Posts Tagged ‘Susan Cain’
Do you feel you are an introvert? Do you believe in Brainstorming session?
Cocktail party trivia: Brainstorming was invented in the 1930s as a practical idea-generation technique for regular use by “creatives” within the ad agency BBDO.
That all changed in 1942, when Alex Osborn — the “O” in BBDO — released a book called How to Think Up and excited the imaginations of his fellow Mad Men.
Since 1942, the idea-generation technique that began life in a New York creative firm has grown into the happy kudzu of Silicon Valley startups.
Somewhere near Stanford, an introvert cringes every time the idea comes up of sitting in a roomful of colleagues, drawing half-baked ideas on Post-it notes, and then pasting them to the wall for all to see.
I’ve run a lot of brainstorms over the years: with designers at IDEO, with Tom and David Kelley (I co-authored the book Creative Confidence with them), and with TED’s editorial team.
And I’ve noticed that Not everyone is down with the whole brainstorm thing. (I’m one not to believe in that technique)
In fact, I’ve come to believe that there’s no one right way to run a brainstorm.
You have to be willing to modify the format, length and parameters of each session to match the mix of introverts, extroverts and creative confidence levels in the room.
Below, 12 tips on how to run a killer brainstorm for (mostly) introverts:
- Circulate the question or topic before you start. For introverts who generate ideas best without the looming presence of others, knowing the topic in advance is key. This allows them to come prepared with several creative options — and not feel stampeded by extroverts who prefer to riff.
- Seat the group at a round table. It worked for King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
- Keep each session short. 10 minutes at the end of a regular meeting is fine, as some people might get a case of the woozies if they see a 60-minute session pop up on their calendar.
- Number the group list of ideas as it’s generated. Skip the Post-its and just use big pieces of paper on the table, or a whiteboard if there happens to be one. The numbering part helps people feel especially accomplished as they go. A mental pat-on-the-back.
- Aim for a specific quantity of ideas. 25 ideas, say. Let people know the goal at the start, and don’t stop till you get there. Keep going after you reach the goal if you want, but that’s just gravy.
- Start at your left and go around the circle. Each person gives one idea at a time. No one gets skipped over. This will help you hear from all members of the group—and not just the ones with the loudest voices.
- The default mode for a successful brainstorm is “Yes, and.” As in comedy improv, good brainstormers don’t waste time tearing down silly-sounding ideas. Instead, they either improve on the idea by adding something awesome to it, or generate a new idea quickly. Another way to phrase this is “build on the ideas of others.” This is one guideline I always mention at the beginning of every brainstorm, and reinforce throughout, since it’s the exact opposite of how large, traditional corporations tend to work with new ideas. The goal at this stage is to remix and add to others’ ideas — not filter or critique.
- Write down every single idea that’s mentioned, and take a neutral, respectful stance toward each idea. Consciously or subconsciously, others will cue off your lead. You want everyone in the room to feel heard, to have permission to speak their piece, and to defer judgment during the brainstorm. Pro tip: Don’t attach people’s names to ideas.
- Share back the unfiltered ideas list after the brainstorm ends. You can share this in an email, as a Google Doc — whatever’s best for your team. You never know which stub of an idea might spark the next great thing for someone else on your team.
- If the word ‘brainstorm’ doesn’t work for you or your group, don’t use it. Call it design improv, call it a pitch jam, call it a ‘5-minute think’ — whatever. The name is way less important than the goal, which is to get people together in a manner that allows them to generate ideas worth spreading or solutions to problems worth fixing.
- Modification #1: Passive brainstorm, 5-day version. One successful alternative to an in-person group brainstorm, if you’re all physically in the same office, is to tape a large piece of paper to an office wall near the kitchen or bathroom, with your question at the top and a pen for writing in answers (at IDEO, blackboard paint on the bathroom wall worked well). Leave it up for 5 days, then take a picture and transcribe it.
- Modification #2: Passive brainstorm, 5-minute version. A second alternative to a meeting-room brainstorm is to throw a 5-minute inspiration break around 3 in the afternoon, when people tend to need a boost anyway. To kick it off, send a group email (or whatever works for your company culture) with the subject line: “5-minute inspiration break: [your question here]” — and ask them to discuss. One caveat: This method works best when you start the email string with a few options you’re already considering, and keep it time-boxed to 5 minutes.
Like other idea-generation tools, brainstorming was invented to make creative success easier, not more stressful — which is why creators are still using this technique 75 years after its invention. But coming up with lots of great ideas is just one step. The crucial next phase, often in a smaller group: filter the ideas list and start picking the best ideas to move forward on.
12 tips on how to run a brainstorm where introverts can be heard:
Teaching a young introvert?
Were you an introverted kid? This one is for you:
Susan Cain sticks up for the introverts of the world. In the U.S., where one third to one half the population identifies as introverts, that means sticking up for a lot of people.
Some of them might be data engineers overwhelmed by the noise of an open-floor-plan office.
