This is sort of a repost of a blog I wrote last month, but I think the basic concepts bear repeating.
Carl Jung described introversion as “the turning inward of psychic energy with an orientation toward the subjective. Introverts are tuned in to the inner world with all its biases, fantasies, dreams, and individualized perceptions.” Jung himself was an introvert, though he feared becoming “lost in his inner world and so managed to find a balance between introversion and extraversion” according to at least one textbook I’ve recently read.
Yet, introversion might not be all that awful. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain claims that introverts are vastly undervalued. In fact it is they who often have the best and biggest ideas, are the brightest students, and make the most important discoveries. In her TED talk, The Power of Introverts, she argues that we are making life difficult for introverts to get in touch with their ideas because we are designing schools and office spaces based on what stimulates extraverts: noise, interaction, conversation. But what introverts need, what we all need, in order to get in touch with our creativity, in order to dream and imagine, is quiet. The time and space for flights of fancy and rumination, the chance to work alone, and the opportunities to create. Great people, great thinkers, Cain points out, spent lots of time alone: Rosa Parks, Ghandi, Abe Lincoln, Steve Wozniak. Every religion, she reminds us, had a figure who spent lots of time alone, wandering the desert.
Cain warns of the dangers of group think, how when people are together they begin to lose their individuality and mimic one another’s ideas and behaviors. Such interactions quash individual creativity and can lead to groups taking greater risks as they are urged on by the more extraverted group members. True collaboration occurs when introverts and extraverts come together in a well-moderated environment to share their ideas (the Bay of Pigs is a great example of group think nearly leading to disaster).
As Cain points out, there is ZERO correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas. She says that we have given in to a new group think—that all creativity comes from a gregarious place. But, she says, quite correctly, most creative people have a serious streak of introversion because creativity needs long flights of fancy. Kids in school don’t get any time to pursue individual thoughts as they are all involved in group work, even when it comes to creative writing, and if you’ve been in a modern office building lately, you’ll see that the open concept is all the rage. No one gets an office where they can close the door on the noise–now they sit together so they can share ideas. I don’t even know how anything gets accomplished.
As we catapult ourselves through the 21st century, all plugged in and grouped together, we would do well, Cain says to try these three things:
- Stop the madness for group work. Give students and employees the opportunities for solitude, autonomy, and privacy.
- Go into the wilderness—we need to have our own revelations, to be like Buddha, and unplug in order to get inside our own heads.
- Share with the world what we carry in our metaphorical suitcases—particularly if we are introverts. The world would do well to see and learn from the things we carry.
Introverts. My people.