Book Club, Week 3: Chapter 3 of Quiet

October 30, 2012

Artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee.

This excerpt from Steve Wozniak’s memoir, as quoted by Susan Cain, is the driving force behind chapter 3. From Wozniak to Newton to elementary school classrooms, this chapter explores the pervasiveness of the “cooperative approach.”

Respect

On page 77, Cain interviews a Manhattan public school teacher, who said:

This [collaborative] style of teaching reflects the business community, where people’s respect for others is based on their verbal abilities, not their originality or insight.

When I read that, I was incensed. (Even typing it now, I’m fired up all over again.) I am proud to say that this statement doesn’t reflect my business community; in the online space where I do business, originality and insight are paramount. But I have seen this in my workplaces in the past, and I see it in many entrepreneurs’ gathering spaces online as well. It goes hand-in-hand with the extrovert ideal and the introvert’s struggle with being heard.

What about your business community? Is it a place where respect is based primarily on someone’s ideas or their expression of those ideas?

Collaboration and the New Groupthink

Do you ever feel like the idea of collaboration is, well, sacrosanct? In this chapter, Cain gives great insight into the origins of this movement — which she terms the New Groupthink — and its expressions in society and business — through things like open office plans and classrooms where children can’t ask questions as individuals. As she writes, “Collaboration became a sacred concept.” I feel the weight of this in my own business. Do you feel it in yours as well?

This isn’t to say that collaboration isn’t meaningful and productive, in the right context. As Cain points out, Wozniak attended bi-monthly meetings with other brilliant minds, and this undoubtedly influenced, and possibly refined, his groundbreaking work. But collaboration wasn’t his primary mode nor was it the environment that he found conducive to doing the work itself.

What’s so magical about solitude?

This idea of working alone is explored further in Anders Ericsson’s experiment with the violinists. “Elite musicians describe practice sessions with their chamber group as ‘leisure’ compared with solo practice, where the real work gets done.” Solo time is when they engage in Deliberate Practice. And it takes a lot of Deliberate Practice to gain true expertise: Ericsson estimates the investment at approximately 10,000 hours.

I would love to hear what Deliberate Practice looks like in your life, in your business and beyond. How do concentration, motivation, and prioritization align in your practice?

Brainstorming

There’s a whole section in this chapter about work environment, and I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on that — but for now, I’m going to jump into brainstorming. I found the brain activity tests especially fascinating: that a group’s perceptions can actually change your own perceptions. At first, this seems rather simple, but when applied to not only the business sector but politics, family, the media, and various social spheres, it is rather staggering. As the author writes, “to stand alone is to activate primitive, powerful, and unconscious feelings of rejection.”

Where have you seen this to be true? What are some ways that we can foster productive brainstorming sessions while avoiding the pitfalls of social loafing, production blocking, and evaluation apprehension?

Going forward

To close this chapter (and the first part of the book), Cain offers some ideas for how we can refine face-to-face collaboration. What are some other ideas? Or what are some of the author’s ideas that you’ve proven successful in your own business and social circles?

Book Club, Week 2: Chapter 2 of Quiet

October 22, 2012

If chapter 1 was all about the extrovert ideal and the culture of personality, chapter 2 is all about the places where these ideals are most prevalent. Fundamentally, chapter 2 is about ideas. Cain ventures into the business, education, social, and religious sectors to explore how the ideas of extroverts are promoted — and how introverts’ ideas, by contrast, are marginalized.

In business and education

I don’t know about you, but I found her descriptions of Tony Robbins’ seminar and Harvard Business School singularly terrifying. The experience itself is troubling, but the results are even more so:

If we assume that quiet and loud people have roughly the same number of good (and bad) ideas, then we should worry if the louder and more forceful people always carry the day. This would mean that an awful lot of bad ideas prevail while good ones get squashed. Yet studies in group dynamics suggest that this is exactly what happens. We perceive talkers as smarter than quiet types… We also see talkers as leaders.

It made me a bit heartsick to think of all the brilliant, creative ideas that never see the light of day because leaders — and people like you and me — aren’t truly evaluating those ideas based on their value.

As Cain goes on to discuss, the business sector is creating an echo chamber. They create an educational environment where quick decision making is rewarded, regardless of whether that decision is sound — and that system of rewards creates a corporate culture where our tendency is “to follow those who initiate action — any action.” Countless innovative ideas are cast aside because they aren’t presented forcefully or dynamically. It’s the ultimate triumph of form over substance.

Have you seen this phenomenon in your workplace? If you work for yourself, was this unjust system part of your motivation to strike out on your own?

