Quiet

That’s the title of a great new book by Susan CainIt’s subtitled “The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” and it profiles the many ways in which we undervalue introversion. It also points up what we lose in the process.

She talks about introversion in both personal and professional domains. I was especially drawn to her debunking of some of our most sacred leadership cows, like the myth of charismatic leadership. Introverts are more inclined to listen to others and less inclined to dominate social situations. So they’re more open to others’ suggestions and more likely to create what she calls a “virtuous circle of proactivity.” Think about your own inclinations: if you’re an extravert, you could be missing great ideas while your employees “lapse into passivity.”

Cain also cautions about how the “New Groupthink”–a mindset that “elevates teamwork above all else” and is anchored in the belief that creativity and intellectual achievement thrive in social settings–actually works against creativity. So if you’re pushing hard for teamwork and collaboration in your organization, you might want to check out some of the research she uncovered that supports the value of alone time and individual space.

She has lots of suggestions for bringing extraversion and introversion into balance at home and at work. Start, for instance, by putting yourself “in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk.”

If you have quiet kids, “Delight in the originality of their minds.”

If you’re a teacher, “Don’t forget to cultivate the shy, the gentle, the autonomous, the ones with single-minded enthusiasms for chemistry sets or parrot taxonomy or nineteenth-century art. They are the artists, engineers, and thinkers of tomorrow.”

And if you’re a manager, “Don’t expect introverts to get jazzed up about open office plans or, for that matter, lunchtime birthday parties or team-building retreats. Make the most of introverts’ strengths–these are the people who can help you think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems, and spot canaries in your coal mine.” If you want creativity, have employees solve problems alone before sharing ideas; rely on small, casual groups; and “don’t mistake assertiveness or eloquence for good ideas.”

I like that last one, maybe because I used both for years as a substitute for deep thinking–a habit I’m still trying to break.

What about you?

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