Introverts, stand up for your rights!

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Since reading through Susan Cain’s popular book—Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking—I can’t stop talking about introverts. Especially in the world of business—and rock & roll.

First, some differentiation is in order. Cain, paraphrasing psychologist Carl Jung, says, "Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling … extroverts to the external life of people and activities ... Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough."

The problem, Cain asserts, is that extroversion has been established as the norm in American society and that schools and workplaces are designed for extroverts—leaving introverts to feel there is something wrong with them if they prefer working alone.

We pay a price for this because, she says, introverts are often the most creative thinkers, are more independent of group influence, and are less likely to take outsized risks (think: Wall Street traders). She also argues that introverted business leaders tend to be better listeners, more likely to support employees’ efforts to take the initiative, and less likely to impose top-down authority.

Of course there’s much more to be said on the subject. Not all introverts or extroverts easily fit the classic descriptions, and exceptions abound. But as facile as it all sounds, Cain’s work is backed up in her book by considerable research, which readers can evaluate for themselves. And there’s also some science behind the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which explores differences between extroverts and introverts in more detail.

I’ve long observed that extroverted leaders in business—many with outsized personalities such as former GE CEO Jack Welch—get a lot of press and do dominate the corporate suite. But introverts have always been part of the mix. For example, Google founders Larry Page & Sergey Brin seem to have done ok—as well as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (who is considered by many but not all MBTI experts to have been an introvert).

Then there’s the rock and pop celebs. Because they pursue fame and love the stage, you might assume the vast majority of them are extroverts. But upon closer look (and after reading dozens of MBTI assessments) I was struck by the number of introverts who have dominated popular music for 50 years. That includes John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Jim Morrison, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Sting, Michael Jackson, Prince, Kurt Cobain, Eminem, Beyonce, Rihanna, Christina Aguilera (!), and dozens of others. Yes, Bob Marley too. (Some even classify Mick Jagger & Paul McCartney as introverts, but that might be a stretch.) This should blow up some stereotypes.

National politics in the US has a surprising number of introverts too, including the last two Presidential candidates (Barack Obama and Mitt Romney), and the last four Secretaries of State (John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice, and Colin Powell). Whoda’ thunk?


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11 Comments

  1. motor-mouth lennon and exhibitionist aguilera are introverts? who do you have to be to get classified an extrovert? brittney spears? lady gaga?

  2. I hate to break it to you, but I've found some experts who consider Britney Spears and Lady Gaga to be introverts. See http://drdianehamilton.wordpress.com/tag/extraversion-and-introversion/

    It doesn't surprise me. They, like Christina Aguilera, may be acting out past inhibitions.

    Lennon's an interesting study. The case for extrovert: he often shot from the hip without reflection; he was quite comfortable (and very talkative) with the press and fans from the very beginning; he seemed to enjoy the limelight and took charge on stage; and he was the leader of a band that seemed to personify extroversion.

    BUT, he kept to himself a lot as a child; he preferred to write songs solo (and later share them with Paul & the band); he seemed more comfortable in one-to-one relationships than in groups; and his songs over time reflected a sense of deep isolation.

    I put the question to Lennon historian Jude Southerland Kessler who came down on the side of introvert. A majority of the MBTI opinions that I've read agree, tho there is some disagreement there.

  3. Loving people and the spotlight doesn't mean you aren't an introvert. From a psychological perspective, it's about where you go to recharge.

    I love performing music, public speaking, having a bunch of people over for a party. My favorite place is in the spotlight, center stage.

    That's about what I LIKE, not about where I get energy.

    After my time on stage or at a party, I seriously need time alone or I'll collapse, emotionally, perhaps even physically. (I reach the point that I can feel people through my skin, even when they're a foot away.)

    That's the classic misconception Cain is trying to quash. People-loving introverts don't fit the superficial stereotype.

  4. Hi All,

    Like so many famous writers, poets, artists, and musicians who are forced to share much of their lives in a public arena, John Lennon was indeed an introvert. In the first book that I wrote about him, Shoulda Been There (his life from 1940-Dec. 1961), I wrote "He was the ultimate Pagliacci - John. The only difference between the two of the was, John never wiped off the disguise."

    John was never but always alone. He presented a pubic image, a persona; however, he truly shared himself with only a very, very, very few people. Most often, he would try to wound others to drive them away before they could wound him. If a brave few rebuffed his abuse and stood up to him, he respected them, but even then, he rarely let them get to know him.

    Of the people in John's life, I would say that the ones who truly knew him were Stu Sutcliffe, Cynthia Powell Lennon, Pete Shotton, Yoko (for a time), and of course, Julia. That isn't to say that he wasn't friends with Paul, George, Ringo, and Pete...he was. But those first five knew his heart.

    I am almost a recluse. And yet I speak to groups about John weekly. I stand in Beatles conventions and shake hands and sell my books. I stand on large stages and tell his story. I do radio interviews. But I do it just as John did what he did...because that is what I MUST DO to sell my life's work, my art.

    That being said, almost no one knows me. Not even my family.

    And that was John's world. He sang, acted, interviewed, danced, smiled at the camera, did his bit. But the smart-mouth wasn't John. Neither was the Cheshire grin or the sneer. He was far too private to ever let you see who he really was. Life had taught him to be very skeptical, and he trusted almost no one.

    What you saw with John was never what you got. But your chances of getting the real John were almost negligible. He was an accomplished introvert.

  5. Thanks, Jude. Looking forward to volume 3 this fall!

    Joel, both of Jude's books are excellent. If you can only afford one and want to read up on the early days of the Beatles (up thru early 1963) I’d recommend "Shivering Inside," her second volume.

    Mark, if the meek are going to inherit planet earth, I suspect we’re both out of luck.

    Brushing up on the Myers-Briggs system again (I haven't taught it in years) I'm finally comfortable with my self-assessment as an INFJ—the rarest of the 16 types. I don’t mind sharing company with the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Neils Bohr, Carl Jung, Nelson Mandela, Plato, Sam Harris, Martin Luther King, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Barack Obama, Thomas Jefferson, and, yes, Jesus—all of whom have been typed (rightly or wrongly) as INFJs. (I'll leave out for now the mass murderers who were also INFJs.) For those who don’t know what the Myers-Briggs initials refer to, check out: http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/
    Maybe this explains why I was obsessed with Hawthorne and Dostoevsky novels as a teen.

    1. Ah, this explains much.

      Not only are we INFJs the smallest group, but INFJ is the only group that's gender-skewed. While the other 15 groups are more or less evenly split, INFJs tend to be female; about 2/3 female to 1/3 male.

      This makes us the oddest of all the oddballs.

      Your (perhaps) inadvertent linking of saints and demons via INFJ is not for naught. We tend to be extremists which is one reason INFJs are often mistaken for extroverts: we can be pretty loud about stuff that matters to us.

      1. Yeah, my inclusion of mass murderers was not for naught. Hitler and Bin Laden are usually typed as INFJs as well as the Ayatollah Khomeini. Those dudes could be pretty loud.

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