From Barack Obama to JK Rowling, how introverts have much more to offer than may meet the ear
20:38 GMT, 20 March 2012
In a noisy world full of opinion and debate in which we are increasingly encouraged to share our experiences, introverts are ignored, according to one writer.
Susan Cain, a recent TED conference speaker, believes that people like her who quietly contemplate the stimuli around them rather than feeding off them, are not given adequate respect by our new, extrovert society, and that is a mistake.
The former lawyer took to the stage in Long Beach, California to explain that many of the world's most influential
people are often forced to resist their natural inclinations in order to be
taken seriously or given attention.
Leaders: JK Rowling and Barack Obama are examples of influential introverts for whom being in the public eye goes against their natural inclination for solitude
Labelling Barak Obama and JK Rowling as introverts, Ms Cain said that although one in every two to three people tend towards reservedness it is the more outgoing among us who are expected to succeed.
A naturally quiet person herself, she believes that nowadays the less outspoken personality struggles to be heard while the extrovert is upheld as a shining example of character.
Recalling an early childhood trip to summer camp she told the TED audience how she had taken her most treasured possessions along with her: her books.
But instead of being left alone to read quietly, she was obliged to participate in a group chorus spelling out the word 'r-o-w-d-i-e' as a loud declaration of team spirit.
Shhh: Susan Cain is a self-confessed introvert who believes that it's time to give the quiet people more respect
Bewildered by the constant need for chanting and fist-pumping, as much as by the misspelling of 'rowdy', Ms Cain remembered how the 'cool' girl in her dorm had asked her why she was always so 'mellow'.
Years later, she became a corporate lawyer, a choice that she believes was motivated by the need to prove to everyone around her that she could be an extrovert too.
But now the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, wants to speak out in defence of all like-minded people who she says are often over-looked by our socially and professionally gregarious society.
'Picture the typical classroom,' she wrote recently for CNN.com. 'When I was a kid, we sat in rows of desks, and we did most of our work autonomously.
'Our major religions all tell the story of seekers – Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha – who go off alone, to the wilderness, and bring profound revelations back to the community. No wilderness, no revelations.'
'But nowadays many students sit in “pods” of desks with four or five students facing each other, and they work on countless group projects – even in subjects like math and creative writing.
'Kids who prefer to work by themselves don't fit.'
She continues: 'The same thing happens at work. Many of us now work in offices without walls, with no respite from the noise and gaze of co-workers. And introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions.'
Yet, she points out, history and science have both proven that people who like to be alone have been key innovators and leaders and that 'we've known about the transcendent power of solitude for centuries.'
'Charles Darwin took long walks alone in the woods and emphatically turned down dinner party invitations. Steve Wozniak invented the first Apple computer alone in his cubicle at Hewlett Packard,' she reminds us.
'Our major religions all tell the story of seekers – Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha – who go off alone, to the wilderness, and bring profound revelations back to the community.
'No wilderness, no revelations.'
Ms Cain's message is not, she assures us, that we should shun collaboration and team spirit. It is simply that alone time can be beneficial to all and that to some 'it's the air they breathe.'