Susan Cain [ Bias Networks ] I’m here to talk to you about three terrible, awful mistakes that I think that you’re probably making in your work lives and quite possibly in your personal relationships as well.
The good news is that I’m also going to tell you how to fix these mistakes.
I’m just going to jump right in and tell you what these mistakes are.
Mistake number one: a third to a half of us are introverts. A third to a half. The most recent study actually says that it is 50% of the population which I know seems shocking.
It doesn’t feel as if half of us are introverted, but this is because so many introverts are told from the time they’re very little children that they should be acting more like extroverts and so they learn how to do it.
But the fact remains: inside that’s who they are and in many ways we are not getting the best of our introvert’s hearts and brains and I’m going to explain to you why that is but this is also really important because if you think about it introverts really are roughly where women were in the 1950s.
It’s sort of half the population undervalued for a trait that goes to the core of who we are and we are failing to maximize our potential. We will all be better off if we start getting it right
Mistake number two: whether or not you’re an introvert or an extrovert yourself, whether or not you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you are spending way too much time in meetings and not enough time alone — and this is seriously interfering with your ability to be creative.
I’ll explain why.
Mistake number three: many of you assume — perhaps unconsciously — that the most assertive talkers have the best ideas.
In fact, there’s zero correlation between these two things.
Assertive talkers might have the best ideas at any given moment — and you may not — it’s up to chance so we have to figure out ways of hearing from all sides.
I’m going to get into each of these three mistakes but before we do that I want to — everybody together –understand what do we actually mean by an introvert or an extrovert.
What do these terms mean and more importantly, who are you? Where do you, each of you personally, fall on this introvert extrovert spectrum?
To get at this question, we’re going to do something just a little bit unorthodox.
I’m going to ask you each to form groups of four, with people sitting next to you, and then I’m going to ask you to take a memory from your childhood that you think illustrates the real you and then we’re going to ask each group to select the most personal private and poignant of each of these memories and share them with the audience at large and in the hope that out of this process a larger truth will emerge.
I’m just kidding.
We’re not really going to do any such thing. We’re not going to do any such thing.
But I want you to think for a minute about what you were thinking and feeling for the brief 20 seconds where you thought, “she’s actually serious about this”.
Were are you thinking “actually, this is kind of nice — a chance to chat with my colleagues a little bit more instead of listening passively to a speech” or were you thinking, “how can I get out of here right now without insulting the speaker?” If you were feeling that way, you might be more on the introverted side of the spectrum.
Introverts are forever being obliged to participate in these kinds of group processing events and they tend not to like them very much — which is not to say that introverts don’t make really great team members. Introverts actually tend to be quite cooperative and enjoy working in teams but they don’t tend to like these kinds of spontaneous groupings for their own sake.
Another way to think about who you are — are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? — a lot of it just has to do with “where do I get my energy?”
Where do you get your energy?
I want you to imagine for a minute that you’re at a party and imagine it’s a really terrific party and you’re having a great time and you’re talking to people who you’re enjoying and everything’s all good but still what happens after an hour and a half or two hours? Are you feeling like, “well, I’m really revved up by this and so now I want to socialize all the more” or are you thinking that you’re starting to wish to God that you were home in your pajamas?
Again, that is something that introverts tend to feel. It’s just a kind of like you get to plead it a little bit, after you’ve been out and about a bit, and you get recharged by being inside your own head.
Introverts and extroverts have very different constellations of strengths.
Introverts tend to be very reflective. They tend to focus really well. They tend to like delving into subject in great depth and they’re really really persistent.
You know this in from your real life experiences but it’s been shown in the lab too — you give introverts and extroverts problems to solve that require sitting down and persistently working at them — the introverts will work at them longer. That’s just their nature.
Albert Einstein — who is one of my favorite introverted role models — once said, “it’s not that I’m so smart, it’s that I stay with problems longer.”
You can think of that really as an introverted mantra.
The extrovert constellation of strengths is different. It’s more about being very buoyant and assertive and dynamic and sociable — these kinds of things.