Others might be lawyers turning 30, whose friends shame them for not wanting a big birthday bash.
But Cain particularly feels for one group of introverts: the quiet kids in a classroom.
Cain remembers a childhood full of moments when she was urged by teachers and peers to be more outgoing and social — when that simply wasn’t in her nature.
Our most important institutions, like schools and workplaces, are designed for extroverts, says Cain in her TED Talk. [Watch: The power of introverts.] “Nowadays, your typical classroom has pods of desks, and kids are working on countless group assignments.” Yet if up to half the population has introvert tendencies, why is it that kids who prefer to go off by themselves or to work alone are seen as outliers?
We gave Cain a call to talk about how schools, both right now and far off in the future, could better care for the needs of introverted students. Below, an edited transcript of that conversation, with some very surprising answers.
Could we rethink the chaotic school cafeteria? How about recess? How about the very definition of “class participation?” Cain offers bold ideas in these areas and more.
What kind of response did you get to the part of your TED Talk about the education system and how it isn’t optimized for introverts?
I’ve heard from so many teachers and school administrators and parents and students about the problems that they feel are embedded in the system.
I’ve heard from students feeling that they are unfairly docked for not meeting current standards of class participation. I’ve heard from teachers who now, in many cases, are required to make a majority of their lessons centered on group work.
Even when the teachers feel that’s not a good idea, they have to do it, because the teachers themselves are evaluated on that basis. They don’t have the wiggle room to modify it, even though they think they should. Overall, I’ve seen firsthand in the wake of my TED Talk that there’s such an enormous need for parents and teachers to better understand how to love and cultivate the introverted kid.
“What an extroverted act it is in the first place to go to school. All day long, you are in a classroom full of people with constant stimulation.”
What can be done in the short term to help teachers better understand how to do that?
I believe that we need to do general teacher training to just make them aware of what makes a student an introvert, what that means, and how best to cultivate the talent of those students. To raise awareness of what an extroverted act it is in the first place to go to school. All day long, you are in a classroom full of people with constant stimulation. Even for introverted kids who really like school, it’s still a very overstimulating experience.
In general, teachers should avoid setting social standards for what is normal. There’s research that shows that if a student has no friends at all — zero friends — that is problematic and should be addressed.
But a student who has one or two or three friends, and prefers to go deep with their friendships instead of being one of a big gang, there’s nothing wrong with that at all, in terms of it being a predictor for adulthood.
That style of socializing is perfectly fine. So we should identify problems when they are there — like a student who would really love to make friends but doesn’t know how. But at the same time, we shouldn’t make problems when they aren’t there by saying, “You should be more social.”
If the kid is perfectly happy the way they are, they need to get the message that the way they are is cool.
One thing I think that educators should bear in mind: we allow adults all kinds of flexibility in terms of what kind of social life they want.
Adults who have two or three friends, no one thinks twice about it. But we don’t allow children the same degree of flexibility. I often ask people to imagine their next big, milestone birthday and to think how they would want to celebrate it.
Some people want to celebrate with a big bash full of friends, and other people would rather just go out with family or a couple of close friends. But think about what we expect children to do for their birthday parties.
We expect them to invite the whole class, and make it this big, uproarious affair. I get letters from parents all the time, saying, “We invited the whole class over for the birthday, and my child seemed happy for the first 15 minutes, and then she went to her room and wouldn’t come out.”
What I’d say is: celebrate the way the kid wants to celebrate. Don’t give the kid the idea that there’s only one way to do it.
What are some small changes that teachers can make in the classroom right now that might make a big difference for kids who are introverts?
Number one would be to make sure to build quiet time into the school day, especially when kids are younger. Have 15 minutes set aside every day where the students just read.
Make sure that the classroom design accommodates nooks and crannies so you’re not just reading within groups of people, but you can go and sit on a sofa in the classroom and curl up with your book. When I was researching Quiet, I traveled around and sat in as a fly-on-the-wall in all kinds of classrooms, and many already do this — but not all of them. That would be one easy thing.
Another would be reforming recess.
Teachers should think about providing alternatives to recess, which for many students is unnecessarily chaotic and not that interesting. Open up a classroom and let students sit and play board games in small groups, or read a book, or just hang out and chill.
The notion that all students should restore themselves by running out into a big, noisy yard is very limiting. Some will like it, some won’t. Some will like it on some days, but would prefer an alternative on other days.
“The classroom is crying out for a solution that is less one-size-fits-all.”
Interesting. So the theme seems to be giving students more options.
Yeah, the idea is just to maximize choice. All the suggestions that I’m giving are along those lines of providing lots of different alternatives for how you get your learning and how you get your restorative time.
Let it be more of a pick-and-choose situation instead of it being, “Oh, let’s do it this way.”
There’s a well-known study in psychology by a guy named Russell Geen. He gave learning tasks to kids to solve, with varying levels of background noise. He found that the extroverts did best when the noise was louder, and the introverts did best when the noise was softer.
