introvert child sit with cat

The quiet revolution

By Anna Campbell

Susan Cain is advocating for a ‘quiet revolution’ after publishing her book ‘QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’.

It is a fascinating read for introverts and extroverts alike. Her online TED talk from 2014 is well worth listening to for those who would prefer a synopsis.

It was actually one of the quieter people in my office who alerted me to the revolution and sent me the link to the TED talk.

Fiona Hely is one of our company’s rising stars, a Kaikorai Valley High School ex-student who graduated from the University of Otago with a degree in computational and mathematical modelling.

She started with us as a young intern. We quickly realised she was a keeper. I wish I could describe what Fiona does in her work, but most of it is beyond me; all I can say is she is incredibly clever, very practical and totally self-effacing with it. 

Any of our clients who come into contact with her are blown away by what she can produce in terms of finding a solution to often complex problems – through her mathematical and computational wizardry. 

How do we make sure people like Fiona shine in a society increasingly designed for extroversion?

Reading Susan Cain’s book made me realise just what opportunities there are if we can unlock the leadership and creativity of introverts in society. Think Bill Gates, Mahatma Ghandi, and Rosa Parks if you want some stunning examples of introverted leaders.

Speaking as an extrovert, this is actually harder to do than you would imagine. The challenge of this has probably smacked me in the face the most in my role as a parent. 

I will always remember the day at the races with my husband and three children. In an attempt to be family-friendly, the race committee had arranged a number of child-friendly activities. 

One of those activities was a lolly scramble and of course there was a veritable scrum of screaming children clambering all over each other in hunt of sweet delights. 

One of my children was quietly and contentedly watching from the sideline.

I, as a mother, was horrified… my baby was missing out on the action! So in I went, swooped him up, and planted him firmly in the middle of the furore.  

Well, you should have heard the furore which then broke out. 

To this day, I am not sure which I remember more, the howls of my son or the look on my husband’s face as he stood there shaking his head in disbelief at my actions.

According to Susan Cain, schools and workplaces are designed for extroversion. Remember, as children, we sat in horizontal rows, all facing the front of the classroom working mostly at an individual level. 

Now children are seated in groups, all facing each other, frequently working together or in pairs.

There is definitely less physical and mental space for autonomous thinking, solitude, and individual creativity. 

I have been to several school interviews where the teacher has said to me: I am trying to encourage your child to put their hand up more often and contribute to classroom discussions.

I know now that that is a big ask for an introverted child. That is not to say we shouldn’t encourage it, but perhaps we need to think more about what classroom contribution actually means.

Nowadays, I try to be more aware of the needs of introverts in everything I do. Now, when a child wonders off for some peaceful time by themselves when I am managing a sports team, I fight my natural urge to chase after them and make sure they are alright. 

Instead, I quietly check with one of the other team members, satisfy myself there is no problem, and leave them be. 

In our workplace, our greatest challenge in an open plan environment is to make sure everyone has places for quiet, creative thinking.

When in meetings, we need to make sure there are ways everyone is able to be heard and consciously allow for gaps in conversations to open up, so quieter people are able to get a word in edgewise.

I am no saint; I still frequently get it wrong. 

But, working alongside young stars like Fiona Hely is inspiring and I know that we will all gain so much more in terms of leadership and ideas if we stop, think, listen a little more, and encourage those who don’t speak so often, to join the ‘quiet revolution’.