What we really need are these two constellations of strengths to be equally valued and to come together — to really work together — to form a kind of yin and yang instead of what I believe we have right now which is a kind of personality chauvinism where the one constellation is seen as more important than the other.
Once we start to value them equally, that’s when we can really start to form the partnership that we need.
I’m going to give you an example of such a partnership. Here it is. This is Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg who pretty much run Facebook together. Mark Zuckerberg is a famous introvert. He explicitly hired Sheryl Sandberg because he knew that he likes to go deep — focus on strategy — in this kind of thing.
He needed somebody who could balance him out and who likes to focus, among other things, more on the people side of the equation.
So the two of them have their separate spheres but they come together — they respect each other — and it’s really effective for them.
Having said this, I also think it’s important to say sometimes when I talk about this people think that because I’m talking about the power of introverts that there’s a kind of implicit “down with extroverts” and it’s really not that at all.
I want to make that point explicit.
My husband’s an extrovert — my beloved husband. Many of my best friends are extroverts. I love extroverts. So it’s really about everybody coming together.
I want to ask you to think also about now finally which one are you and I’m just going to ask you to raise your hand there’s no trick question here.
How many of you would describe yourselves as introverts?
How many would you describe yourselves as extroverts?
Interesting. this crowd I would say it’s probably about 70/30, 65/35 — something like that — in favor of extroverts.
In using these terms I’m not wanting to take away from anybody’s glorious complexity as human beings.
We are all a mishmash of both and even Carl Jung the psychologist — who first popularized these terms in the 1920s — even Carl Jung said there is no such thing as a pure introvert or pure extrovert. Such a man would be in a lunatic asylum if they existed at all.
We all know what it’s like to be on the other side of the spectrum.
And yet I think that many of us do relate to one type or the other and it’s important to know which way we go because these orientations I believe are as profound as gender and they influence how we like to work, how we like to connect with people, how we like to love.
They influence everything that’s important about being alive.
That’s why it’s important to get it right.
What is important there is, it’s not even so much who we are — it’s really why our way, the way we are, what is it that makes somebody an introvert or an extrovert and what flows from that understanding?
So let’s just get that clear.
Introversion first of all. It’s not about shyness.
The two terms tend to get conflated but really shyness is about the fear of social judgment
If you’re a shy person, you’re going through the world ascribing negative judgments of yourself in other people — you’re imagining that people are judging you in a harsh way. And some introverts are indeed shy but many are not.
There’s some overlap but not complete introversion and extroversion.
It’s really about how you respond to stimulation.
Introverts feel at their most alive and their most energized and their most switched on when they are in quieter environments where there’s just less stuff coming at them. There’s less stimulation coming at them. And extroverts are completely the opposite. Extroverts crave more stimulation coming at them and if they don’t get enough of it they start to feel bored and restless and unhappy.
So it’s really quite a different thing and it’s important to understand it in this way because we still often think of introversion as being about being antisocial or asocial in some way — or not socially skilled. It’s really not about this.
It’s about being differently social.
Because if you are somebody who likes to have less stimulation coming at you, you’re going to socialize more by having a one-on-one glass of wine with your close friend as opposed to going out to a big thumping party full of strangers.
And at work you’re going to prefer to solve problems by having a one-on-one in-depth talk behind the scenes as opposed to going into a meeting and having everything thrown at you — having a big back-and-forth — because you know if there’s one thing that’s a highly stimulating environment it’s a meeting, right? Where you have eight people around a table and ideas going back and forth and everyone talking at once.
You have to figure out who’s saying what and why.
There’s a lot going on.
So extroverts often find that to be a very stimulating kind of thing but it’s not only — and this is so important — it’s not only about how we socialize, this question of stimulation, it’s about all different kinds of stimulation. Noise and lights and that kind of thing.
One fascinating study by the psychologist Russell Gein. He gave math problems to groups of introverts and extroverts with varying levels of background noise playing while the people were doing the math problems and he found that the introverts did better when the noise levels were lower and the extroverts did better when the noise levels were higher.