If you take that research and apply it to the classroom, it’s crying out for a solution that is less one-size-fits-all — and that allows students to pick the amount of stimulation that is right for them in that moment.
How can teachers make introverted students feel more comfortable when class is in session?
I’d say: less group work in general. Teachers should really mix it up fairly between individual work, group work, and have students do more work in pairs, which is a way that both introverts and extroverts can thrive.
There’s one technique that a lot educators will know of already, but should be reminded of: it’s called “think-pair-share.” What you do is ask a question, like “Why did Romeo do what he did?” or “Why did Juliet react the way she did?” and then the teacher thinks about it, and students sit by themselves for a minute or two and they think too.
Then they pair up, and discuss their thoughts with their partner. The share part is when they share their thoughts with the group. A lot of students who might be reticent at first will feel emboldened by having first discussed it with a partner.
I’d like to challenge teachers to rethink what they mean by class participation and start thinking of it as classroom engagement instead.
Participation ends up rewarding quantity, so you get kids raising their hands for the sake of talking, and that’s not really in anybody’s interest. But engagement recognizes that there are a lot of different ways to engage with the material and with your peers.
If you think more broadly about it, a student who’s a good listener or who gives one really great, reflective comment is just as valued as the one who’s always raising their hand.
By the way, Greenwich Academy in Connecticut has adopted a lot of these ideas and has really been using them to great effect.
Was that jumpstarted by your talk and book?
Yes. Their teacher reading assignment over one summer was to read Quiet. They also had a group of students who embraced it and started really getting their peers and teachers to address it. They started a little movement within the school.
In May, I talked to the TED Blog about our whole Quiet Revolution. One of the segments that we are going to be tackling is education, because the need is so great. This is the area that is closest to my heart. With our Quiet Revolution, we plan to be doing versions of this with schools across the world — we just need to build out the resources for it.
We’re just at the beginning, but our intention is to partner with private and public schools all over the U.S., and ultimately globally, to really make sure that everything I’ve just been talking about can actually happen. We’re looking for the right leader for that right now.
Once we have the right leader, I think it will move at the speed of light, because there is so much groundwork in place already. So watch this space. We’re trying to create something that will really give schools the tools that they need.
“We should be getting away from school design that has students jostling together in one gigantic mass of humanity.”
Now, forget school in the form we know it. If you were designing schools of the future, what would they look like?
I really love the whole “flipped classroom” — Salman Khan’s model, where students do a lot of the hard work on their own the night before, and then come in and have the opportunity to engage one-on-one or in small groups with a teacher to resolve the remaining questions that they have. I think that’s really key for all students. The best way to learn, for sure.
I also think we need to rethink classroom design. It’s definitely integrating way more nooks and crannies and alternative sorts of spaces into our classrooms, but also rethinking our school designs in general. We should be getting away from school design that has students jostling together in one gigantic mass of humanity. There are a lot of students who just don’t thrive like that.
So instead of crowded halls, a design that channels students into different spaces?
Yeah. I’m imagining spaces that are more flexible so at any given moment, you can choose: Do I want to be in a solo space? Do I want to be in a small group space? Do I want to be in a more crowded, lively space?
A design that really takes into account the fact that all of us toggle back and forth in our days between wanting each of those three kinds of spaces. Right now, our schools are designed with a kind of monolithic sense of space.
How will the curriculum in schools of the future vary from what we see now?
I think the future of education will take into account the research of Anders Ericsson, who invented the concept of “deliberate practice.”
He’s a psychologist, and he studied what makes people into really expert, superstar performers — whether it’s in tennis or chess or math. He found that for most people, it’s not a question of having superior talent, but rather a question of having engaged in many hours of really concentrated, deliberate practice at the craft that they wanted to master.
He says that the key to deliberate practice is that you shouldn’t be doing it in a group where you’re going to be spending too much of your time working on stuff that’s either too hard for you, too easy for you, or not interesting to you.
You should be working alone or one-on-one with someone who can coach you along, and answer your questions at the right time. That whole body of work — and it’s pretty extensive right now — really needs to be integrated into the curriculum. That’s one of the reasons I love the flipped classroom idea, because I think it’s heading in that direction.
What kinds of differences would you imagine in how teachers are trained and evaluated?
In terms of teacher training — and I should say, I’m not an educator per se, so I am speaking from my specific corner on this — I think we need way more instruction in knowledge of temperament.
There’s a lot of attention in education paid to difference in learning style, and I think not enough understanding of differences of temperament and how that shapes who children are and how they learn and socialize. In terms of how teachers are evaluated, we need to give them way more freedom to design curricula they think will work for their students.
Earlier, I was telling you how many teachers tell me that they don’t want to do so much group work, but have no choice. Gosh, that really needs to change.
What kind of social activities are Not part of the school day now that could be in the future?
