The Power of Introversion
“Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.” - Susan Cain
Growing up as a quiet, only child in Mexico, being introverted at school and social settings was perceived as a flaw, as something that placed me at a disadvantage against my gregarious, outgoing peers. Throughout history, society has associated leadership to boldness and, thus, undervalued introverts. By doing so, we have lost the untapped potential of many individuals who have been forced to operate in a system that feels unnatural to them.
In 2012, author Susan Cain started what is known today as The Quiet Revolution, an advocacy movement that praises the power of introverts to innovate and contribute to society. It is estimated that one in every three humans is an introvert, a term that can be defined as someone who gets their energy from within, prefers doing things alone or in small groups, and takes time to reflect before moving into action. Schools and workplaces have systematically adopted models that favor collaboration, force teamwork, and ignore the working styles of quiet people who could be engaging in more and better ways under different approaches.
In the world of management, “collaboration” has become the new craze, which equates to frequent ad-hoc meetings and open plan offices. However, according to a 2017 Applied Psychology study, collaborative work environments lead to top performers (usually the innovators and hard-workers) feeling miserable and socially isolated. According to Campbell, “cooperative contexts proved socially disadvantageous for high performers." Social isolation for introverts means having fewer social supports and a greater likelihood of committing suicide, which is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States.
While extroverts have an innate ability to establish close relations with others, social introverts also yearn for that connection but are more prone to seek it in different ways, ways that are not currently implemented across organizations. While some may argue that encouraging introverts to act as extroverts could easily solve the issue, Zelenski suggests that behaving counterdispositionally can only provide temporary benefits and potentially lead to emotionally draining and damaging states. It is evident that across institutions in the West, significant transformative change is needed to address the neglect of introverts across communities.
The price of neglecting introverts is something that is hard to quantify: the creativity and innovation they could contribute in environments that are better suited for their needs is something that would certainly benefit multiple organizations, society in general, and most importantly, introverts themselves. I wonder how different our world would be if people were not expected to be something they are not; if we were all inspired, motivated, and energized by our surroundings and environments.