That is a profound bit of research — for those of us who care about how people work and create — because what research tells us and there’s a lot of other, there’s a long line of research out there that’s just like it — what this research tells us is that we each need very different kinds of environments to function optimally, to be at our most energized, to be in our most creative and in a position to be innovative.
This is really the fuel that has led me to write my book and be up here talking to you now.
And yet the world is not designed in a way that accommodates both kinds.
The world is mostly — our workplaces are mostly designed for extroverts.
We live now, in particular, with a value system that I call The New Groupthink, which is basically the idea that creativity and productivity emerges from a very gregarious place. You can see this throughout most of our most important institutions. Our schools and our workplaces.
So many of us nowadays are working in open-plan offices where there are no walls or there’s very little respite from the noise or the gaze of your coworkers.
This is a more and more popular way to work across the world and it’s really really distracting.
I actually had the chance to work in one of these offices — just a few weeks ago. I was camped out in London and borrowed somebody’s office. Aside from finding it distracting to just have the clickety clack of everybody’s computer keys going on all around me, I felt like you had to just spend a lot of energy just thinking about how to arrange your face when you’re in an environment like this because you’re right out there in the open.
For me — and I’m guessing I’m not alone in this — for me, when I’m really focused and really in the zone and in a good happy place in my mind with my work, I kind of look like this and it looks kind of depressed. You can’t really look that way when you’re out there with your colleagues.
So you’re devoting all this energy into self presentation that really could better be applied to other tasks.
But there’s also actually a mountain of research out there that’s little talked about for reasons I can’t fathom — it’s all my book — but there’s a mountain of research out there on the larger problems of Open Offices. They make people distracted. They make them hostile. They make them anxious and, paradoxically, they actually inhibit the formation of close friendships — because, if you think about it, how do you start a close friendship with someone?
How do you really establish intimacy?
Very often the currency for that is shared confessions, shared confidences, and you can’t really have shared confidences if you’re working in this kind of an environment because everybody can overhear everything that you’re saying.
So I’m opposed to these kinds of offices in general and I believe this is true for extroverts as well as introverts — all the problems I’m talking about.
But it’s worse for introverts.
It’s worse for introverts because of the differences in responses to stimulation that I was talking about before.
If you’re somebody who gets distracted and just feels kind of jangled when you have too much coming at you — then working in this kind of situation can be really problematic.
Same thing though is happening in our schools and you know I was telling you that children nowadays from a very early age are given the message that they really should be more like extroverts.
Increasingly our school lessons are taught as group projects like the kind that you’re seeing here. This is true even in subjects like math and creative writing — which you would think would depend to some extent on solo flights of thought.
Nowadays students are encouraged to work as committee members — at least in the U.S.
I don’t know if this is true here in Norway, for example, but in the U.S. there was a study that found that a majority of teachers believe that the ideal student is an extrovert — even though, by the way, introverted kids get better grades and they go on throughout university to get better grades, to win more scholarships, and they’ve been found to be more knowledgeable about a wide variety of subject.
What’s interesting about that by the way is that their IQ is no higher than extroverts. Not at all you know there’s no difference between the two but the reason that introverted kids do better sort of any from the academic side is this quality that we were talking about of being persistent and sitting and focusing — and that actually has its benefits.
I want to give you a sense because this stuff is pretty deep and pretty visceral so I want to give you a sense of the way in which as introverts we absorb the message that there’s something wrong with our way of being.
It tends to happen you know from the time you’re a little kid and it happens in very small moments that accumulate over time.
I’m going to tell you a story from my own life. This is a story of the first time I went away to summer camp and my mother packed for me a suitcase full of books which to me was a perfectly natural thing to do because I grew up in this family where reading was the primary group activity.
That might sound anti-social to you but you know in our family it was just like I said a different way of being social you had the animal warmth of your brother and sister sitting right there next to you and you were also free to go roaming around this great adventure land inside your own mind.
I thought summer camp great summer camp is going to be just like this only better it’s going to be 10 girls sitting in a cabin cozily reading books and their matching nightgowns.
How cool is that?
Then I got to camp and camp turned out to be really different camp was more like a big keg party without any alcohol.