Small-scale socializing. Socializing in pairs and small groups. If you look at your typical school cafeteria, it is set up with the expectation that the students will eat lunch at gigantic tables full of kids. Why? A lot of us would much prefer to socialize with one or two people at a time.
So we should have small tables too. I think playgrounds could be designed to encourage more one-on-one or small group play as well. All the social structures should keep that modus operandi in mind.
Let’s talk about technology. How could technology be integrated into the classroom of the future to give more options, and be there in positive ways for students who are introverts?
I know from talking to educators that there are already tools that can be incredibly helpful — tools that allow students to participate through their electronic devices as opposed to raising their hand.
Apps that allow students to contribute to class discussions, sometimes anonymously and sometimes not. Even if it’s not anonymous, the fact that a student is participating in a class discussion or a class blog online removes some of their own psychological barriers to participation.
The same kid who might not raise their hand in class might write something really interesting into some kind of classroom app or blog. Then other students see their ideas, and they start talking about it in real life. It’s a bridge to participation.
I think we’ll move toward anything that encourages student participation through an online medium. It could be for student artists or student writers, for example — giving them opportunities to contribute to a class blog or something where their classmates will get to see their hearts and minds in this other forum. I think that really opens things up.
Featured illustration by Dawn Kim.
The puzzle of personality? Again, Who are you?
What makes you, you? Psychologists like to talk about our traits, or defined characteristics that make us who we are.
But Brian Little is more interested in moments when we transcend those traits — sometimes because our culture demands it of us, and sometimes because we demand it of ourselves. Your personality may be more malleable than you think.
Brian Little. Personality researcher. (Like a psychologist?)
0:19 I’ve had the opportunity over the last couple of days of listening in on some of your conversations and watching you interact with each other. And I think it’s fair to say that there are 47 people in this audience, at this moment, displaying psychological symptoms I would like to discuss today.
But instead of pointing at you, which would be gratuitous and intrusive, I thought I would tell you a few facts and stories, in which you may catch a glimpse of yourself.
I’m in the field of research known as personality psychology, which is part of a larger personality science which spans the full spectrum, from neurons to narratives. And what we try to do, in our own way, is to make sense of how each of us is, in certain respects, like all other people, like some other people and like no other person.
you may be saying of yourself, “I’m not intriguing. I am the 46th most boring person in the Western Hemisphere.” Or you may say of yourself, “I am intriguing, even if I am regarded by most people as a great, thundering twit.”
But it is your self-diagnosed boringness and your inherent “twitiness” that makes me, as a psychologist, really fascinated by you. So let me explain why this is so.
One of the most influential approaches in personality science is known as trait psychology, and it aligns you along 5 dimensions which are normally distributed, and that describe universally held aspects of difference between people.
They spell out the acronym OCEAN. So, “O” stands for “open to experience,” versus those who are more closed. “C” stands for “conscientiousness,” in contrast to those with a more lackadaisical approach to life. “E” — “extroversion,” in contrast to more introverted people. “A” — “agreeable individuals,” in contrast to those decidedly not agreeable. And “N” — “neurotic individuals,” in contrast to those who are more stable.
All of these dimensions have implications for our well-being, for how our life goes. And so we know that, for example, openness and conscientiousness are very good predictors of life success, but the open people achieve that success through being audacious and, occasionally, odd.
The conscientious people achieve it through sticking to deadlines, to persevering, as well as having some passion.
Extroversion and agreeableness are both conducive to working well with people. Extroverts, for example, I find intriguing. With my classes, I sometimes give them a basic fact that might be revealing with respect to their personality: I tell them that it is virtually impossible for adults to lick the outside of their own elbow.
Did you know that? Already, some of you have tried to lick the outside of your own elbow. But extroverts amongst you are probably those who have not only tried, but they have successfully licked the elbow of the person sitting next to them.
Let me deal in a bit more detail with extroversion, because it’s consequential and it’s intriguing, and it helps us understand what I call our three natures.
First, our biogenic nature — our neurophysiology.
Second, our sociogenic or second nature, which has to do with the cultural and social aspects of our lives. And Third, what makes you individually you — idiosyncratic — what I call your “idiogenic” nature.
One of the things that characterizes extroverts is they need stimulation. And that stimulation can be achieved by finding things that are exciting: loud noises, parties and social events here at TED — you see the extroverts forming a magnetic core. They all gather together. And I’ve seen you.
The introverts are more likely to spend time in the quiet spaces up on the second floor, where they are able to reduce stimulation — and may be misconstrued as being antisocial, but you’re not necessarily antisocial. It may be that you simply realize that you do better when you have a chance to lower that level of stimulation.
Sometimes it’s an internal stimulant, from your body. Caffeine, for example, works much better with extroverts than it does introverts.
