Design Prose

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Posted in Uncategorized by designprose on March 17, 2012

Susan Cain’s Quiet happened to me by chance. I heard her talking on NPR about introversion and why some people are conditioned to be quieter and prefer less noise, mild lighting and preferably less action as well. This is who I have been all my life, being uncomfortable secretly with my preferences and I had surreptitiously labeled myself anti-social. I wanted to know what she had to say in those pages to understand myself and perhaps others slightly better. And as Susan puts it, this is who I have been:

I am prone to wild flights of self doubt, but I also have a deep well of courage in my own convictions.

The book explores various settings, its pitfalls and their adequacy level for personalities falling in wide spectrum of extroverts and introverts. And this is of particular interest to me as I want to understand built spaces and how sensitive are they to the needs of individuals who inhabit them. One size fits all is not a solution and has never been and this is increasingly becoming the case in workplace environments. Somehow, our notion of productivity is misplaced and is linked to number of hours spent on the desk, regardless of lower level of creative or critical thinking to go along with it. Thinking is an organic process and a continuous one at that. Our minds may not be most fertile in a constrained manufactured set up of “team area”, “meeting area”, “collaboration area”. We need those flexible spaces not just the physical ones but those intangible spaces where we close our eyes and wander, where our minds want to visit and explore solutions to whatever problem one is trying to crack.

Businesses need to be sensitive to these finer requirements beyond a creation of brand image of built environment and a constricted environment of open plan office with strategically placed conference rooms and this perpetual need to collaborate in “informal meeting areas” where nothing sincerely appears to be informal.

Some companies are starting to understand the value of silence and solitude are are creating “flexible” open plans that offer a mix of solo work-spaces, quiet zones, casual meeting areas, cafes, reading rooms, computer hubs and even “streets” where people can chat casually with each other without interrupting others’ workflow.

Moreover, how do individuals flourish and offer creative solutions via critical thinking if the very space they occupy and utilize inhibits their stimulation where thinking through observing, negotiating, weighing, exploring best possible solutions are curbed. So perhaps it becomes necessary that participation should not be made mandatory but inherently optional. Introverts prefer to contribute only when they believe that they have something insightful or honest to add and not just fill her share of offered available airtime.

Participation places a very different set of demands on the brain than observing does.

Similar kind of sensitivity needs to be placed for other spaces as well like educational environments. Where learning is made as organic as possible, that best suits the individual capabilities and yet pushes pupils positively to strive their own devised goals than some larger misplaced aspirational goal of others. Susan explains this further:

The truth is that many schools are designed for extroverts. Introverts need different kind of instructions from extroverts, write College of William and Mary education scholars Jill Burness & Lisa Kaenzig, “very little is made available to that learner except constant advice on becoming more social and gregarious.”

Person environment fit- shows that people flourish when in the words of psychologist Brian Little, they are engaged in occupations, roles of settings that are concordant with their personalities.

Book has made some very deep observations and places itself quite importantly in a place if we have to understand our human ecology and what will make it amplify meaningfully and help us get the best of the people and perform to their capabilities without pretensions. Without the perils of petrification of being extroverts and talking personae only. I will leave with one last thought on sensitive and introverted personalities:

In most settings, people use small talk as a way of relaxing into a new relationship, and only once they are comfortable do they connect more seriously. Sensitive people seem to do the reverse. They enjoy small talk only when they have gone deep.

When sensitive people are in environments that nurture their authenticity, they laugh and chitchat just as much.

So next time, if you are thinking of striking a conversation with introverts don’t go to them with current weather or your holiday diaries, perhaps just think of values, moral implications and their impact on humanity, their eyes will glow and they will chew your brain till you let them.