The very first day the counselor gathered us around and she said that she was going to teach us a cheer and that cheer then set the tone for the rest of the summer.
I can’t believe that I’m going do this up on a stage but I’m going to now recite the cheer for you.
The cheer went like this it went. R-O-W-D-I-E, that’s the way we spell rowdy rowdy rowdy let’s get rowdy!
I could not figure out for the life of me why were we supposed to be so rowdy all the time and why did we have to spell this word incorrectly.
I recited the cheer along with everybody else and I just waited for the time that I could go off with my books and restore my energy a little bit.
My own sense of being.
But the problem was that the first time I tried to take my books out of my suitcase the coolest girl in the bunk came in the cabin she came up to me and asked me just curiously why I was being so mellow — mellow of course being the exact opposite of R-O-W-D-I-E.
And the counselor came up to me with a concerned expression on her face and she said we were here at camp and we should all try very hard to be outgoing and to have camp spirit and that was what it was all about.
So I put my books away in my suitcase and there they stayed for the rest of the summer they were tucked away the suitcase was tucked away under my bed.
I felt for the rest of the summer I felt as if the books were calling to me and I felt guilty I felt like they were calling and I wasn’t answering and that it was somehow forsaking them.
But I did leave them there and I didn’t open that suitcase again until I was home at the end of the summer.
I tell you this story not because it was some great trauma in and of itself but more because it was one of you know fifty stories that I could tell you about all the times that you get the message as an introvert that there’s something somehow wrong with your more quiet more reflective way of being.
I always was sensing instinctively that there was something wrong with this idea and yet I absorbed it.
And so I became as you heard I became a corporate lawyer on Wall Street for many years even though you know I had always longed to be a writer but I became a corporate lawyer partly because I needed to prove to myself that I could be very bold and very assertive the way lawyers I thought were supposed to be.
I was always going off to crowded bars when I would have preferred to have a glass of wine with a close friend and I was making these choices so reflexively that I wasn’t even aware that I was making them.
I think that that’s what many introverts do and that it’s our loss — but it’s also our colleagues’ loss and it’s our community’s loss.
And at the risk of sounding grandiose, it is the world’s loss.
Because when it comes to creativity, and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best.
We need them doing what they do best.
Here we come to mistake number two which I will remind you is that whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert you are probably spending way too much time in meetings and not enough time alone and let me tell you why I say this and what we can all be learning from introverts.
When psychologists look at who have been the most spectacularly creative people over time and across many different fields they almost always find this:
They almost always find people with serious streaks of introversion in them.
These people are usually extroverted enough that they go out happily and exchange ideas and advance ideas because of course that’s an important part of creativity too.
It doesn’t really work to just sit in your hermetically sealed container and not actually ever share your ideas.
So that of course is an important part of it.
You need to be out there, talking to people to, to get ideas and to be having these chance encounters that make them flourish.
But you also need solitude. You need it. And introverts tend to be really good at solitude. It’s something that they crave. This the sole thing that gives them the advantage that they have when it comes to creativity –because introverts will find ways to get the solitude even if it’s not handed to them.
I’m going to give you a couple of examples of this.
The guy with a long woolly beard is Charles Darwin. He was always going off and taking long walks alone in the woods and turning down dinner party invitations.
He preferred the company of his wife and his children in the countryside and his woodlands.
The guy in the middle is Theodor Geisel — otherwise known as Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss created characters like The Cat in the Hat and all these beloved characters that we know so well. He created them in a lonely belltower office that he had in the back of house in La Jolla, California.
He was a reserved guy. So much so that he was actually afraid to meet the children who loved his stories so much for fear that they were expecting him to be this kind of jolly Santa Claus type of guy and would be disappointed with his true self.
Then the guy on the right with a more close-shaven beard — I know many of you recognize him — that’s Steve Wozniak who invented the first Apple Computer.
He did that also mostly alone. Inspired by others but the actual work process was sitting alone in his cubicle at Hewlett Packard, where he was working at the time.
He would go in there early in the morning before work and late at night after everyone had gone home and he describes this period of these solitary sunrises and midnight’s as one of the great times of his life.