When extroverts come into the office at nine o’clock in the morning and say, “I really need a cup of coffee,” they’re not kidding — they really do. Introverts do not do as well, particularly if the tasks they’re engaged in — and they’ve had some coffee — if those tasks are speeded, and if they’re quantitative, introverts may give the appearance of not being particularly quantitative. But it’s a misconstrual.
here are the consequences that are really quite intriguing: we’re not always what seem to be, and that takes me to my next point. I should say, before getting to this, something about sexual intercourse, although I may not have time. And so, if you would like me to — yes, you would? OK.
There are studies done on the frequency with which individuals engage in the conjugal act, as broken down by male, female; introvert, extrovert. So I ask you: How many times per minute — oh, I’m sorry, that was a rat study —
How many times per month do introverted men engage in the act? 3.0. Extroverted men? More or less? Yes, more. 5.5 — almost twice as much.
Introverted women: 3.1. Extroverted women? Frankly, speaking as an introverted male, which I will explain later — they are heroic. 7.5. They not only handle all the male extroverts, they pick up a few introverts as well.
We communicate differently, extroverts and introverts. Extroverts, when they interact, want to have lots of social encounter punctuated by closeness. They’d like to stand close for comfortable communication. They like to have a lot of eye contact, or mutual gaze. We found in some research that they use more diminutive terms when they meet somebody. So when an extrovert meets a Charles, it rapidly becomes “Charlie,” and then “Chuck,” and then “Chuckles Baby.”
Whereas for introverts, it remains “Charles,” until he’s given a pass to be more intimate by the person he’s talking to.
We speak differently. Extroverts prefer black-and-white, concrete, simple language. Introverts prefer — and I must again tell you that I am as extreme an introvert as you could possibly imagine — we speak differently. We prefer contextually complex, contingent, weasel-word sentences —
When we talk, we sometimes talk past each other. I had a consulting contract I shared with a colleague who’s as different from me as two people can possibly be. First, his name is Tom. Mine isn’t.
Secondly, he’s six foot five. I have a tendency not to be.
And thirdly, he’s as extroverted a person as you could find. I am seriously introverted. I overload so much, I can’t even have a cup of coffee after three in the afternoon and expect to sleep in the evening.
We had seconded to this project a fellow called Michael. And Michael almost brought the project to a crashing halt. So the person who seconded him asked Tom and me, “What do you make of Michael?” Well, I’ll tell you what Tom said in a minute. He spoke in classic “extrovert-ese.” And here is how extroverted ears heard what I said, which is actually pretty accurate.
I said, “Well Michael does have a tendency at times of behaving in a way that some of us might see as perhaps more assertive than is normally called for.”
Tom rolled his eyes and he said, “Brian, that’s what I said: he’s an asshole!”
Now, as an introvert, I might gently allude to certain “assholic” qualities in this man’s behavior, but I’m not going to lunge for the a-word.
But the extrovert says, “If he walks like one, if he talks like one, I call him one.“ And we go past each other.
Now is this something that we should be heedful of? Of course.
It’s important that we know this. Is that all we are? Are we just a bunch of traits? No, we’re not.
Remember, you’re like some other people and like no other person. How about that idiosyncratic you?
As Elizabeth or as George, you may share your extroversion or your neuroticism. But are there some distinctively Elizabethan features of your behavior, or Georgian of yours, that make us understand you better than just a bunch of traits? That make us love you? Not just because you’re a certain type of person.
I’m uncomfortable putting people in pigeonholes.
I don’t even think pigeons belong in pigeonholes. So what is it that makes us different? It’s the doings that we have in our life — the personal projects.
You have a personal project right now, but nobody may know it here. It relates to your kid — you’ve been back three times to the hospital, and they still don’t know what’s wrong. Or it could be your mom. And you’d been acting out of character. These are free traits.
You’re very agreeable, but you act disagreeably in order to break down those barriers of administrative torpor in the hospital, to get something for your mom or your child.
What are these free traits?
They’re where we enact a script in order to advance a core project in our lives. And they are what matters. Don’t ask people what type you are; ask them, “What are your core projects in your life?”
And we enact those free traits. I’m an introvert, but I have a core project, which is to profess. I’m a professor. And I adore my students, and I adore my field. And I can’t wait to tell them about what’s new, what’s exciting, what I can’t wait to tell them about.
And so I act in an extroverted way, because at 8 in the morning, the students need a little bit of humor, a little bit of engagement to keep them going in arduous days of study.
we need to be very careful when we act protractedly out of character.
Sometimes we may find that we don’t take care of ourselves. I find, for example, after a period of pseudo-extroverted behavior, I need to repair somewhere on my own.
As Susan Cain said in her “Quiet” book, in a chapter that featured the strange Canadian professor who was teaching at the time at Harvard, I sometimes go to the men’s room to escape the slings and arrows of outrageous extroverts.
I remember one particular day when I was retired to a cubicle, trying to avoid overstimulation. And a real extrovert came in beside me — not right in my cubicle, but in the next cubicle over — and I could hear various evacuatory noises (I guess like farting?), which we hate — even our own, that’s why we flush during as well as after. (I guess cubicle means the WC?)
