Carl Jung defined introversion as a focus on one’s inner psychic activity and extraversion as a personal focus on the outside world, emphasizing that humans respond differently to certain types of group or social stimulation.[2] In her 2012 TED Talk, Lawyer Susan Cain claims that in modern American culture, extroverted behavior is often rewarded in work and school, and introverted people can often be passed over. She highlights the abilities that introverts brings to the world and argues they should be encouraged and celebrated.[1] Her presentation is still one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time.

Here are 4 takeaways from Susan Cain’s TED Talk: The Power of Introverts

the power of introverts

1) There is a difference between shyness and introversion

According to Cain, “Introversion is… different from being shy. Shyness is about fear of social judgment.” She says introversion is more about how someone responds to all kinds of external stimulation, including social stimulation. “Extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most capable when they’re in quieter, more low-key environments.” Cain goes on to mention that these things are not absolute, but it’s important to understand the key to maximizing talent is to “put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.”

power of introverts

2) The best ideas don’t always come from a group

Cain says “We have this belief system right now that I call the new groupthink, which holds that all creativity and all productivity comes from a very oddly gregarious place.” She suggests that the group dynamic (and human biology) will result in introverts staying quiet in a group that includes extroverts because humans naturally gravitate toward whoever is the loudest or most charismatic. But Cain blatantly states “there’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” introvert She acknowledges the importance of coming together in groups by telling the story of Steve Wozniak’s partnership with Steve Jobs in building the first Apple computer. But before she does, she points out “Steve Wozniak invented the first Apple computer sitting alone in his cubicle in Hewlett-Packard where he was working at the time. And he says that he never would have become such an expert in the first place had he not been too introverted to leave the house when he was growing up.”

power of introverts

3)  Schools and workplaces are traditionally designed for extroverts

“Our most important institutions, our schools and our workplaces… are designed mostly for extroverts and for extroverts’ need for lots of stimulation,” says Cain. “Your typical classroom has pods of desks… kids are working in countless group assignments. Even in subjects like math and creative writing, which you think would depend on solo flights of thought, kids are now expected to act as committee members.” She laments the misconception that kids who prefer to go off by themselves or work alone are outliers or problem cases, and that many teachers believe the ideal student is an extrovert as opposed to an introvert. She goes on to say “introverts actually get better grades and are more knowledgeable, according to research.”

4) The bias is cultural

“Why are we making these introverts feel so guilty about wanting to just go off by themselves some of the time?” Cain poses that the answers lie in our cultural history: America’s early days were a culture of character where value was placed on people for their inner selves and moral rectitude. Self-help books from this era had titles like “Character, the Grandest Thing in the World,” and featured role models like Abraham Lincoln, who was praised for being modest and unassuming. In the 20th century, the US entered an era that historians call the culture of personality, which stemmed from our evolution from an agricultural economy through the Industrial Revolution to big business. People migrated from small towns to the cities. Cain says “instead of working alongside people they’ve known all their lives, now they are having to prove themselves in a crowd of strangers. So, quite understandably, qualities like magnetism and charisma suddenly come to seem really important.” The self-help books also changed to meet these new needs with names like “How to Win Friends and Influence People” that feature good salesmen as role models.

Moving forward

Cain concedes “None of this is to say that social skills are unimportant, and I’m also not calling for the abolishing of teamwork at all… the problems that we are facing today in fields like science and in economics are so vast and so complex that we are going to need armies of people coming together to solve them … But I am saying that the more freedom that we give introverts to be themselves, the more likely they are to come up with their own unique solutions to these problems.”[1]

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Sources [1] Cain, Susan. “The Power of Introverts.” TED2012, February 2012, https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts/transcript?language=en

[2] Wikipedia contributors. (2019, June 13). Extraversion and introversion. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:05, June 14, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Extraversion_and_introversion&oldid=901670764

[3] Jung, Carl (1995). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. London: Fontana Press. pp. 414–5. ISBN 978-0-00-654027-4.