A few years ago, at a company for which I no longer work, I was in a department training session. We had the usual breaking up into small groups to brainstorm about a topic or idea. We used the obligatory flip charts with markers that smell bad. If I’ve done it once, I’ve done it a thousand times. I don’t remember the specific topic, but one of the groups came up with a list of things to do and not do in order to be successful or to be a leader or some such vague business training term. An item on this group’s list was “Don’t be an introvert”. I winced a little at this because within the context of this training class, I knew they really weren’t using the technical definition of the word “introvert”. I winced a little also because, right or wrong definition, a part of their answer was right on the money, at least for that company and many others like it.
Susan Cain’s recent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking takes a look at our current Western world and culture and it’s Extrovert Ideal along with the potential problems it creates for the third of the population that are introverts. Most of Cain’s book centers around the business world although she touches on relationships and parenting, also.
She tells some stories of how introverts have figured out how to make this personality trait work for them. For some, they continue with a current job, just simply make some changes in office space and the amount of time they spend by themselves. For others, it involved complete career changes that ended up for the better. One of her points that I found intriguing involved introverts gaining extroverted traits when they are involved in something, a project or cause, that is deeply personal to them. It’s difficult for introverts to fake a passion or pretend they are interested in something, when they are not.
Cain also presented studies and scientific information that have further helped us understand the differences between introverts and extroverts. Much of the differences involved the brain chemicals dopamine and seratonin, chemicals that also have an effect on depression and anti-depression. While she mentions mental illness, I wondered to what degree depression could be blamed on introverts having to continuously act like extroverts.
A couple of my acquaintances who tend to read the latest business leadership books have stumbled upon this one. I haven’t heard anything from them as to what they thought. The book seems to be making at least a small splash. I admit, though, I doubt how much of an impact it will have in the long run. At least in my world, it seems extroverts rule.