Networks and the “Quiet” RevolutionJanuary 22, 2014 9 Comments
“Love is essential, gregariousness is optional.”
For several months I’ve been meaning to read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking. Having completed it this past weekend, I have both a sense of validation (being one of ever-more introverted tendencies as the years pass) and being able to see with new eyes. IMHO, it is well worth the read, and if the thought of tackling the 300 pages is daunting, you might enjoy a taste via Cain’s TED Talk.
Here I wanted to reflect on some of the insights Cain’s work has to offer collaboration and “net work” for change. Essentially, she reminds us of an important element of diversity that we should not overlook in our change efforts – different cognitive processing styles and ways of responding to social stimulation.
First of all, what is introversion? It is not shyness or asocial behavior. People who are introverted can certainly be shy or socially awkward (can’t we all?), but introversion is first and foremost a response to social stimulation. Relative to those who are more extroverted, those who are introverted prefer less stimulation and tend to work more slowly and deliberately. Introversion tends to favor intimacy, listening, and some time alone.
According to Cain’s assessment of the research, one third to one half of us in this country are introverted, while many can display extroverted tendencies. Well-known introverts include the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Pablo Picasso, and Steve Wozniak.
“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
In a fascinating historical review, Cain traces a mainstream cultural trend in our country that shifted preference from “the culture of character” to “a culture of personality,” where public performance and gregariousness became equated with success and strong leadership (think Dale Carnegie and his books How to Win Friends and Influence People and Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business). To this day, in many workplaces, schools, and families, Cain suggests that there is a preference for extroverted ways of thinking and being. This flies in the face of data suggesting that introverted styles can equate with stronger academic performance and deeper knowledge in given fields. And yet . . .
And yet there continue to be significant shifts toward open concept workplaces and group-oriented classrooms that privilege extroversion and create painful experiences for those who are more introverted, not allowing them to shine or bring their gifts to the relatively raucous table. The result is that we risk losing the gifts and talents of “quiet leadership” and creativity.
So what to do, especially in collective change efforts?
- Pay attention to who speaks and does not speak up in meetings/groups and don’t immediately assume that the quiet people are aloof or uncaring.
- Think carefully before opening physical spaces and group processes too much or too often. Introversion thrives in settings where there is more personal space and opportunity to reflect alone and in small groups.
- Understand that brainstorming as it is usually done (in person and through whole group discussion from the get-go) privileges extroversion, and that furthermore research shows it leads less to innovation and more to group bonding (not a bad thing). Make space for people to work and think alone before bringing a group and their ideas together.
- Leverage social media and virtual collaborative platforms as a way of helping to maintain autonomy and avenues for creativity that can fuel innovation and allow introversion to shine.
- Create space for “parallel play” and cooperation, as opposed whole group collaboration (see Harold Jarche – “In networks, cooperation trumps collaboration“).
- Embrace the power of quiet for everyone through space for writing, mindfulness, and other kinds of restorative practice.
And consider this important reminder from Gandhi:
“In a gentle way you can shake the world.”