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?