Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • When I was nine years old

  • I went off to summer camp for the first time.

  • And my mother packed me a suitcase

  • full of books,

  • which to me seemed like a perfectly natural thing to do.

  • Because in my family,

  • reading was the primary group activity.

  • And this might sound antisocial to you,

  • but for us it was really just a different way of being social.

  • You have the animal warmth of your family

  • sitting right next to you,

  • but you are also free to go roaming around the adventureland

  • inside your own mind.

  • And I had this idea

  • that camp was going to be just like this, but better.

  • (Laughter)

  • I had a vision of 10 girls sitting in a cabin

  • cozily reading books in their matching nightgowns.

  • (Laughter)

  • Camp was more like a keg party without any alcohol.

  • And on the very first day

  • our counselor gathered us all together

  • and she taught us a cheer that she said we would be doing

  • every day for the rest of the summer

  • to instill camp spirit.

  • And it went like this:

  • "R-O-W-D-I-E,

  • that's the way we spell rowdie.

  • Rowdie, rowdie, let's get rowdie."

  • Yeah.

  • So I couldn't figure out for the life of me

  • why we were supposed to be so rowdy,

  • or why we had to spell this word incorrectly.

  • (Laughter)

  • But I recited a cheer. I recited a cheer along with everybody else.

  • I did my best.

  • And I just waited for the time

  • that I could go off and read my books.

  • But the first time that I took my book out of my suitcase,

  • the coolest girl in the bunk came up to me

  • and she asked me, "Why are you being so mellow?" --

  • mellow, of course, being the exact opposite

  • of R-O-W-D-I-E.

  • And then the second time I tried it,

  • the counselor came up to me with a concerned expression on her face

  • and she repeated the point about camp spirit

  • and said we should all work very hard

  • to be outgoing.

  • And so I put my books away,

  • back in their suitcase,

  • and I put them under my bed,

  • and there they stayed for the rest of the summer.

  • And I felt kind of guilty about this.

  • I felt as if the books needed me somehow,

  • and they were calling out to me and I was forsaking them.

  • But I did forsake them and I didn't open that suitcase again

  • until I was back home with my family

  • at the end of the summer.

  • Now, I tell you this story about summer camp.

  • I could have told you 50 others just like it --

  • all the times that I got the message

  • that somehow my quiet and introverted style of being

  • was not necessarily the right way to go,

  • that I should be trying to pass as more of an extrovert.

  • And I always sensed deep down that this was wrong

  • and that introverts were pretty excellent just as they were.

  • But for years I denied this intuition,

  • and so I became a Wall Street lawyer, of all things,

  • instead of the writer that I had always longed to be --

  • partly because I needed to prove to myself

  • that I could be bold and assertive too.

  • And I was always going off to crowded bars

  • when I really would have preferred to just have a nice dinner with friends.

  • And I made these self-negating choices

  • so reflexively,

  • that I wasn't even aware that I was making them.

  • Now this is what many introverts do,

  • and it's our loss for sure,

  • but it is also our colleagues' loss

  • and our communities' loss.

  • And at the risk of sounding grandiose, it is the world's loss.

  • Because when it comes to creativity and to leadership,

  • we need introverts doing what they do best.

  • A third to a half of the population are introverts --

  • a third to a half.

  • So that's one out of every two or three people you know.

  • So even if you're an extrovert yourself,

  • I'm talking about your coworkers

  • and your spouses and your children

  • and the person sitting next to you right now --

  • all of them subject to this bias

  • that is pretty deep and real in our society.

  • We all internalize it from a very early age

  • without even having a language for what we're doing.

  • Now to see the bias clearly

  • you need to understand what introversion is.

  • It's different from being shy.

  • Shyness is about fear of social judgment.

  • Introversion is more about,

  • how do you respond to stimulation,

  • including social stimulation.

  • So extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation,

  • whereas introverts feel at their most alive

  • and their most switched-on and their most capable

  • when they're in quieter, more low-key environments.

  • Not all the time -- these things aren't absolute --

  • but a lot of the time.

  • So the key then

  • to maximizing our talents

  • is for us all to put ourselves

  • in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.

  • But now here's where the bias comes in.

  • Our most important institutions,

  • our schools and our workplaces,

  • they are designed mostly for extroverts

  • and for extroverts' need for lots of stimulation.

  • And also we have this belief system right now

  • that I call the new groupthink,

  • which holds that all creativity and all productivity

  • comes from a very oddly gregarious place.

  • So if you picture the typical classroom nowadays:

  • When I was going to school,

  • we sat in rows.

  • We sat in rows of desks like this,

  • and we did most of our work pretty autonomously.