I am NOT saying that collaboration is not important. Not saying that at all. A case in point is Steve Wozniak who famously came together with Steve Jobs to form Apple Computer.
Nothing would have happened but for the profitable collaboration between those two.
But I am saying that for some people solitude really matters. For some people solitude is the air that they breathe and it can benefit us all.
I’ll give you one more example.
This guy — that’s Philippe Starck, one of the great designers of our time. I’m going to just read to you now, in Phillipe Stark’s own words, how he describes his own creative process.
He says, “from the middle of June to the middle of September I don’t speak to anybody and I do the entire year’s work in my bedroom on my little table from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. with only my music.
“I never read any magazines or watch TV, nor do I go to cocktail parties, dinners or anything like that.
“I live alone mostly in the middle of nowhere. The most important thing is that I’m outside of mainstream thinking — not repeating what anybody else is saying. I am alone trying to find my own way of doing things.”
That is Philippe Starck.
He can get away with saying anything he wants.
But I want you to imagine for a minute what if somebody came to you at your organization and they were interviewing for a job or they were asking you for a promotion and they started talking to you about how they really don’t like office birthday parties that much and they really do most of their best work going off on their own.
Would you hire that person?
Would you think of them as a valued member of your creative team?
Or would you think of them as a problem case?
What would you be thinking?
I’m guessing that for many of you the answer is that you would not be comfortable with that person. I’m going to suggest to you that as a result you might be missing out on some of the great creative minds who could be helping you grow.
People like Philippe Starck, who by the way — he’s not a hermit — he comes back to the world with his ideas. This is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
But somebody like Philippe Starck understands instinctively how important it is to be alone.
He talks about not being exposed to other people’s stuff because it gets in the way of his thinking. When he says this he’s actually stumbling into one of the great new psychological truths that we have as a result of research that’s happening.
It turns out, we can’t even be in a group of people without instinctively mimicking their opinions even about seemingly really personal and visceral stuff like who you’re attracted to.
You will start picking up on the opinions of the people around you.
The crazy thing is, you won’t even know you’re doing it.
You’ll have no idea.
You’ll think that this is what you think.
You’ll think that this is who you’re attracted to.
But in fact you’re unconsciously aping the ideas of those around you.
It turns out, we’re such social creatures — all of us are –that this is the way that we operate.
Another thing that goes wrong in groups is it’s actually really hard to dissent from group opinion
Regardless of how bold a person you might feel that you are, as human beings as social human beings it’s hard for us to dissent.
The neuroscientist Gregory burns at Emory University recently was able to figure out what’s going on in our brains when we descent and what he found is that the amygdala which is the small organ in your brain that gets very activated when you’re fearing social rejection of some kind — which is one of life’s most searing pains — that the amygdala gets very activated anytime you offer an opinion that is different from the group around you.
Gregory Berns calls this the Pain of Independence — and it is incredibly inhibiting for creativity.
The third problem with groups.
This brings us to mistake number three.
We tend to believe all of us that the most assertive talkers have the best ideas.
I want to tell you a story for a minute to show you how this operates.
I’m going to ask you to come with me in your imaginations to Harvard Business School where I happen to do a lot of my research for my book.
The year that I was at HBS well really every year at HBS the first year students participate in this exercise that’s called the subarctic survival exercise.
The way it works is that groups of students are put together and they’re doing this roleplay where they have to pretend that they were just crash landed their plane in the subarctic and they have managed to salvage from the plane sixteen items that they now have to rank in order of importance to their survival.
The way the game works is that first you have to each person each individual has to rank these items on their own and then you need to come together in a group and as a group figure out what the best ranking is.
The idea of the exercise is that if a group is functioning well it should have a synergy to it and the group should do better than any of the single individuals who compose its members because you’re benefiting from all those brains coming together.
The year that I was at HBS there was a group that happened to have as one of its members an Arctic backpacker.
So they were really lucky to have this guy in their midst but he was also a quieter type and so every time he advanced his ideas about what they should be doing and how to be ranking the items the group listened politely moved on to the opinions of the more assertive members of the group.
