Monday, 3 July 2017

Quiet Creativity

Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking posits that introverts, people who find the social world overstimulating and hence prefer solitude and small group interactions, are nevertheless vital components of the social world despite being in the minority. Like many popular books of this kind, Quiet directs its attention towards the usefulness of such persons in organizations. Nevertheless, Cain devotes one chapter specifically to creativity, so I have gleaned some information relevant to this blog.

Cain uses published research to bolster her claims. One such study was conducted in the late 1950s and early 1960s by Berkeley's Institute of Personality Assessment and Research, which compared well-known creative people (people who have made a name for themselves) in engineering, science, math, architecture and writing with others deemed "less groundbreaking" in the same fields. The well-known creative people tended to be "interpersonally skilled but 'not of an especially sociable or participative temperament" (74). Cain notes that current management models value social cooperation over  solitude, a style that Cain nicknames the New Groupthink (75). By borrowing George Orwell's term for the authoritarian suppression of intellectual individualism, Cain reveals her skepticism about management strategies such as open-plan offices and team-based organizational structures.

Many such management models like to use the idea of "networking," a term popularized by computer technology, but as Cain notes, technologies such as the Internet allow people to work alone in rooms that are geographically dispersed rather than crammed into a cubicle farm in a highrise. Computer scientists tend to be introverted people, after all. Even management styles tend to value the extrovert. Not surprisingly, Cain questions extrovert-centred ideas of leadership. She quotes Janet Farrall and Leonie Kronborg in their own book Leadership Development for the Gifted and Talented that some famously introverted people, such as Charles Darwin and Marie Curie, have contributed massively to the world.

Apple founder Steve Wozniak is Cain's exemplar of the social value of introversion, a man who, though he helped design the type of personal computers that made the Internet a world-wide phenomenon, developed his best ideas when he was alone.

The ideal quiet person that Cain describes is not a shy person, someone who is anxious in groups. A quiet person will think and wait before speaking up rather than bolt forward at the head of the line.  Noisy groups irritate this kind of person, so time alone gives a low-stimulus environment better suited to permit the quiet person to think clearly.

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