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.