And as a result their scores were really quite low.
They had the chance when they were done to watch a video playback of what their process had been and some of them were really embarrassed to watch themselves just ignoring the person who was saying the right thing and going off in the wrong direction and just blindly following in some kind of visceral way the ideas of the most confident person.
But they didn’t really need to have felt so embarrassed because of course this is something we all do.
This is a trap that we fall into.
It’s been repeated in studies again and again.
What I’m saying to you is that we need to be freed of the distortions of group dynamics if we can ever hope to really know what is happening deep inside our own minds and if we can really to get the best of what’s going on in our own minds.
Now this case that I’m making to you, there’s a lot of psychological research out there to bolster it.
I’ve just given you a few studies — just as examples — but the truth is that everything I’m saying to you is something that we’ve all known instinctively for centuries.
It’s only recently that we have begun to forget it.
We’ve known it for centuries.
If you look at all of the world’s major religions, all of them all of them tell stories of seekers — Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad — the seekers who would go off by themselves to the wilderness where they would have great revelations.
They were always by themselves when the revelations came — up on Mount Sinai — and then they would come down from their lonely mountain tops and share the the revelations with their respective communities.
That is how it works.
No wilderness, no revelation.
I’d like to leave you with five more concrete ideas for change and how you can be applying this in your own lives.
The first suggestion I’m going to give you is to really think about how to design your office spaces and to design them mindfully so that the introverts and the extroverts can both be operating in the stimulation level that they need.
Steve Jobs, when he designed Pixar — this has been much written about — he created this gigantic open atrium that you had to pass through anytime you needed to use the restroom and the idea of this was to encourage people to have the kind of chance encounters that foster creative breakthroughs and I think this is a great idea.
You may have expected me to say terrible.
I think it’s a great idea these casual chance encounters are wonderful.
They’re much better than the formal kind you know it formally sitting together in a meeting and they’re important they’re absolutely important.
But we also need an addition to that private spaces –giving people more autonomy more solitude more privacy.
I recently visited Google’s headquarters in New York and they do some of this really beautifully.
You know there are these gigantic cafe areas where everybody is coming together and you can go there all day long but they’ve also got a lovely library where people actually go.
There are quiet nooks and crannies all over the place where people can take their laptops and go and work there.
Even alternative cafes that are quieter and more out-of-the-way where people can also go.
The important thing is that, the way it’s set up, it’s very obvious that these spaces are weighted equally.
There’s not an idea that the person who’s going off is somehow violating some code of social responsibility to the company –which is the way many people feel at work.
Many companies where excuse me where people are lucky enough still to have their own private offices there’s still an idea that you’re not even supposed to close your door because somehow that is a barrier to communication.
When in fact it might just be somebody wanting to get their work done for the sake of that greater community of the company.
So I’m advocating balance in office design.
Second idea is to run meetings very thoughtfully.
What I mean by this is introverts and extroverts in meetings tend to have a great miscommunication.
The introverts often feel as if the meeting is kind of happening so quickly that by the time they think of the thing that they had wanted to say the meetings over.
Extroverts will often report feeling maddened by the introverts in their midst because they’ll say you I know that this person has so many great ideas so why on earth won’t they just say so in the meeting.
Why are they holding back?
It can be really frustrating. It’s very understandable.
So what is the way around this when you’re having meetings
I’m going to give you three ideas.
Number one: distribute agendas in advance and really make it an obligation of coming to the meeting that you actually read the agenda and not just read it but prepare for the meeting based on it and maybe even start the meeting having everybody talk about what their thoughts are based on the agenda because that is a way of giving introverts the time that they need to kind of really think things through and process before sharing ideas.
By definition introverts think before they speak and extroverts think as they speak.
So there needs to be a way in meetings to address that divide.
Second idea for addressing it is to have a time during the meeting where you kind of stop everything and say okay everybody’s going to write down their ideas right now like just sit for a minute take two minutes write down what you’re thinking and then maybe go around the room and have everybody read it.
That’s a way of getting the people who might have been reluctant to interject or who just need the extra time to process to actually get their ideas out there.