And then I heard this gravelly voice saying, “Hey, is that Dr. Little?”
If anything is guaranteed to constipate an introvert for six months, it’s talking on the john.
That’s where I’m going now. Don’t follow me.
A community for those who like to be alone, grown out of a blockbuster TED Talk
Scott Drummond had been in the Air Force for 8 years.
It was 1994, and he was eligible to become a commissioned officer, the Air Force’s version of a manager. The average person gets the job after three interviews.
Drummond interviewed 16 times over the next ten years before he got the job.
Looking back at his career, Drummond — now a director of inspections with the Indiana Air National Guard — can see that he lagged about ten years behind his peers as he rose through the ranks.
At the time, he couldn’t figure out why. But today, at age 47, he attributes the gap to “starting slow and finishing strong,” thanks to his introverted nature.
He knows he doesn’t have an outgoing, traditionally commanding personality — but he also knows that he is driven and qualified to lead. During group activities, he finds a corner and devises his own strategies. He “researches the crap out of everything” and creates detailed plans of action.
Drummond found a deeper understanding of his personality after watching Susan Cain’s TED Talk, “The power of introverts.”
This talk has been watched nearly 12 million times since Cain gave it — and helped many introverts realize that being quiet is not only normal, but something to be celebrated.
The response to her talk led Cain to start a new web community: Quiet Revolution.
It’s a place for introverts to share their stories, find like-minded people and read advice written specifically for them.
“I decided to start it because the response to the TED Talk and my book [Quiet] was so overwhelming and so heartfelt,” said Cain. “The talk unleashed questions like: How can I remake my life according to this new idea?”
The site covers 3 main categories — kids, life and work — and offers content designed to unlock the power of introverts and make sure that quiet kids don’t grow up feeling inferior.
There’s advice for introverts on rocking the job interview;
an essay from a quiet mom on the difficulty of making small talk at children’s birthday parties;
and interviews with notable introverts, like author (and fellow TED speaker) Brené Brown.
Launched in June, the site’s content has grown steadily over the past few months. Traffic has exceeded Cain’s expectations.
“The site is supposed to be a place of community,” Cain said. “It’s not just for the introverts, but for people who love and work with introverts.”
Community is generated through the Quiet Revolutionaries section, where introverts can tell their personal stories. Drummond, the military officer, decided to share his story here in the hope that others may learn from him the same way he did from Cain.
“[Her talk] helped me understand I’m not alone — that other people have the same struggles and issues I have,” said Drummond. “That was key to helping me communicate better with people. Had I known that 20 or 30 years ago, I think I would be much further ahead in my career.”
Others who’ve posted as Quiet Revolutionaries, like Melissa Ng — a 28-year-old entrepreneur from Queens, New York — also credit Cain with helping them flourish. In 2010, Ng co-founded PianoVerse, a center for learning and playing music. But she found owning a business difficult because of her quiet nature. Cain’s talk helped her shed her fear of trying again. She credits this revelation with her starting a second business, Lumecluster, which makes 3D-printed masks.
“I realized I’m not the same scared person I used to be. I don’t feel any different. I’m still quiet … but I’m OK about it,” she said. “I hope someone reads [what I wrote] and thinks, ‘I don’t have to lower myself. I’m not going to let someone else define my standards for me.’”
Coming up next: a series of “Quiet Life” videos talking to well-known introverts, and offering how-tos on helping quiet children thrive and growing in a corporate culture designed for extroverts. A series of e-courses is scheduled to launch in September, starting with one on parenting quiet kids. But for now, Cain is happy to see the emotional outpouring happening on the site. She hopes it’s a place people can find comfort.
That’s true for 37-year-old Kate Groves from Melbourne, Australia, who works with an NGO that improves healthcare systems in developing countries. She’s always known she’s an introvert — the thought of getting called on in class or being part of a brainstorming session sends shivers down her spine. Cain’s talk inspired her to speak up for herself and her fellow introverts.
“I think introversion was always considered a negative when I was at school and starting my career,” she said. “When you are so used to the word being said in a critical way, it’s hard not to see it as a defect.”
Thanks to Cain’s talk, she feels more comfortable telling her colleagues she’d prefer time to consider ideas before group discussions. And she’s become better at making small talk.
“I think the more access introverts have to different ideas and shared connections about our personalities, the more comfortable we will be in our own skin,” she said. “I love the idea of someone connecting with my story and maybe feeling a little more normal knowing that we have shared experiences.”
Vulnerability, shame, guilt, regret, introvert…All in one session of discussion
I attended the weekly TEDxSKE salon in Awkar (Lebanon) and Patsy showed 3 TED speakers on various topics such as vulnerability, shame, gilt, regret, introvert, extrovert, ambivert or “neutralvert”, memoriless conditions…and I was very outspoken.
Topic One: On Regret
Is there many kinds of regrets? Are the difference in magnitude or there are qualitative types of regrets?
The woman speaker started with a personal type of regret.