  • But nowadays, your typical classroom

  • has pods of desks --

  • four or five or six or seven kids all facing each other.

  • And kids are working in countless group assignments.

  • Even in subjects like math and creative writing,

  • which you think would depend on solo flights of thought,

  • kids are now expected to act as committee members.

  • And for the kids who prefer

  • to go off by themselves or just to work alone,

  • those kids are seen as outliers often

  • or, worse, as problem cases.

  • And the vast majority of teachers reports believing

  • that the ideal student is an extrovert

  • as opposed to an introvert,

  • even though introverts actually get better grades

  • and are more knowledgeable,

  • according to research.

  • (Laughter)

  • Okay, same thing is true in our workplaces.

  • Now, most of us work in open plan offices,

  • without walls,

  • where we are subject

  • to the constant noise and gaze of our coworkers.

  • And when it comes to leadership,

  • introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions,

  • even though introverts tend to be very careful,

  • much less likely to take outsize risks --

  • which is something we might all favor nowadays.

  • And interesting research by Adam Grant at the Wharton School

  • has found that introverted leaders

  • often deliver better outcomes than extroverts do,

  • because when they are managing proactive employees,

  • they're much more likely to let those employees run with their ideas,

  • whereas an extrovert can, quite unwittingly,

  • get so excited about things

  • that they're putting their own stamp on things,

  • and other people's ideas might not as easily then

  • bubble up to the surface.

  • Now in fact, some of our transformative leaders in history have been introverts.

  • I'll give you some examples.

  • Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Gandhi --

  • all these peopled described themselves

  • as quiet and soft-spoken and even shy.

  • And they all took the spotlight,

  • even though every bone in their bodies

  • was telling them not to.

  • And this turns out to have a special power all its own,

  • because people could feel that these leaders were at the helm,

  • not because they enjoyed directing others

  • and not out of the pleasure of being looked at;

  • they were there because they had no choice,

  • because they were driven to do what they thought was right.

  • Now I think at this point it's important for me to say

  • that I actually love extroverts.

  • I always like to say some of my best friends are extroverts,

  • including my beloved husband.

  • And we all fall at different points, of course,

  • along the introvert/extrovert spectrum.

  • Even Carl Jung, the psychologist who first popularized these terms, said

  • that there's no such thing as a pure introvert

  • or a pure extrovert.

  • He said that such a man would be in a lunatic asylum,

  • if he existed at all.

  • And some people fall smack in the middle

  • of the introvert/extrovert spectrum,

  • and we call these people ambiverts.

  • And I often think that they have the best of all worlds.

  • But many of us do recognize ourselves as one type or the other.

  • And what I'm saying is that culturally we need a much better balance.

  • We need more of a yin and yang

  • between these two types.

  • This is especially important

  • when it comes to creativity and to productivity,

  • because when psychologists look

  • at the lives of the most creative people,

  • what they find

  • are people who are very good at exchanging ideas

  • and advancing ideas,

  • but who also have a serious streak of introversion in them.

  • And this is because solitude is a crucial ingredient often

  • to creativity.

  • So Darwin,

  • he took long walks alone in the woods

  • and emphatically turned down dinner party invitations.

  • Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss,

  • he dreamed up many of his amazing creations

  • in a lonely bell tower office that he had

  • in the back of his house in La Jolla, California.

  • And he was actually afraid to meet

  • the young children who read his books

  • for fear that they were expecting him

  • this kind of jolly Santa Claus-like figure

  • and would be disappointed with his more reserved persona.

  • Steve Wozniak invented the first Apple computer

  • sitting alone in his cubical

  • in Hewlett-Packard where he was working at the time.

  • And he says that he never would have become such an expert in the first place

  • had he not been too introverted to leave the house

  • when he was growing up.

  • Now of course,

  • this does not mean that we should all stop collaborating --

  • and case in point, is Steve Wozniak famously coming together with Steve Jobs

  • to start Apple Computer --

  • but it does mean that solitude matters

  • and that for some people

  • it is the air that they breathe.

  • And in fact, we have known for centuries

  • about the transcendent power of solitude.

  • It's only recently that we've strangely begun to forget it.

  • If you look at most of the world's major religions,

  • you will find seekers --

  • Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad --

  • seekers who are going off by themselves

  • alone to the wilderness

  • where they then have profound epiphanies and revelations

  • that they then bring back to the rest of the community.

  • So no wilderness, no revelations.

  • This is no surprise though

  • if you look at the insights of contemporary psychology.

  • It turns out that we can't even be in a group of people

  • without instinctively mirroring, mimicking their opinions.

  • Even about seemingly personal and visceral things

  • like who you're attracted to,

  • you will start aping the beliefs of the people around you