Let’s hear it, quietly, for introverts

According to Susan Cain, regarding “Why the world needs introverts

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He or she favours quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong; works well in teams and socialises in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual – the kind who is comfortable “putting himself out there”. Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.


Many of the most important institutions of contemporary life are designed for those who enjoy group projects and high levels of stimulation. As children, our classroom desks are increasingly arranged in pods, the better to foster group learning, and research suggests that the vast majority of teachers believe that the ideal student is an extrovert. As adults, many of us work for organisations that insist we work in teams, in offices without walls, for supervisors who value “people skills” above all. To advance our careers, we’re expected to promote ourselves unabashedly. The scientists whose research gets funded often have confident, perhaps overconfident, personalities. The artists whose work adorns the walls of contemporary museums strike impressive poses at gallery openings. The authors whose books get published – once a reclusive breed – are now vetted by publicists to make sure they’re talk-show ready.

See also the TED talk and even the book.



  1. Finally the sokushinbutsu would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive.

    When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed.


  2. Thanks for this Brad. It took me about 30 years to figure out (a) that there are introverts, (b) that I am one and (c) that my need to “recharge” in private after group settings isn’t some sort of pathology. A lot of anguish could have been prevented if I had known this earlier!


    • Another example of the social bias toward extroversion is: It’s common for people to use alcohol as a “social lubricant”, but a major alleged sign of alcoholism is “drinking alone”.

      On the other hand, introverts are probably more susceptible to the “social lubricant” illusion. What if introversion, at least in this society, were thus a risk factor for alcoholism? Then a disproportionate amount of alcoholics might actually end up drinking alone.


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