Introverts Unite. We May Be Superior.
August 22, 2012
In an article a few weeks back, I made mention of the fact that I am an introvert. When I was a boy, adults consistently referred to me as quiet and shy. I don’t remember the description bothering me that much. I could hold my own with my peer group, but school was painful. I used to sneak off or play hooky at every opportunity because I hated it. I had this neat little trick where I would let my brother and sister board the bus, then I would step off and run for home at the last minute.
Of course, in those days, “Children should be seen and not heard” was popular. It fit me. I do think it was important that my parents never made a big deal of my shyness or implied in any way that it was a handicap.
The pesky introvert label came up later when I took tests as part of job applications. Taking the Meyers-Brigg personality test kept me from getting at least one job. That bothered me because I knew I could handle the position. I mentioned that test in that earlier posting.
This book is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It mentions the Meyers-Brigg several times, was reviewed in the Dallas Morning News. A day or two later, I saw it again in a magazine. Then I saw a short television interview with the author. I mentioned it to Suzanne Morris, a fellow author, who then sent me a review from the New York Times. Author Susan Cain either has a great publicist or I was getting a message to read this book.
I think I wish I had read it years ago, but on the other hand, I might have benefited more by finding out a lot of things on my own as I worked to manage my tendencies. There is a short test in the book to let you know more about yourself.
Here are a few things I suspected and the book confirms about introverts:
Most hate small talk, but enjoy deep discussions:
Not all introverts are shy. (The book mentions T. S. Elliot and his poem “The Waste Land,” which I have quoted from on numerous occasions). Seems Elliot was shy and an introvert.
John Quincy Adams is considered one of the few introverted presidents.
Harvard Law and Harvard Business place high value on extroverts. This would be fine if more talking were correlated with greater insight, but research suggests there is no such link.
Venture capitalists are often frustrated when young entrepreneurs fail to distinguish good presentation skills from true leadership ability.
Management theorist Jim Collins’s research shows that every single one of the highest performing companies in a major study were headed by unassuming men. They were described as quiet, modest, shy, etc . . .
Though introverts are more likely to fear public speaking than extroverts, many are quite good at it.
Introverts dream vividly and often recall their dreams the next day.
They feel exceptionally strong emotions—sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear.
They have unusually strong consciences.
Introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work or the people they love.
That often touted management myth of the seventies and eighties of multi-tasking? Turns out the brain is incapable of doing two things well at the same time. We need focus, which increases efficiency by up to fifty percent.
Author Susan Cain also mentions author Marcel Proust and “the nerd soul of Apple,” Steve Wozniak. Most know about Steve Jobs, but not Wozniak, the co-founder. Wozniak worked alone and says he acquired patience, the ability that helped him most in his career.
Warren Buffett is a self-described introvert, and Cain lets that stand, but it has been my observation that Charlie Munger, his partner, was the introvert who always had Buffett’s back. Buffett loves the spotlight. He played the ukulele and showboated at shareholder meetings and with the current U. S. president while Munger quietly picked stocks.
Cain’s exploration of the inner workings of a Tony Robbins seminar and the reactions of an introvert to this charismatic classic extrovert is fascinating and humorous. Tony was in the news recently when several people burned themselves making his famous “hot coals” walk.I have been an observer at one of the hot walk conferences.
Cain also quotes Milaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. As many of you know, this inspired a theme for my first novel. He did a study of ninety-one exceptionally creative people and determined that most of them were shy teens.
Cain also gets into the process of deliberate practice, a concept introduced to me many years ago. It is the key to exceptional achievement and it is best done alone.
My review of the book seems to make the case that introverts are superior. The book does not do that. But it does offer explanation and encouragement to those introverts who see their traits as disadvantages. Extroverts have a perceptual head start, but in reality, introverts can catch up.
Introverts should not read this looking for excuses for behavior and traits they have previously considered handicaps or traits that may have held them back in their personal relationships and careers. Instead, read it for possible explanations of why we do some of the things we do and why some introvert traits are assets, not liabilities. We can also see ways to overcome those attributes that might hold us back.
Jim Ainsworth is author of the literary novel, Go Down Looking.