There’s never been a better time to be an introvert. In the last few years, an explosion of information has positioned introversion not as some kind of undesirable condition to be overcome, but as a personality dimension that has both benefits and drawbacks.
[ Read our related article, Networking for introverts: 6 practical tips. ]
Today’s introverts can find best-selling books praising the power of introverts, better understanding of the dimensions of introversion and extroversion, new psychological and neuroscientific research into the topic, and more open discussions of the issues. There are also some valuable TED Talks – every last one given by an introvert – worth a view, both for introverts themselves and those that work with them.
Whether you’re an introvert or a leader who wants to harness the power of introverts, dig in:
Speaker: Susan Cain
The grand dame of introversion clearly tapped into an unmet need with her 2013 book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can't Stop Talking.” It sold more than 2 million copies and been translated into more than 30 languages. Cain, who since launched The Quiet Leadership Institute, sheds light on the talents and abilities introverts like her offer because of their particular dispositions rather than despite them.
Cain opens her talk with the story that highlights the pain of being an introverted child, one of the many situations over the course of her life in which she felt pressure to pass as an extrovert. But she argues, based on intensive research, that forcing introverts to “fit in,” we deprive them – and the world – of introvert power. “When it comes to creativity and to leadership,” she says, “we need introverts doing what they do best.” Cain guides the audience through what introversion is and isn’t, its benefits, and how we might remove the bias that works against them in schools, in workplaces, and beyond.
Speaker: Brian Little
An internationally acclaimed scholar and speaker in the field of personality and motivational psychology, Brian Little outlined his personality theories in the book Me, Myself and Us. More importantly, Little is a self-described “extreme introvert” – one whose projects of passion take us out of his ingrained personality style.
In his talk, Little describes the five big personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Little’s explanation of introverts and extroverts is a straightforward one that can help anyone better understand the differences; each one is simply trying to maintain an optimal level of stimulation. Each personality trait is part nature and part nurture, but – and this is the crux of Little’s talk – only part of what makes us us. We are more than the sum of our traits, and our personalities are more malleable than we assume. Tune in for an exploration and explanation of the moments in which we transcend our personalities, as well as a warning about the dangers of acting “protractedly out of character.”
Speaker: Linus Torvalds
There’s no real shortage of introverted heroes in the tech world, but Linus Torvalds is a particularly interesting one. He’s not a visionary, he’ll tell you; he’s an engineer. Yet he became the chief architect of a software revolution built on collaboration.
That wasn’t his intent, Torvalds tells interviewer Chris Anderson in this 2016 TED Talk. He was simply seeking a way to invite comments on his code. And with Git, the version control system for tracking changes in computer files and coordinating work on those files among multiple people, he invented a way to do so that’s, in a way, an introvert’s dream. “I'm not a people person; it's not something I'm particularly proud of, but it's part of me,” he says. “And one of the things I really like about open source is it really allows different people to work together. We don't have to like each other – and sometimes we really don't like each other.” Torvalds discusses the personality traits that paved the way for his particular approach to programming, work, and life, as well as those he’ll never possess. “You need to have the people-people, the communicators, the warm and friendly people who like really want to hug you and get you into the community,” he says. “But that's not everybody. And that's not me.”
Speaker: Shonda Rhimes
Here we have an introvert who has conquered a completely different industry: Hollywood. Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, may not show the signs of introversion publicly. In private, however, she struggled with those duties that challenged her introverted nature. She hired a publicist in order to avoid public appearances. She suffered panic attacks before media interviews. As she wrote recently in her book, “My marrow is introvert marrow.”
But when her sister pointed out over Thanksgiving dinner that Rhimes never said “yes” to anything, she took it as a challenge. For a year, she committed to saying, “yes” to everything that scared her. She spoke in public. She went on live TV. She took a stab at acting. In this talk, she explains how saying yes took the fear out of those situations. Just as importantly, she tells the audience how saying yes to her children (rather than to more of the writing work where she feels at ease and alive) changed her life.
Speaker: Angela Hucles
Retired pro soccer player and two-time Olympic gold medalist Angela Hucles says that athletes train to be their best by tapping into their "inner-introvert" and finding moments to lead. At this TEDx event in Bend, Oregon, Hucles says that the fact that just four percent of leaders identify as introverts (who make up half the population) is short-sighted. Introverts, she argues, bring a singular contribution to teams – sports teams, business teams, family teams – is critical to success.
Now the president of the Women's Sports Foundation, Hucles says winning teams need energy, enthusiasm, and excitement complemented by groundedness, the ability the listen, and strength in calmness. Hucles lays out the conditions to make that happen.
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