At the age of 29, she decided to have a tattoo, a compass design on her upper left arm, on the premise that she already knew her north direction (what she waned in life…). After the tattoo session she broke down and started weeping and she could not sleep the night recollecting the event and going through the 3 phases of denial, recognizing that the tattoo could no longer be removed, and wondering what went wrong with her for this late decision…
Question: Do you think this kind of regret is a good way to start a long talk on regret?
Do you think if we listened to a mother who lost a child at a very young age, and she regrets her kid that the talk could be very different? Or the talk will be mostly of the feeling of shame that she was not at the level of expectation of the community for a mature mother?
Do you think that if you had a passion as a kid, and you started working on this passion and you failed, that this regret would set the stage for a different talk on regret? Anyway, is any of our passions not a recollection of passions we had as kids? Could we acquire a passion as adult if the source was not from our childhood memory?
So often you hear this statement: “I regret that I never had a passion in life...” Does this saying has any value? How can you regret something you never felt? Or maybe you knew a certain passion but felt it would sound shameful that other know about it, and much less to act on the passion?
I regret that no a single member of my family, or extended family was a public artists. I don’t remember anyone singing or daring to sing in public, or dance, or act in a play, or play the clown, or play music, or discuss freely in any topic…
Not a single member projected this daring sensation: “I dared. I am daring. I dare you to try…” Is it possible in such condition that I could have ever learned to be sociable and feel endowed with this entitlement of negotiating with “authority figures”? I tried my best, and I failed, and I am ready to try again under appropriate cultural circumstances…
I tended during the talk not to believe that the speaker was serious or the talk is going to be of any value…
Topic Two: On Shame and vulnerability
What’s the difference between shame and guilt? Is it the difference between “I am a mistake” and “I did make a mistake”?
Brené Brown studied vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brown explored what can happen when people confront their shame head-on.
A man approached Brown and asked her: “How come I constantly feel vulnerable in front of my wife, and not thinking that I am a good enough provider?” Brown replied: “My Ph.D. research focused on women. I have no answer for you…” And I wonder: “If the research was not interested in the various interactions between genders, the research must be a boring and monotonous descriptive study: The real and rich story is based on interactions...”
Actually, the main thing I retained from this exciting talk is the question of the man. The rest seems vague and not that memorable. Still, Brown is a great talker and she managed the feat of how to make a riveting speech on “How often the terms vulnerability, guilt, and shame could be repeated to cover a 15-minute speech…?
Topic three: On Introvert and Extrovert
During the session, we were handed out a sheet of 29 questions with True or False answers, which was supposed to discriminate among the Introverts, the Extroverts, and the Ambivert. For example, if you answered True on 16 questions and over you are an introvert, if over 16 falses you are an extorvert, otherwise you are an ambivert.
I liked the questionnaire, though Q27 didn’t make sense:”I don’t think of acquaintances as close friends“. Is this question makes sense to you?
Or Q 7: “I tend to notice details many people don’t see”. Are designers, particularly artistic designers supposed to be invariable extroverts or introverts?
In my view, an ambivert or neutralvert is a very confused person, an intelligent person who never had the courage to invest enough time to reflect on “who he is”, his limitations, capabilities, passions, emotions…
I can completely comprehend an introvert: this is a very normal person.
I cannot fathom how an extrovert can be or behave: He must be a nutcase at the very end of the tail, a person whom a brain surgeons in the 30’s would have lobotomized…
Susan Cain talked of introvert people and how she managed to spend her girl scout summer camp…I let Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test tell part of my impression:
“When you’re at a party, do you suddenly feel the desperate urge to escape somewhere quiet such as a toilet cubicle and just sit there? Until I read Susan Cain’s book Quiet, I thought it was just me. I’d see other partygoers grow increasingly effervescent as the night wore on and wonder why I felt so compelled to go home.
I put it down to perhaps there not being enough iron in my diet. But it’s not just me. It’s a trait shared by introverts the world over. We feel this way because our brains are sensitive to overstimulation. I am genuinely astonished by this news.
In fact, I read much of Susan Cain’s book shaking my head in wonder and thinking: “So that’s why I’m like that! It’s because I’m an introvert! Now it’s fine for me to turn down party invitations. I never have to go to another party again!“
Cain is an introvert.
Susan wrote: “It has always been private occasions that make me feel connected to the joys and sorrows of the world, often in the form of communication with writers and musicians I’ll never meet in person”. She argues the current (western world) excessively and misguidedly respects extroverts: We make them our bosses and our political leaders. We foolishly admire their self-help books, such as How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Before the industrial revolution American self-help books extolled character. Nowadays it’s all about personality.
We introverts attempt to emulate extroverts, and the stress of not being “true to ourselves” can make us physically and mentally ill. One introvert that Cain knew spent so much of his adult life trying to adhere to the extrovert ideal he ended up catching double pneumonia. This would have been avoided if he’d spent time recharging his batteries in toilet cubicles, and so on.
