Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts

Thursday, 08 November 2018

Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts

About halfway down the list of the 25 most popular TED talks of all time, you’ll find upcoming #ISPA2019 keynote Susan Cain’s talk on “The Power of Introverts,” an honest discussion on how to uncover the untapped (or discouraged) strength of Western society.

Susan begins her talk with a story from summer camp and a suitcase full of books. She touts reading as a primary activity of her household growing up, saying it was just another way of being social. As soon as she produced a book at camp, however, she was met with questions from other campers and even discouragement against reading from her camp counselor. Told to be social and interact with others, she shamefully hid her books under her bunk for the remainder of the summer.

As just one of many such experiences, this instance made Susan feel that her quiet, introverted nature was frowned upon. Denying her intuition, she grew up to graduate from Princeton and pursue a law degree from Harvard. Susan soon found herself on Wall Street practicing law, possibly to prove to herself that she could be bold and assertive despite her natural tendencies to be the opposite. Self-negating choices became so habitual for her that she became unaware of the change in her behavior. Unable to deny it any longer, Susan realized that if she was to reach her full potential, she would have to accept that she, like up to half of the population, was introverted.

Susan argues that to maximize an individual’s talents, they must reside in their optimal zone of stimulation. Introversion is not shyness, but rather it is a way of describing how certain people react to quieter, more relaxed situations. Most of educational and professional life is designed to satisfy the extroverts’ need for stimulation, and because of this, introverts are subject to a bias that is alive and well in our society.

Despite this bias, the correlation between solitude and creativity are a main support of Susan’s thesis. She cites many leaders through history who venture into the wilderness alone to be inspired and experience revelations. Freeing themselves from the distortions of group dynamics is what, according to Susan, allows introverts to achieve creative breakthroughs.

So why are we making introverts feel guilty for this and gearing everything toward extroverts? Susan believes it to be because Western society has always favored the “man of action” over the “man of contemplation.” She asserts that while social skills and teamwork are always necessary, the more freedom we give introverts to be themselves, the more likely they are to come up with their own unique solutions to solve problems in a variety of fields.


Susan’s Calls to Action:

  1. Don’t obsess over group work – introverts need much more privacy, freedom and autonomy in the workplace and school environment.
  2. Seek out revelations – a walk out in the great outdoors will do us all good, to unplug and “get in our heads” a little more often.
  3. Unpack our suitcases – whatever it is we have to offer, don’t be afraid to open up our suitcases and share with others, because the world needs us and the things we carry.

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