This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Quiet: The Power of Introverts" by Susan Cain. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Is creativity more common in introverts? How can your organization cultivate and benefit from creative introverts?
Creative introverts benefit from solitude and intense concentration. Moving away from a focus on collaborative environments can bring out the creativity that may be seen more often in introverted people.
Keep reading for more about creative introverts and what they offer.
How Creative Introverts Work Best
Research has found that creativity requires 1) solitude and 2) intense concentration. Because these are the preferred work styles of introverts, it’s not surprising that many of the most creative people are introverts.
In the 1960s, researchers at UC Berkeley compared a group of extremely creative people, including scientists, engineers, writers, and architects, to a group of less-creative types to learn what drives creativity. They found that the most creative people tended to be independent, individualistic, and shy and solitary as teenagers. Other studies have supported these findings. But what gives an edge to creative introverts? The likely explanation is that their preference for working in solitude fuels their creativity.
We know from the studies of psychologist Anders Ericsson that intense solitary work drives extraordinary achievement. When Ericsson studied violinists, he found that the best spent the most time practicing alone. Ericsson found the same was true for other kinds of high achievers—for instance, for top tournament chess players, serious study alone was the strongest predictor of success.
Ericsson contended that the key to outstanding achievement—“deliberate practice”—can only be undertaken alone. In deliberate practice, you identify what you need to learn, work on it, and track your progress. It would be harder to focus on improving in the areas most crucial to you if you practiced in a group. (Shortform note: Read our summary of Peak by Anders Ericsson here.)
Groupthink and Creativity
U.S. institutions, including our schools and workplaces, are structured to serve the extrovert ideal. The organizing principle is “Groupthink,” which prioritizes teamwork above all. Groupthink practices, such as “cooperative learning” in schools and open offices and brainstorming in the workplace, are based on the erroneous belief collaboration is necessary for creativity and intellectual achievement.
The Groupthink notion that creativity is the product of teamwork has influential advocates, including prominent author Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote that innovation is “fundamentally social.” Organizational consultant Warren Bennis claimed in Organizing Genius that the “great group” has replaced the “great man.” However, in reality, an exclusive focus on collaboration actually undercuts creativity and achievement.
Yet introverts have many underappreciated strengths, including empathy, a strong social conscience, persistence, concentration, creativity, and solving complex problems. A more balanced approach that takes advantage of the strengths of both personality types and offsets each one’s weaknesses would serve society better.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Quiet: The Power of Introverts summary:
- How society overvalues extroverts
- Why introverts' overlooked strengths are the key to greater success in work, school, and society
- How extroversion caused the fall of Enron