In personality typologies derived from the work of Carl Jung, introverts are described as people who gain energy from solitude and extroverts as people who gain energy from being around other people. Understanding where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum can help you understand your own energy patterns and how best to work with them within your professional and personal life. (As an introvert, for example, after attending several sessions at an academic conference and interacting with lots of people, I’m likely to head off to my hotel room for some quiet time before meeting up with a couple of friends for dinner. I know that I need that time to recharge. An extroverted colleague is more likely to round up a big crowd of people to go out on the town, since that’s what feeds her enthusiasm and energy.)
Given the long solitary hours required for success in some research fields, there is probably a fairly high percentage of introverts in academia. But of course, most people spend some of their time in both introverted and extroverted pursuits. Despite their natural preferences, many introverts are successful in careers that involve teaching, public speaking, and working with people, and many extroverts are successful in careers that involve solitary research or individual projects. Academia, in contrast to many corporate environments, often offers some flexibility that allows individuals to balance their natural energetic profile with different kinds of work.
Susan Cain’s 2012 book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and her 2012 TED talk focused on the creative and analytical strengths that introverts often have. Cain’s research suggested that the training provided in business schools (which focuses on group projects and fast decision making) and many aspects of the modern workplace, like open office plans, have created a corporate culture that tends to favor extroversion, often with negative consequences for companies and organizations. Although her book is mostly focused on the corporate workplace, it offers plenty of important insights relevant to academics who work on collaborative projects themselves, participate in administrative or planning meetings, or who teach with group projects.
The success of Cain’s book raised awareness of how introverts were often pressured to act like extroverts in the corporate workplace. Now Cain has continued this work by launching a company, Quiet Revolution with a mission “To unlock the power of introverts for the benefit of us all.” The short quiz offered on the website focuses on the two traits that Cain sees as central to understanding introverts in the workplace: your preference for stimulation and your tendency towards deliberation.
Her company has been hired by high-profile corporate clients to provide managerial training to help recognize and integrate the strengths of introverts. Steelcase, a manufacturer of office furniture, has recently begun offering a line of quiet work cubicles called Susan Cain Quiet Spaces.
The public-facing Quiet Revolution website currently offers essays, personal stories, and resources organized around the topics of Work, Life, and Kids. Sample topics possibly of interest to ProfHacker readers include Class Participation, 3 Strategies for Surviving the First 5 Minutes of Any Social Situation and Portrait of a Quiet Conference Leader. There is also a section of the website where readers can submit personal stories about life as an introvert and what it means to them.
Are you an introverted academic? Let us know in the comments!
[Creative Commons licensed image from Flickr user The Forest Vixen]