Both my husband and I are introverts, and we are both very careful decision makers. Neither of us would survive at Harvard Business School for a week, let alone a semester. I would be sitting at Don’s lunch table, asking the same questions about quantity of participation and strategizing how to make my speaking voice louder and more commanding.

Leadership style

I found Cain’s observations on introverted and extroverted leadership styles quite insightful — and, upon reflection on my business experiences, completely accurate. In essence, she observes that extroverts excel at leading more passive employees, whereas introverts do well with initiative-takers. I especially appreciate that Cain advocates “groom[ing] listeners as well as talkers for leadership roles.” A corporation without one or the other will suffer. Both are vital to a company’s success. The key is to align the right leader with the right employees, so that new ideas aren’t trampled while less proactive employees are motivated to do their best work.

How does this approach apply to your leadership opportunities? What is your current leadership style? What wisdom do you hope to glean from both the introverted and extroverted leadership styles? How can we create an environment that garners success for both introverts and extroverts?

Does God love introverts?

As an evangelical, this section of the book both provoked and comforted me — and both in a good way. Church is about community, and that often leads to forced socialization and “outward enthusiasm” that Adam McHugh describes. As he says, “these are all motivated by good desires.” I absolutely believe that to be true. But the question I always ask (and that McHugh and Cain are asking also) is: Are these things (that are intended to foster relationship and community) actually alienating many of the people they are intending to engage? We all need community — introverts included — but getting there can be challenging.

I’m not sure what specific questions to ask on this subject, since we are all coming from different religious and cultural backgrounds. But I’d love to hear about how extroversion plays itself out in your communities. Is there a way to foster community that doesn’t make introverts want to run away and hide?

Other thoughts?

Cain also briefly discusses the role of the internet in the sharing of ideas — and I’m sure we can all attest to how we’ve shared ideas online that would’ve been difficult or impossible to share in a live group setting. How can we, as online business owners, continue to create an environment that encourages introverts and extroverts alike to share their ideas?

What else stood out to you in this chapter? Did you learn anything new about yourself or your fellow introvert?

Book Club, Week 1: Chapter 1 of Quiet by Susan Cain

October 15, 2012

Susan Cain opens Quiet with the story of Rosa Parks. Like Cain, I too always pictured Parks as a brassy, bold person, both in demeanor and physical stature. But Cain writes:

[Obituaries written after her death] said she was “timid and shy” but had “the courage of a lion.” They were full of phrases like “radical humility” and “quiet fortitude.”

On the very next page, she draws a contrast with our modern cultural ideals — what she later dubs as the Culture of Personality.

Today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts.

That leads me to my first question for all of you: Do you feel a societal pressure to be bold and sociable? If so, what does that look like? I’m also curious about the non-American perspective. If you currently reside in (or hail from) another nation, do you perceive the American ideal as one of extroversion? Is this uniquely American or does it cross over into other cultures?

The Extrovert Ideal

On page four, Cain writes that introversion “is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” This hit home for me. How often has my reticence been misconstrued as something else? How many people told me, especially in my youth, that I should be more talkative and outgoing? How often do I reflect on how I’m too quiet for this or that? As Cain astutely discusses, this becomes a track that plays on repeat in your mind. And yet many of these judgments of introversion are completely inaccurate. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy; as the book explores more in depth in later chapters, they may have strong social skills and enjoy social gatherings.

Have you seen the Extrovert Ideal touted in your family, workplace, or social circles? Do you feel like your quiet tendencies are automatically labeled or received as something else altogether?

From Culture of Character to Culture of Personality

This is easily one of my favorite sections of the entire book, because it gives words to something that I’ve often read about and discussed with others. As I read this, I found myself mourning the loss of the Culture of Character. More than that, I mourned the shift in perception around things like duty and reputation. Several years ago, I read an article about how women are no longer pursuing men of character, and it’s no surprise when traits that were once admired are now seen as irrelevant at best and dull or distasteful at worst. Who wants to be known for having a strong sense of duty when you could be known for being magnetic? Even as someone who assigns a high value to character, I find myself drawn to Dale Carnegie’s guide words. It’s because the Culture of Personality tells me that those are the things I need — those are the things that will attract others and make me successful. As Cain writes:

The Extrovert Ideal is not a modern invention… We can also trade our admiration of extroverts to the Greeks, and to the Romans… [But] the rise of the Culture of Personality intensified such biases.

How do you feel about the cultural shift from character to personality? What are the dangers? The benefits?

Other thoughts

The best part of a book club is hearing from everyone else. So, tell me: In the introduction and first chapter, what grabbed your attention? What new insights did you glean? What didn’t you agree with? What questions did the author raise for you?