And then the third idea is to look for ways also to meet electronically — to meet online — because there’s actually 40 years of research out there on brainstorming that has found that brainstorming, groups coming together to brainstorm an idea, is actually a disaster.
Individuals almost always produce more ideas and better ideas than groups working as a team to brainstorm.
I know this seems surprising because brainstorming is so popular in the corporate world but there’s actually an organizational psychologist — Adrian Furnham — who read through these decades of research and he concluded business — this is his words — “businesses must be insane to continue using these groups”.
Now they’re not totally insane because actually these groups do have a benefit, which is they foster trust. they foster a cohesion. They build morale. they do all kinds of useful things.
But what they don’t do that well is get people actually thinking.
But the one exception to this is electronic brainstorming where the studies are showing that when people are brainstorming online many of the barriers to effective communication that happen in face-to-face communications dissolve.
So online brainstorm often do better than even individuals would.
The fourth idea is to think really differently about leadership and to understand that leadership is really about more than charisma.
There’s groundbreaking new research by Adam Grant at the Wharton School. he found that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts do in certain circumstances.
The extroverts do better when they are managing people who are needing a lot of rousing and inspiration and charisma and that kind of thing to be getting them going.
But the introverted leaders, professor grant found, did better when they were managing proactive employees.
Employees who are full of ideas and ready to go and wanting to implement what they had done the introverted leaders did better because they were more likely to let other people run with their ideas whereas extroverts can fall into the trap sometimes of getting so excited about their own stuff and putting their own stamp on things that other people’s ideas don’t as easily have the ability to rise to the fore.
My favorite example of a quiet unassuming leader who was incredibly effective in just the way that Adam Grant is talking about was a guy named William McKnight who was the CEO of 3m corporation in the 1930s in the 1940s.
William McKnight famously had this mantra that was this: hire good people and leave them alone.
And that is what he did.
He actually really put his money where his mouth was because he gave his people 15% of their time to spend doing whatever they wanted.
They could noodle around on any project they felt like.
And out of this emerged those yellow post-its that were also dependent on that was created and through this philosophy of hire good people and leave them alone.
It’s a philosophy of course that Google still does nowadays where they give engineers often 20% of their time to work on their own stuff.
But the thing also about leadership that I found in my book — I looked at some of the most transformative leaders of the 20th century — and I found that a lot of them ascended to their leadership positions almost in spite of who they were.
I’m talking here about Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi and Rosa Parks.
All of these people described themselves as being quiet and soft-spoken and even shy and all of them took the spotlight even though every bone in their bodies was telling them not to.
And that turned out to have a special power all of its own.
Because people could feel that they were there, not because they enjoyed being looked at, and not because they enjoy controlling other people, they were there almost because they had no choice.
They were there because they had no choice.
And that turns out to have a true authenticity.
That people connect to and people get — and I bet if you think about your own organizations you can think of people like this — who have ascended to leadership positions because they’re just really engaged with the company or they’re engaged with their product line or whatever it is and it’s through that engagement that they come up through the leadership ranks and not through something that’s kind of a more obvious leadership skill.
But it’s important for us to see things this way and to understand it this way because we know from the management research that introverts tend to be passed over for leadership positions or they’re not groomed for them in the first place.
You might have somebody who’s substantively really effective but doesn’t seem like what our idea is, our classical idea, of a good leader and so they’re overlooked and maybe they shouldn’t be.
Maybe they shouldn’t be.
Number five: think about who you’re hiring and who you’re promoting.
I was just talking the other day with a head of a major fashion design company and this woman was telling me that she just realized to her horror that her deputies had been appointing as the lead designers the best presenters not the best designers.
best presenters not the best designers.
She ended up having to spend a lot of time — and a lot of political capital — undoing these appointments because she felt like she couldn’t take the risk of having the wrong people out there designing the clothes or being in charge of it.
So I would just say to you save yourself that trouble and think about what criteria you are really using.
Are you being bedazzled by presentation skills when there are other skills that matter equally.
I’m not saying presentation skills don’t matter, not saying social skills don’t matter, obviously all this stuff matters. I’m just saying other stuff matters too.
