Shhh…

by Doug Weaver on September 25, 2012 at 8:56PM

Back in July in this space I recommended Susan’s Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” Hearing clips of the author’s TED Talk on NPR this weekend has me now doubling down on that recommendation and underscoring  some themes I didn’t call out in my brief mention of the book.

The core idea in “Quiet” is that our culture – especially in education and business – incubates and celebrates extroverts, while giving short shrift to the potentially powerful contributions of the introvert.  We organize our classrooms into “discussion pods,” and reward students for vocal participation and visible group “leadership.”  Our business culture revolves around committees, task forces and work groups, all so we can collaborate our way to success.  Along the way, we’ve come to the conclusion that the loudest voice belongs to he (and it’s very often ‘he’) who is the most confident, and therefore the leader.  If forced to conform to today’s cultural and business climate, introverts like Gandhi, Warren Buffet, Eleanor Roosevelt, Larry Page, Bill Gates and (!) Dale Carnegie would never have emerged as leaders.  The logic is inescapable, and there’s plenty of advice on how companies can better leverage the deep insights and massive potential of the introverted third of the world.

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But the thing that really grabbed my attention in the TED Talk was this:  Our celebration of extroversion has brought about the near death of our ability to work alone; to puzzle over a problem or incubate the germ of an idea.  Our individual inability to stay with a problem causes us to lunge at simple solutions.  In sales, this promotes a “grab and go” culture in which the seller over-relies on marketing services to “come up with ideas.”  Often it ends up a shallow, frustrating exercise for all involved.

In the workshops I conduct with sales teams I have started to look for the introverts and carefully draw out their ideas and solutions.   Having spent a little more time in their own heads, their thinking is almost always more complete.  And I’m encouraging all sellers – introverts and extroverts alike – to schedule 30 minutes of unplugged ‘quiet time’ during each business day (and 60-90 minutes on the weekend) to consider problems and ideas on behalf of your customers.  Call it your daily “time in the wilderness.”  You’ll be amazed at what it does for your confidence and effectiveness.

As Susan Cain says, “Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.”  Try some today.

Reader Comments (5)

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  1. Brooke September 26, 2012 at 10:34 am

    I think there is value in both the introvert and the extrovert. As salespeople we have to nurture BOTH sides of our selves. I’m a seasoned salesperson who has worked alone, from home, for over 15 years. I love the collaborative team effort of being in an office with the team and being on sales calls with clients and prospects. But I also crave and need that alone time. After a week on the road, I can’t wait to get back and be alone with my work and my thoughts. I think my brightest and best ideas have come from BOTH sides of me.

  2. Farrell Reynolds September 26, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Doug,
    Excellent piece. Words can be bricks. Silence is where intuition and grace live.
    Farrell Reynolds

  3. Michael McMahon September 26, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Good post Doug.

    I’ve gone from owning a large agency and all the meetings that entailed to working completely on my own, developing my own marketing platform. The change from the usual fast-paced business environment to a more contemplative and focused work-life has illuminated, for me, the value in having time to think and mull things over. I used to worry that I wasn’t a great instant decision-maker, that i felt I needed to sleep on big decisions in order to weigh out the options that revealed themselves after my initial reaction faded. Now I spend hours thinking about different ways to solve a problem and I find it very fulfilling.

    I recently arrived almost an hour early to a meeting with a client far out in the countryside. They had a beautiful garden, at least a couple acres, criss-crossed with footpaths. As I walked around the garden and sat on the bench just enjoying the quiet-time, I remembered what life was like when I had constant staff meetings and urgent deadlines and laughed at how I never would have appreciated the chance to relax back then, when I most needed it.

    We work in an incredibly fast-paced, ever changing industry. A little more time spent thinking and a little less time spent trying to “win the meeting” can be invaluable both to an individual’s sanity and to the success of their endeavors.

    Thanks for a great post that crystallized some things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

    Michael

  4. wayne September 27, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Soounds like you’re all getting a bit older to me. Success in the new environment demands thoughtful response and solutions delvered ‘;in-stream’.That takes both strong domain expertise AND keen intelligence. Many can do that well—-many cannot.

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