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How To Grow Your Business Like An Introvert

How To Grow Your Business Like An Introvert

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. Fast Company magazine writes on how the book changed the course of Susan’s life, and her work:

After Susan Cain penned the now-best-selling book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012), she expected to move on and start on her next book right away. The self-proclaimed introvert had just left a career as a lawyer to become a writer, and she intended to keep writing.

Instead, the outpouring of emotion and support she received from introverts and parents of introverts was so overwhelming, she decided she needed to linger on that topic a little longer.

Since then, she has managed to become a TED speaker (her 2012 talk on the power of introverts has been viewed 12 million times on YouTube) and a cofounder of a rapidly expanding for-profit company that centers on the education, parenting, and lifestyle of introverts.

Quiet Revolution, officially launched in June, now encompasses a website, a podcast, e-courses for parents of introverts, the Quiet Leadership Institute (a sub-company that provides consultation for other companies), a partnership with Steelcase to create quiet areas in open offices, a cobranded area on the Huffington Post, and a soon-to-launch library of live chats with high-profile introverts and parents of introverts (like Arianna Huffington, whose daughter Isabella is an introvert, Cain says).

Here’s how Cain parlayed her guiding philosophy into a meaningful lifestyle brand.

By An Introvert, For Introverts

Cain’s transformation to cofounder was twofold. First, she went from lawyer to writer, supporting herself with consulting jobs as she wrote. Then, with the strong feedback from the book, she realized there was more she could do to elevate the conversation about introverts.

But that’s as far as she’d got.

“The vision was: I’m a writer, and I’m writing a book,” says Cain, who never meant to start a business. “I really intended to go on and write my next book on a different topic, and just found that the outpouring was so great. And I use the word outpouring on purpose. The emotional reaction was so strong and came from so many different people: people really hungry, clamoring for change in their schools and in their workplaces. So I just felt like something had to be done and that a book wasn’t going to be enough.”

The decision of what to do next came from the Quiet enthusiasts themselves. People from places high and low were reaching out to Cain with suggestions and partnership requests in the wake of the book release, none of which she was equipped to handle at the time. But as she gathered a team (her cofounder and CEO Paul Scibetta is a former colleague from her years in law), the conversations she had been having with executives and parents alike began to form into something like a mission for the company.

Cain realized she could do the most good in two areas: the future of kids and the future of the workplace.

“Our biggest challenge in crafting the business has been that there’s no aspect of human existence that this issue does not touch. Whether it’s parenting or dating or marriage or workplace or how to organize your church better—there’s nothing untouched by this,” Cain says. “So when we first started, we really struggled with figuring out a discipline and a unifying approach and a focus, because we really wanted to do everything. We were hoping to do everything. But what we kept coming back to at our absolute core was the next generation of children and workers.”

So parenting, education, and workplace improvement became the core areas for Quiet Revolution. And the feedback that had provided the basis for those focuses also became partnership opportunities. Things like parental education and corporate consulting—not to mention Quiet Revolution’s editorial initiatives on its website—started to come into focus, too.

“We don’t cold-call companies and tell them what we’re doing. Rather, I’ve been having conversations with companies for years, with them asking me, ‘OK, can you help?’ So the groundwork was already in place for all these partnerships,” Cain says.

And since “half of the employee population” are introverts, according to Cain, giant organizations like GE, NASA, even the Dutch military became clients of the Quiet Leadership Institute as they tried to more effectively leverage the entire workforce.

“The partnership we did with Huffington Post came about because Arianna was an initial enthusiast of the book and of the idea, and she’s the mother of an introverted daughter, so she’s really passionate about it. I find that many of the leaders that we’ve partnered with are personally passionate about this for some reason or another, either because they’re an introverted CEO or they have an introverted child.”

Know What Works for You

Three years after Quiet hit shelves, Quiet Revolution is growing fast. How did Cain scale so quickly?

She credits it to hiring well.

“We only hire Quiet Revolutionaries,” says Cain, who hires a precise mix of introverts and extroverts. “My cofounder and CEO is an extrovert. The CEO of Quiet Leadership Institute is an extrovert. Our head of partnerships is an extrovert. So we are very much by design a mix of introverts and extroverts. We really believe in the power of yin and yang. I don’t think you can run a good organization of all extroverts or all introverts.”

Everyone talks about leading with your strengths (“It’s kind of a corporate cliché,” Cain says). But something so crucial to an organization’s success is also often difficult to implement. And not every founder is able to step back from the top role in their company.

But Cain knew what she brought to the table—and didn’t bring—when she established her seat at the Quiet Revolution table. After all, she identifies as an introvert and has eased into her role as author and speaker with the help of coaching for public speaking.

“My title that I gave myself is ‘chief revolutionary.’ My cofounder has the title of CEO, and that is on purpose. I really believe in people finding the work for them that suits their strengths and their passions. And so that’s something we’re constantly thinking about even within the company,” Cain says. “It’s very natural for me to lay the vision. But I would say I carefully constructed my role to suit my temperament and my passions, and then we try to do the same for everybody’s role within the company.”

Don’t fight your weaknesses and draw on your own strengths, she says. “People should be constantly evaluating what are they good at, what do they like to do, what are their gaps, what kind of partners do they want to fill those gaps for them? That’s a huge one.”

She still plans to write that other book, though she won’t divulge what it’ll be about. “I really am a writer at heart. So on purpose, it’s the Quiet Revolution. My name is not in the title. It’s not about me. So I do intend to keep on writing. But really, the first thing is to launch this and get it off the ground properly.”

For now, she’s working on getting Quiet Revolution off the ground. She’s the chief advocate for the company, but one day she’ll likely step away.

“For me, it was very natural to structure things that way,” she says. “I love that role.”

Sarah Lawson/Fast Company/September, 2015