Work & Solitude

I found this interesting article by Susan Cain. She’s been quite vocal on a movement to make a case for introverts, especially in a world that extol extroversion. Her TED Talk on the subject is one of the most viewed and her book, same on the subject, is a New York bestseller. She probably has done more in gathering attention about the subject than any contemporary psychologist. Her TED speech is a classic and should pass as a worthy, perhaps worldly, tribute to those who derive personal and social energy through solitude.

I have a Kindle copy of her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, which I haven’t finished reading but I suppose that, with her essays, interviews, social media updates, and the pages I have read so far, one can decipher the thrust of the book – How introverts are misunderstood and undervalued. (And I think the book’s title is clever and heartwarming).

As one who tends to shuffle mostly between the extremes of the two popular personality types, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t too simplistic to recommend a reactionary posturing for introverts against the motions of the external world. It feels somewhat defeatist and assume a victim stance, as opposed to championing a flexibility that combines the uniqueness of introversion with survival techniques in situations that are tedious for most introverts.

This challenge is even more telling in corporate and creative environments. The corporate world applauds the charming and vocal employee and, whether it admits or not, treats the reclusive employee like an alien in the corporate universe. Even if he’s a genius, he’s still accorded an outlaw status, treated sometimes despicably and left to breathe in alien waters stirred by extroverted motions. One can only imagine the internal battles introverts endure in corporate settings. (I once stumbled on a lady in my former place of work that was crying in the conference room. After she gathered herself, she mentioned her frustrations about surviving. Soon as she shares an idea, a boisterous team member picks on it, runs away with it and gets the accolade for it. She also adds that she feels pressured to say something in the conference room when everyone has something to say).

Perhaps, the line between introversion and poor self-esteem awaits intellectual investigation. It’s undisputed what people with the “unpopular” personality put up with in the corporate world. While this isn’t a campaign for a redesigning of the corporate environment to embrace introversion, one acknowledges the works of the likes of Susan Cain in the quest for personality equality and equity. If at all, I believe the best corporate culture should make room – quite literally, for both introverts and extroverts. Because as soon as introverts “win”, it will be extroverts' turn to form a movement against the status quo, and gosh forbids - an exclusive movement of extroverts, by extroverts and for extroverts will be one heck of a movement.

Instead of a simplistic conclusion that seems to frame the situation in an us-versus-them context, what should be campaigned for is a complimentary context that acknowledges differences and ensures reasonable compatibility for a common goal. For me, there are situations where I need to withdraw into my hermitic shell to work best and there are situations that require I work with people, even if for diplomatic reasons. :)

This comment by a Charlie Newman on the article brings it home. I think I go both ways even though I selfishly would prefer to be on my own:

Some people do better on their own.
Some people do better with others.
Some people go both ways.
Forcing anything gets you uninspired results because force begets mediocrity.
There are things you cannot legislate or force.

PS: No committee was involved in the writing of this post. :)