For as long as I can remember, those who are naturally quiet, serious or sensitive have been overlooked. The loudest have taken over – even if they have nothing to say.
In business, a positive, extrovert persona has long been encouraged. You have to be a team player, enjoy working in open-plan offices and believe that all the best ideas are generated by groups. Calling your colleagues ‘guys’ a lot and enthusing about their every utterance in ecstatic tones is all part of this.
This goes right back to the early days of self-improvement – for example, how to win friends and influence people – and continues today with the Tony Robbins school of whooping and superficial personality traits. Come on down, sucker. In fact, those of us who are naturally withdrawn have had to re-invent ourselves, without even questioning it.
However, without the quiet and cerebral, little of value would ever have been created. Great art, science and technology were created by introverts. Business needs introverts.
This idea was first brought home to me back in 2001 by Jim Collins, in his book* ‘Good to Great’. Collins and his team conducted a rigorous five-year analysis of more than 1,000 businesses, to find out which factors led to exceptional performance. One of the findings debunked the myth of the charismatic business leader. Exceptional businesses were more likely to be run by low-key individuals, leading the steady development and execution of long-term strategy and fostering the right organisational culture.
Yet the stereotype of the dynamic maverick, the business leader as God, persists. We all are expected to read their books and to regard them as role models.
More recently, I have just re-read the excellent ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain*. Or to give it its full title, ‘Quiet. The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.’ I can’t praise this book highly enough and encourage you to read it.
Cain argues that the introvert/extrovert divide is the most fundamental dimension of personality. At least a third of us are on the introverted side and some of the world's most talented people, in art, business, science and technology are introverts. Despite this, extroverts have taken over. Shyness, sensitivity and seriousness are often seen as being negative, she claims, and introverts feel reproached for being the way they are.
Of course, this all makes sense to us introverts. They say that to be an expert in something, you have to have devoted at least 10,000 hours to mastering your subject. For computer nerds, that means locking yourself away in a garage for years. For musicians, it means endless repetitive practice. In other words, you don’t become an expert or a creator by hanging around in back-slapping, self-congratulatory, groups of extroverts for too long.
Cain debunks many of the myths about business behaviour that we have been encouraged to embrace. For example, groups are rarely the best way to solve problems or generate ideas: these are best done by individuals working alone – as most artists and writers know. Brainstorms, and the plethora of happy-clappy workshop and other sessions that they have spawned, may be fun, but they are not productive. In the same way, it has been found that introverts work better when left alone, in their own space, rather than in open-plan offices.
If , like me, you relish the affirmation of your own reclusive, book-reading, back-bedroom self, then you will enjoy this book. And the more so when you realise that all this dates back to Eastern philosophy. Cain quotes 'The Way of Lao Zi':
‘Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know’.
This could easily have been written with many overtly extrovert business people and their glib clichés and utterances in mind. Not to mention their use of social media…
Mark Beasley is a marketing consultant and copywriter. www.beasley-marketing.com
‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain is on Amazon
‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins is also on Amazon -