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‘Restorative Niches’: Author Susan Cain on the Need for ‘Quiet’

Republished from transcript of interview of Susan Cain by Adam M. Grant
Original article: knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu

Business leaders often look to social activities to generate ideas and innovation, from group collaboration and brainstorming to large meetings and open-format offices. Those who are highly verbal, bold and outgoing often thrive in these environments, in which thinking on your feet and speaking up are valued. In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain draws on research to challenge the “Extrovert Ideal” and many of our most common business practices in which the ideas and leadership potential of introverts are often overlooked. Among the researchers she cites is Wharton management professor Adam Grant, who published a paper in the Academy of Management Journal titled, “Reversing the Extraverted Leadership Advantage: The Role of Employee Proactivity,” with coauthors Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and David Hofmann of the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Their research concludes that introverted leaders can be more effective than extroverts in certain circumstances. Cain, in a discussion with Grant for Knowledge@Wharton, spoke about the surprising advantages of being an introvert and why companies should create an environment that supports their contributions.

An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Grant: Absolutely. I’m also wondering, from your perspective, are there things that we ought to know when we think about running a meeting and recognize that there are often a mix of introverts and extroverts in the room?

Cain: First of all, introverts generally need time to think. They don’t think on their feet as readily or as happily. It is really useful to let people know in advance what you are going to be talking about at the meeting, and to do that in more than a pro forma way, like send around an agenda that no one looks at until they get there. It would be useful to actually have people sit down and think through the thing that you are going to be talking about at the meeting before they get there. Then, on the other side of the meeting, to avoid making a decision at the meeting partly because if there is pressure to make a decision, you are inherently going to be giving more weight to the more impulsive, more decisive people in the room. But also because things are going to come up at the meeting that need to be thought through and cogitated. The introverts, in particular, won’t be able to do that as readily while they are in the meeting. You want to give people to think things through and then to talk with each other about it after the meeting is done.

There are companies that have started to think these things through in interesting ways, like Rite Solutions, which is a software development company run by a guy named Jim Lavoie. He had previously been at a different company where he found that the people who he calls the quiet geniuses in the company weren’t getting heard when they had new ideas that they thought the company should be pursuing because the main avenue for introducing new ideas was to make a presentation to what was called the murder boards. It was the job of the murder board to assess these ideas, and I guess, execute you if they thought the ideas weren’t good enough. He said that this had the effect of rewarding the best presenters and not necessarily the best ideas.

In his new company, he has an online stock market where everybody in the company, all the way down to the level of receptionist, has stock in this market, and they can all introduce ideas online, and they can all use their nominal cash to invest in other people’s ideas. All of this happens online so that, even if you are more of a quiet person, you can introduce your ideas in this way. Some of the company’s greatest innovations have come through this process.

Grant: That’s a fascinating process. Susan, thank you very much for joining us today.

Cain: You are so welcome. It was a pleasure.

© 2012 The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

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