Closeted introverts rejoice! Susan Cain’s book Quiet draws attention to the extroversion ideal we find in today’s workplaces. When approximately a third to half of people around the world are introverts, including notables such as Steve Jobs and Rosa Parks, why are we writing off an entire personality type? When we think of designers there’s a bit of a mismatch, with designers seen as bold, gregarious people, when in fact creative people are highly likely to be introverts. This doesn’t surprise me when I take a moment to think about well-known creative people. Take the poet Hone Tuwhare for example, he was a social person who wrote about the outdoors, people and important events, but it was in a small shed with no view where he actually did much of his writing. For many people, solitude is a crucial element to creativity.

Cain’s book prompted me to think about the personality factor within design workplaces and methods. One of the most common methods used in design studios is brainstorming, and although brainstorming sessions have some common rules (e.g. defer judgment and go for quantity), research has shown that even when using these rules we can mistake eloquence and fast talking for good ideas. In an experiment comparing the results of team brainstorms to individuals’ ideas, researchers found that participants came up with more ideas by themselves than they did in groups of four. Not only did they create more ideas individually, but these ideas were also of equal or greater quality than those created by teams. It’s interesting to note though that electronic brainstorming, where team members are separated but able to communicate by using tools such as 37 signals or RiteSolutions, have proven to be very effective.

For me, Quiet signals the need for designers to really evaluate their methods and environments to make sure they’re getting the most out of their design teams. Quiet is not an anti group work book, instead it persuades the reader to aim for balance, to create some open spaces for interaction, and some private and quiet spaces for deep thinking.

Susain Cain’s TED talk on introversion can be found here.


One comment

  1. Mark McGuire

    Social networks can really be useful in this instance. Real time, face-to-face brainstorming (and general discussion) can privilege more confident and outspoken participants. Some people are more comfortable contributing in their own time, perhaps using considered text rather than spoken language. Allowing time after a prompt, initial suggestion, idea or question gives individuals a chance to reflect and offer a considered response. Real-time interaction can be exciting, dynamic, and productive, but considered responses are also valuable.

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