Susan Cain’s “Quiet” Sheds Light on Introverts in Business

2016-12-01T19:13:52+00:00June 25th, 2015|Productivity, Workplace Design|

Our personality—where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum—has a profound impact on our leadership ability, our ability to ask “what if,” whether we learn from our mistakes and on the work environments we prefer, according to Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

As a society, we prize those who are talkative, self-promoting and assertive as if that made them smarter or a better leaders and employees. With one third to half the population being introverted, we’re overlooking a large segment of the population who have made a profound impact on the world.

Introverts make great leaders

As it turns out, no correlation exists between the gift of gab and being an effective leader. Consider that these introverts have started and/or run some of the most successful companies: Brenda Barnes, Sara Lee; Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway; Bill Gates, Microsoft; Lou Gerstner, IBM; and Charles Schwab, Charles Schwab.

Management guru Peter Drucker has written “some locked themselves into their office and others were ultra gregarious. Some were quick and impulsive, while others studied the situation and took forever to come to a decision…The one and only personality trait the effective ones I have encountered did have in common was something they did not have: They had little or no ‘charisma’ and little use either for the term or for what it signifies.”

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, couldn’t agree more. Many of best performing companies he researched were run by what he calls “Level 5 Leaders” who were not known for flash or charisma but extreme humility, coupled with intense professional will.

Introverts create and invent

Stephen Wozniak, who developed the first Apple computer, is shy and a loner. Before designing that computer, he enjoyed attending Homebrew Computer Club, an informal group of technologists, who gathered to share information in Menlo Park. However, he created alone and in quiet.

Wozniak isn’t the exception. Most creative people tend to be socially poised introverts, according to research conducted by the Institute of Personality Assessment & Research. They like working independently and in solitude.

Solitude is the mother of perfection

What separates good from the great? Working/practicing in solitude was the finding of Ander Ericsson when he researched violinists. This isn’t just true just for artists. It true for programmers. The best programmers outperform the worst programmers by a ratio of 10 to 1, according to Tim Demarco, a principle of the Atlantic Systems Guild. The best programmers worked in companies with the most privacy, personal space and control over that space.

No need to throw out your initiatives to foster collaboration. They are effective when used in moderation.

Creating an ideal work space

Companies are beginning to understand the value of solitude. They are creating “flexible,” open plans that offer a mix of solo work spaces, quiet zones, casual meeting area, cafes, reading rooms, computer hubs and even “streets” where people can meet up without disturbing others.

Ellen Winkler has designed two co-location spaces in Denver: Battery 621 and Industry. Both spaces balance the need to work in quiet but collaborate in public.

If I’ve piqued your interest, read the entire book. It’s chock filled with additional insights. Check out, the company Cain is launching this month. It will help you get the best from your introverted employees. You can also check out Susan Cain Quiet Spaces, a line of five work spaces that employees can configure to be alone and unseen. They were designed with Cain’s help after Jim Keane, CEO of Steelcase, turnstone’s parent company heard Cain being interviewed on NPR.