Quiet, Please

Lydialyle Gibson in Harvard Magazine:

MA17_Page_048_Image_0001sm-1On a bright Monday afternoon, the fairy godmother of introverts—author Susan Cain, J.D. ’93, whose book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking caught fire five years ago—was sitting with her team around a long wooden table strewn with papers and laptops and long-empty coffee cups. Outside, another day idled by on this sleepy street in central Harlem. But inside, the dining room of a majestic old brownstone that had recently become the group’s base of operations, Cain and her colleagues were deep into a philosophical discussion about loving kindness, the freedom and burden of authenticity, and the finer points of corporate networking. At one end of the room, two whiteboards leaned on easels, crammed with dry-erase shorthand: “vulnerability,” “journey,” “leadership,” “service,” “connection.” What the group was trying to get at was something about the nature of transformation: How do you shift a culture? What does it look like when that happens? And who is the person who can do it?

A few weeks earlier, Cain’s nascent for-profit company, Quiet Revolution (stated mission: “To unlock the power of introverts for the benefit of us all”), had launched a pilot initiative, the Quiet Ambassador program, in a few offices and schools around the country. Cain is an introvert, too, and if you talk to her or read even a few pages of Quiet, you’ll quickly encounter one of her central themes: the “extrovert ideal.” American culture, and the Western world more broadly, she argues, glorify extroversion. Classrooms and workplaces are designed around those who thrive amid the clatter and commotion of open office plans and brainstorming free-for-alls. Introversion, meanwhile, exists “somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology,” something to be overcome on the way to achieving a better self. “Today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles,” Cain writes. “We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts—which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are.” In fact, she notes, one-third to one-half of Americans are introverts. If you’re not one yourself, she often tells audiences, you’re probably raising or managing or married to one.

More here.