Introversion & Creativity
Updated: Apr 18
There are dozens of research findings and stories worth sharing from Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain…
Like the notion that temperament has as profound an impact on our lives as gender or race, and that where we fall on the introversion/extroversion continuum is the biggest contributor to our temperament.
Like the fact that one third to one half of us are introverts. So if you’re not one, chances are you are raising, partnered with, managing, or otherwise engaged with one.
Like the discovery that there is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.
Like the finding that introverts, even as infants, show highly reactive alarm responses to novelty in fMRI brain scans.
Like tracing the bias toward extroversion to the industrial revolution, when Americans flocked from farms to cities. Until then, people often lived their whole lives amongst the same neighbors, in rural, agricultural environments. They valued the quiet, thoughtful individual of character, who thought before speaking and had a rich inner life. In the fast-paced cities, there was competition for leadership and resources, and the social go-getter had an edge. Character and contemplation were devalued. Personality was “in.” It was an era when great salesmen were the role models and everyone wanted to know How to Win Friends and Influcnce People (by Dale Carnegie, 1937).
I could go on. But to fit the parameters of this blog (allegedly about graphic design, marketing and the creative process), probably the most relevant angle on introversion is its relationship to creativity.
I used to think that introversion and extroversion were about levels of sociability and assertiveness. But the terms, popularized by Carl Jung in 1921, are actually more about how much arousal a person is comfortable with.
Introverts like less stimulation, are drawn to the inner world of thoughts and feelings, tend to work slowly and deliberately with high levels of concentration, and recharge with solitude.
Extroverts like to crank up the novelty and are drawn to people and activity. They knock out tasks quickly, tend to make fast decisions, and recharge their batteries with external stimulation.
Cain calls our attention to the trend toward work groups and teams in both corporations and schools. Walls have come down and personal space has shrunk as pods of individuals are required to work and learn “cooperatively.”
One 5th grade teacher reported, “This style of teaching reflects the business community where people’s respect for others is based on their verbal abilities, not their originality or insight. You have to be someone who speaks well and calls attention to yourself. It’s an elitisim based on something other than merit.”
Not everyone wants to be a group leader. Some people want to fit in harmoniously with the group. And the most creative people in both science and the arts often prefer to work independently in solitude.
Do “The New Groupthink” practices and processes enhance creativity? Cain makes the case that most brilliantly conceived ideas are conceived in isolation. Exceptional achievers and performers practice their crafts in solitude. They are working at mastery on their personal edge, single-mindedly, without distraction or interruption by others and their agendas. Excessive stimulation can impede learning. Introverts seem to know this instictively and resist being herded into groups.
Cain names famous introverts, including thought leaders like Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Franz Kafka, Mahatma Ghandi, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), Steven Spielberg, Stephen Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed.
“The New Groupthink,” according to Cain, started in the 1990’s with the spread of the internet and the success of online platforms that shared brainpower such as Wikipedia and MoveOn.org. But anonymous online interactions are very different from potentially political-charged (and noisy) face-to-face, real time interactions, dominated by the most vocal members of a group. More private and less invasive forms of collaboration, that are likely to be more productive and more creative, can be carried out by email, texting and online chats. Both privacy and autonomy (freedom from peer pressure) seem to be conducive to nurturing creative potential.
One researcher who set out to show the strengths of group brainstorming over individual problem-solving found, to his surprise, that subjects overwhelmingly produced more ideas, and of higher quality, when working alone. Forty years of research has shown that performance gets worse as group size increases.
One obvious danger of “The New Groupthink” is its influence towards conformity and sublimation of the ideas and beliefs of the less verbal, less dominant members of the group. Where is George Orwell now?
Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, was voted best non-fiction book of 2012 by goodreads.com I am her newest fan. If you are a closet introvert, this book could set you free.
See where you fall on the Introversion-Extroversion continuum with a quick Self-Quiz <http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/quiet-quiz-are-you-an-introvert/>
See Susan Cain’s 19:05 minute TED Talk <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0KYU2j0TM4>