At the Harvard Business School, socializing is “an extreme sport”. Extroverts are more likely to get book deals and art exhibitions than their introverted counterparts. Cain had to persuade a publisher she could conquer her stage fright and promote herself at book festivals before they agreed to take her on.
In America, extroverted parents have been known to send their introverted children to psychiatrists to have their introversion kids “treated” out of them. We think extroverts are great because they’re charismatic and chatty and self-assured, but in fact they’re comparatively narcissistic and unthoughtful and we’re committing a grave error structuring our society around their garrulous blah.
Most egregiously, we form our workplaces around the extrovert ideal.
I like Cain’s nightmare descriptions of open-plan offices where group brainstorming sessions descend on the startled introvert like flash-storms. Group-think favors the dominant extrovert. The loudest, most socially confident and quickest on their feet win the day, whereas the contemplative and quietly well-informed tend not to get a word in. School classrooms are increasingly designed to reflect this flawed environment.
Children sit in pods facing each other and are rewarded for being outgoing rather than original. “You Can’t Ask a Teacher for Help, Unless Everyone in Your Group Has the Same Question” read a sign in one New York classroom she visited. All this even though Gandhi and Rosa Parks and Steve Wozniak and JK Rowling and Eleanor Roosevelt have described themselves as introverts, at their best when solitary.
I finished Quiet a month ago and I can’t get it out of my head. It is in many ways an important book – so persuasive and timely and heartfelt it should inevitably effect change in schools and offices.
It’s also a genius idea to write a book that tells introverts – a vast proportion of the reading public – how awesome and undervalued we are.
I’m thrilled to discover that some of the personality traits I had found shameful are actually indicators that I’m amazing. It’s a Female Eunuch for anxious nerds. I’m not surprised it shot straight to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list.
Cain says introverts are “especially empatic”. We think in an “unusually complex fashion”. We prefer discussing “values and morality” to small talk about the weather. We “desire peace”. We’re “modest”. The introvert child is an “orchid – who wilts easily”, is prone to “depression, anxiety and shyness, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent”.
When I get to this part I think: Yes! We are like orchids! With good parenting we can become “exceedingly kind, conscientious and successful at the things that matter to us”.
Then I feel embarrassed that I derived pleasure from being compared to an orchid and I realise that sometimes Cain succumbs to the kind of narcissistic rhetoric she eschews in extroverts.
Still, Cain’s suggestions on how to redress the balance and make the world a bit more introvert-friendly are charmingly cautious. She argues that the way forward is to create offices that have open-plan bits for the extroverts and nooks and crannies where the quiet people can be quiet. A bit like the Pixar offices.
In this, Cain reminds me of the similarly measured Jonathan Safran Foer, whose anti-meat lectures climax in a suggestion that we should try if possible to eat one or two vegetarian meals a week. Give me this kind of considered good sense over showy radical polemics any day.
But sometimes Cain’s brilliant ideas aren’t written quite so brilliantly. Her book can be a bit of a slog, not always a page turner. I wish she’d spent a bit more time adventuring and a bit less time analyzing and philosophizing and citing vast armies of psychologists.
I love feeling Cain’s pain when she journeys out of her comfort zone to “life coaching” conventions. But those adventures vanish as the book wears on, and it starts to drag on a little, especially during the many chapters about how brain scans seem to demonstrate neurological differences between extroverts and introverts.
I don’t know why popular psychology books feel so compelled these days to cite endless fMRI studies. As any neurologist will tell you, we still have very little idea about why certain bits of our brains light up under various circumstances.
And there’s a bigger nagging thought I couldn’t shake throughout the book. It began during the preface, in which Cain prints an “Are You an Introvert?” checklist. She lists 20 statements.
The more we answer “true” the more introverted we are: “I often let calls go through to voice mail. I do my best work on my own. I don’t enjoy multitasking. I seem to care less than my peers about wealth, fame and status …” At the bottom of the quiz she mentions: “If you found yourself with a roughly equal number of true and false answers, then you may be an ambivert – yes, there really is such a word.”
I do the test.
I answer “true” to exactly half the questions. Even though I’m in many ways a textbook introvert (my crushing need for “restorative niches” such as toilet cubicles is eerie) I’m actually an ambivert. I do the test on my wife. She answers true to exactly half the questions too. We’re both ambiverts. Then I do the test on my son. I don’t get to the end because to every question – “I prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities. I enjoy solitude …” – he replies: “Sometimes. It depends.” So he’s also an ambivert.
In the Ronson household we’re 100% ambivert. We ambiverts don’t get another mention in the book. Even for a writer like Cain, who is mostly admirably unafraid of grey areas, we ambiverts are too grey.
Cain’s thesis – built on the assumption that almost everyone in the world can be squeezed into one of two boxes – may topple if it turns out that loads of us are essentially ambiverts. I suspect there are a lot of ambiverts out there.” End of quote