respectively.  They were wearing sunglasses (in the tech world, they clearly enjoy a level of fame akin to that of Hollywood stars!) and getting Starbucks coffee.  Cain explained that this is a famous example of yin and yang.  Sheryl the extrovert and Mark the introvert harmonize and harness each other’s strengths.  This was, in fact, one of the reasons Mark recruited Sheryl; he observed that her extroverted nature would accomplish several people-oriented tasks more efficiently than his introverted nature.

Continued in Part 4: Quiet – Rescue Creativity and Reduce Groupthink

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