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How Companies Can Help Introverts Succeed

How Companies Can Help Introverts Succeed

Susan Cain believes society overvalues the gregariousness of extroverts and dramatically undervalues the talents of introverts. In her bestselling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and in her record-smashing TED talk, Cain explores ways to tap-in to the quieter contingent–in the workplace, the classroom, and elsewhere–whose input we cannot afford to waste. The Wall Street Journal recently spoke with Susan about her new organization, “The Quiet Leadership Institute”:

Companies should pay more attention to introverts, according to Susan Cain.

The author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” is turning her attention to the workplace, which she says is an unfriendly habitat for those with quiet dispositions.

“The primary message from companies to these introverts has traditionally been, ‘See that extrovert over there down the hall? Act more like her,’” Cain says.

This week, Cain announced the founding of the Quiet Leadership Institute, a business intended to help organizations harness the power of introverts and foster better communication between that group and their louder counterparts. In-person seminars and online courses cover the neurobiology of personality, introduce examples of successful introverted leaders and teach workers how to run meetings that won’t be dominated by the same loud colleagues who always speak up.

Cain says she’s advised Procter & Gamble Co. and NASA among others, and adds that she’s fielded interest from firms in a variety of industries, especially those with big technical or creative workforces. She wouldn’t comment on pricing.

Cain previously collaborated with office furniture maker Steelcase Inc. to create a line of “quiet spaces,” cozy, soundproof areas intended to help introverts focus and relax.

Though she says many of the hallmarks of today’s working world –open-office layouts or the corporate obsession with meetings – do not play to introverts’ strengths, some have managed to rise to the top, like Google Inc.’s Larry Page. Doug Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup Co., and Jess Lee, the CEO of Polyvore Inc., have both shared advice for being successful introverts in the business world.

Cain’s tip for introverts aiming to be leaders? Speak up – at least a little. Tell a manager or a mentor about your aspirations. And give your skills some visibility.

“Let other people know you have that expertise instead of it just being something you’re carrying around inside your brain,” she says.


Rachel Feintzeig/WSJ/June, 2015