Other stuff matters too.
And we tend to devalue the other stuff.
Number six: I ask you to think about what’s inside your own suitcase.
I told you a story — I told you my story about camp, when I went off to camp with a suitcase full of books
I believe that the things that we carry around in our suitcase is metaphorical or real.
The things that we stubbornly carry around.
The things that we carried as children — or the things that we’re still carrying today — those are the things that we really really care about.
They’re the things that drive us.
For me, I still have a suitcase full of books everywhere I go.
I’m a reader and I’m a writer and that is what guides what I put into the world.
I’m at my best when I am following that guidance.
so I want to ask you to think about what really is in your own suitcase.
Extroverts maybe your suitcases are also full of books or maybe they’re full of champagne glasses or skydiving equipment.
Whatever they are, I hope that you will take these things out every chace you get and grace us with your energy and with your joy.
But now introverts — you being you — you probably have the impulse to guard very carefully what’s inside your own suitcase.
Probably guard it and don’t show it that often and that’s okay.
But I want to invite you just occasionally to take those things out of your suitcase and to show them to the world because the world needs you and it needs the things that you carry.
So I want to leave you with one final story about this and it’s a personal story about how I came to this realization.
It’s really a story about my grandfather.
My grandfather was a rabbi and he lived alone in a small Brooklyn apartment.
He was a widower.
He lived alone in this apartment when I was growing up.
It was my favorite place in the world — partly because it was filled with his presence, which was very gentle and very courtly and lovely, and partly because it was filled with books.
I mean literally every spare piece of furniture in this apartment had yielded its original function to just be a surface for these towering stacks of books.
My grandfather’s favorite thing to do in the world was to read but my grandfather also really loved his congregation and you could feel this love every week in the sermons that he gave for the 62 years that he served as a rabbi.
He would give these fantastic sermons that were basically the fruits of each week’s reading.
He would pull together these fantastic tapestries of ancient and humanist thought and deliver them to his congregation and people would come from all over to hear him speak.
But the thing is that underneath this ceremonial role he was a very introverted person and so when he gave these sermons he actually had trouble making eye contact with the people in the audience.
You know the same people into whose eyes he would have been looking for 62 years he’d trouble making eye contact with them.
Even away from the podium if you called him on the phone he would often hang up prematurely — ring off prematurely — because he was afraid that he was taking up too much of your time.
But when my grandfather died, at the age of 94, the police had to close down the streets of his neighborhood to accommodate the throngs of mourners who came because all these people felt like they would never hear those kinds of sermons again.
These days I try personally to learn from my grandfather’s example and I’ve recently written this book — it’s about the power of introverts — and I worked on it for seven years like literally from 2005 to 2012 the book just came out in January and so for me those seven years of working on this book were total bliss.
It was like my version of my grandfather’s hours alone in his library because I was reading, I was writing, I was thinking, I was researching.
It was all good.
But then came the time, this past January, where I had to go out and actually promote the book — stand on stages like this one — and that was not so easy for me.
Because as honored and delighted as I am to be in a group like this — this stage, this whole thing is not my natural milieu.
I prepared for this year, this time of talking about these ideas, I prepared for it by practicing public speaking every chance that I could get.
I went to a local Toastmasters, which is this club where you practice speaking in a very supportive environment, and I just said it over and over and over again until it started to come more comfortably.
And that really helped a lot.
But what helped more than that is my feeling that right now we are actually poised on the brink of great dramatic change and that’s really exciting to me.
We are poised on the brink of change in the way that we view introverts and we are right now sitting today on one of the great — on the great new diversity issue of our time.
We all know the case for women, for gender diversity, and we know the case for racial diversity and we know that these things are moral issues and they’re business issues and it’s sort of the two things smushed together.
I want to say to you that the same exact thing is true for personality diversity.
Because we need the talents of the quiet geniuses in our workplace.
The great thing about this is that it doesn’t take a lot of time and it doesn’t cost a lot of money.
All it takes all it takes is thinking a little bit differently about what it means to be quiet.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Steel Wool